Did you know 1 in 5 children around the world doesn’t have access to the vaccines they need to survive? That a child
dies every 20 seconds in developing countries from preventable disease? And that some moms walk 15 miles to reach life-saving vaccines for their children? According to a UN Foundation spokeswoman, Devi Thomas, one woman in Mozambique was willing to walk this distance with her baby strapped to her back because she’d already lost 2 children from preventable disease.
This week is World Immunization Week and to kick the week off, I was so honored to co-host a UN Foundation Shot@Life event on Friday night at the Dolci Gelati factory in Washington. Anastasia Dellaccio owns Dolci Gelati with her husband (who not only makes amazing gelato but also some exquisite deserts) and she works for the UN Foundation and their Shot@Life campaign. The UN Foundation’s goal is to mobilize Americans around their efforts to vaccinate children around the world and give these kids a shot at more firsts: first birthdays, first tooth, first day of school. You name it, these kids deserve it, and their parents long to watch these milestones just like we do. It’s remarkable to think that by donating just $20, you can protect a child for life with four vaccines to fight measles, diarrhea, polio and pneumonia.
I find it impossible to talk about this issue without recognizing that vaccination rates in some parts of this country are dropping. Just last week, we heard from the CDC that we saw more measles outbreaks in the United States last year than we had in 15 years. Not vaccinating children flies in the face of common sense and frankly, makes a mockery of the luxury of privilege and the access we do have here in this country. I think, in part, so many parents forgo the chance to immunize their child because they haven’t seen real poverty and they haven’t seen what horror these preventable illness can bring to the lives of children.
I haven’t witnessed what polio does to a child, for example, but I have seen real poverty. My dad was a US diplomat for almost 40 years, so we moved every 2-3 years of my life. Sometimes I now worry that the coolest part of my life happened when I was a kid but at least I had that chance. We landed in Jakarta Indonesia on a hot August night when I was 12 years old. Until that point, I had never experienced culture shock. Walking out of the airport into the heavy humidity that first night and inhaling the smells of Jakarta for the first time, which in the 80s was largely a mix of sewage and clove cigarettes, I was standing face-to-face with culture shock. Never will I forget that drive from the airport to our new home; I had never before seen so many people – everywhere – squatting on the side of the road, smoking, chatting, little children barefoot running around, and huge open sewers. Mopeds with 6 people raced past, buses overcrowded, small huts meant to be homes cluttering side of the road, with only the open sewers in between.
An image like this makes a strong impression on a 12-year-old. As I would imagine it does to an adult seeing it for the first time. The cat-sized rat who trotted across our driveway as we pulled up is also pretty unforgettable.
What’s my point?
When you see real poverty, when you see people who have nothing, you don’t forget how lucky we are here to have access to what we need, when we need it. So I ask you to join this amazing effort and help give a child a shot at life, at more milestones. The UN Foundation’s goal for World Immunization Week is to raise enough money to vaccinate 1,000 children.
During Friday’s event, my sister, who runs a boutique video and editing company, Born Lucky Studios, donated her time, talent and equipment to video each of us and what kind of first milestone we wish for other children to reach. Hearing everyone’s milestone wishes was a real highlight of the evening for me, which says a lot considering there were gallons of delicious gelato and yummy champagne all over the Dolci Gelati headquarters. Every mom in the room had a distinct reason for the milestone they chose because each of these milestones are something we’ve relished witnessing our children reach. These are things we never take for granted. Here’s a look at mine:
So please, I hope you’ll consider joining me, and if not this week, then for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, because I believe the UN Foundation’s campaign is as much about mothers and fathers as it is about children. As the UN Foundation pointed out, $20 protects a child for a life from four diseases, or equals about 3 big boxes of Crayons or 4 tubs of baby wipes. Online donations are simple and quick! And I’d love to hear what your milestones wish is!
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