At the Crossroads in Washington
Advocating and creating awareness for something that you believe in and are very passionate about is not very difficult. So I was very humbled and honored to receive a fellowship from the United Nations Foundation to attend the Results International Conference in Washington D.C. in July, 2012. Before my trip I wrote letters and telephoned my congressmen and senators offices in order to schedule meetings. I arrived in D.C. wondering what amazing things this endeavor would bring and happy to see some of my fellow Shot@Life champions and the staff from the United Nations Foundation.
The four-day Results International Conference in Washington, D.C., brought together over 400 grassroots activists and leaders from 36 states and 19 countries. Together we received the most up-to-date legislative and policy information related to our issues and listen from world class speakers.
I was amazed at the array of workshops about issues so relevant to our societies. I have attended many conferences, but this is the first time that it was difficult to decide which workshops to attend after I participated in Reaching the 5th Birthday: Tools for Success with Geoff Adlide from Gavi Alliance; Mary Beth Powers from the New &Child Survival Campaign of Save the Children; and Jackson Ndegwa from the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium. Some of my other favorite workshops were The Moral Case for Ending Poverty; Creating Champions: A Conversation with Senator Bob Bennett; The end of AIDS; and Saving Children’s Lives.
Over the course of this conference I received tons of wonderful information and listened to amazing speakers like Dr. Myron Cohen from the Chapel Hill Division of infectious Diseases; Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, the former Minister of Health of Lesotho; Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development; and the famous Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned economist and author. I was in Heaven! The reason I say this is because I love learning and hearing real human stories, and I love to see so many selfless people giving of themselves without thinking about “what’s in it for me?” I am so tired of hearing this and watching others pretend to care just to get power. There is a lesson here, my friends: many of these advocates paid their own expenses and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to be there to make sure the children and people in their countries, and around the world, get a chance for a better education, better life and better health. That, to me, is power and real love for your fellowmen, no matter whom they are or where they come from.
With my heart bursting with joy, happiness with so much goodness still I was surprise when, after seeing the documentary, a “Motherland Tour – A Journey of African Women” by Ms. Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, I realized that she was sitting right beside me! She had come into the room in the middle of the film and very quietly sat there. You have to realize how important she is! Ms. Chaka-Chaka is called the ‘Princess of Africa’. She is a famous artist and singer, but more important is that she uses all of her fame to do good and to advocate for many causes for Africa.
Like I said before, as long as I can remember I have been advocating for causes and issues that I felt needed to be addressed, but being at this International Conference was the epitome of humanitarian advocacy. Can you imagine 400 passionate and awesome country leaders and advocates on Capitol Hill, at once, to discuss issues that affect the human race and the future of this world? Yes, I said “issues of the world”, because what we do as a nation affects the world. We are all interconnected and we, the fortunate, have a responsibility to the less fortunate. We cannot and must not turn our backs on them now. Like Jeffrey Sachs said, “We are at a crossroads in the world today. We have the knowledge and tools for how to effectively end poverty and the countless deaths and suffering of millions of people around the world”.
I felt excited – my favorite word and emotion. There we were on the last day of the conference ready to talk to our legislators! I had visited some of their offices before but today was different. I was the only person from Oklahoma and could only secure one appointment with Senator Inhofe’s staff that graciously agreed to meet with me in his office. Although many states had big groups gathered together to visit their state representatives, I smiled to myself about the power of one. One is a powerful number, and without one there cannot be ten, a hundred, or thousands, etc. (this is a lesson for another day). As I was only one person, by myself, I had never let that stop me before, and today was no different. I grew up knowing that I could make a difference and that I have a responsibility to do my part – no matter how small I may be in stature (4 ft 11 in). The only reason I mention my height is because I was accompanied by Frank Gilbert from Kentucky and Innocent Laison from Dakar, Senegal. Frank was the only person from Kentucky and Innocent was to be our international perspective. We had the best day of advocacy together and we were powerful! Although I tried to make other appointments, none of the others were confirmed before my arrival. In spite of that, we marched on down to my Oklahoma senators’ and congressmen’s offices and got appointments from the gracious staffs that met with us. It was incredible how well Frank, Innocent and I complimented each other in delivering our message. Innocent gave an African perspective on what we are doing here make a difference on her continent. Having them along was like icing on a cake. We Rocked!! We called ourselves “the dynamic trio”. After we finished with Oklahoma, we visited Frank’s Kentucky representatives and had other awesome meetings. It was funny, because some of the Oklahoma offices were in front of the Kentucky offices. Coincidence? I don’t think so! I am so grateful to Mr. Joel E. Starr, the Legislative Assistant from Senator Inhofe’s office, for the enlightened conversation and great information to consider. It was engaging, honest and very refreshing to have the floor and not worry about time. Thank you, gentleman, for making this one of my best days to remember… As a Shot@Life champion, I have lobbied on Capitol Hill, met in senators’ and congressmen’s’ offices to discuss standing up for Children’s Issues and Expanding Access to Global Vaccines and Education. I have shared my story as a former nurse in Mexico and explained the reasons why education is the only way to eradicate poverty and diseases in this nation and throughout the world. What a wonderful ride! However, there was more that came out of this trip…
My day on Capitol Hill was highlighted when, after visiting Senator Coburn office, we ran into an AIDS Breakfast gathering and listen to one of the speakers – and met Sir Elton John! He was there in support of the cause, and yet, was so gracious and personal. It was truly an incredible experience from morning to night. I loved the farewell party at the Capitol (the food was delicious!). The senators, congressmen, congresswomen and the ambassador of South Africa were all very impressive speakers. But my favorite part was when all of us danced together at the performance of Miss Yvonne Chaka Chaka. What at way to end a conference! Indeed this has been one of my best conferences and I am so excited that I didn’t stop talking about; I would talk about it with everyone I encountered throughout my trip in North Caroline, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and even more to people here in Oklahoma!
This is an amazing time to be alive! Can you imagine all the good we can do together? We can end poverty, eradicate illness, and provide the best education for our children. Our future is going to be extraordinary and I know this because our future is just the outgrowth of all the great things we are doing today in and outside of conferences like this.