Me and Miriam Down by the School Yard

I have a pretty cool job. Every day of my life, I get to think up creative ways of getting people waaaaay over ---> there together with people waaaaay over <--- there, to meet each other and share drinks ideas with each other. Sometimes way over ---> there is the Artic Circle, and sometimes way over <--- there is Sudan. One of my favorite parts of my job is managing the International Activists scholarships, where we bring a handful of change-making bloggers from around the world to the annual BlogHer event to get some exposure, some help with their cause, and some hugs.   

This is Miriam. Miriam isn't someone I've worked with yet, but I almost did.

Photo credit: Stuart Ramson/UN Foundation

After I participated in Blogust with the Shot@Life program, I was invited to travel to Uganda to watch our work come to fruition, to see with my own eyes how your blog comments magically turned into vaccinations for children who absolutely must have them. Miriam is the Communications for Development Officer who hosted the Shot@Life team who did get to go (my friend Jenny's Day 1 post is awesome, and lays out everyone who went), go and have their eyes open and their lives forever impacted for the better by these amazing children and the humble heroes out there every day working their butts off to keep those children healthy.

When I asked Miriam about herself, she struggled because, of course, she feels it impolite to talk about herself even when she is, oh, you know, changing the damn world every single day of her life, and this is why I keep doing what I do with Shot@Life. I can't stop talking about myself and on my best day I manage to *take a shower*. 

Miriam is younger than I am (born in 1977) and has lived in Uganda (her place of birth), Switzerland (Geneva), Kenya (Turi), England (Folkestone, Canterbury, and London), and then back to Uganda with Unicef to work, in what she gorgeously simply describes as behaviour and social change communication. That's not the worst thing to put on one's business card, or life check-list.

On paper, Miriam and I have nothing in common. We come from different continents, different worlds really, and her voice is most likely 8,328% more gorgeous than mine (everyone's is). However, she says things like this, and I realize that we have a lot more in common than I'd think. "My main motivation focuses on the fact that compared to so many other young people in Uganda I have been lucky enough and blessed to benefit from so many opportunities in my life. I do feel a sense of responsibility that I have to give something back. Hence deciding to move back to Uganda instead of staying in Switzerland or England or looking for opportunities in 'the West'."

Me too, Miriam; me too. My life could have, and should have, ended up so very differently than it, and each day of my life, with each healthy, happy smile on my own children's faces I am reminded that I HAVE to help kids growing up like I did however I can, whether they live in the 'hood in Philly or in the remote corners of Africa. Her words are a reminder that this is a global fight, and that we are brothers and sisters united in our efforts - even if we don't know one another - and there is always one thing more we can do to make it better for the next generation of humans on this earth, whether it's donating your old cell phone instead of tossing it in the trash, or writing your Congressperson to let them know that global health and vaccines matter to you, or giving a few dollars to organizations like Shot@Life or Charity: Water or Feeding America that make sure kids have something to drink, something to eat, and the chance to live a healthy life. 

Nothing, nothing feels worse than not knowing where a meal is coming from, or if you will be able to get better the next time you get sick. Ask me how I know. 

Miriam's work with Unicef began in 2006 (my abacus tells me that she would have been 29 at the time) and she shared with me what she loves best about her work. In her own words, "The great thing about working at UNICEF is that you know that your work contributes to life-saving interventions for women and children, as well as programmes that provide opportunities for children to grow and thrive and for families to flourish, develop and help themselves out of the cycle of poverty."

If you've spent much time reading my blog, A) so sorry, and B) you know I've talked at length on this blog about the cycles of poverty, neglect, and abuse, of privilege and blindness, of invisible children and women. These are the things that matter most to me, the things I want to find any tiny little way to make even an infinitesimal contribution to changing ending, and here is a woman a gazillion miles away from me who doesn't know me or my story from Adam and yet she and I, in our hearts, strive to do the exact same thing. It's really just crushing, the weight of the all the good hiding inside the wires of the internet. 

So, Miriam is a pretty cool dude, is all I'm saying. I really wish I'd been able to meet her; I think we would be friends. 

And maybe she isn't very good at talking about herself, but I am good enough at talking about myself and her for the both of us, so thank god for small favors, and email. Her story, all of their stories, are so important for us to tell, to read, to hear, to know. There is no reason that these problems are hidden anymore; the world is tiny and sitting in the palm of our hands. Each child on earth is our child, our responsibility, our charge. It is too easy to help to not do it.  

The last time I worked with Shot@Life, the call to action was simple: Leave a comment, any comment, and $20 would be donated to give children vaccines. This time, it's even more simple:

Read. Learn. Hear the stories of the children who are getting vaccinated in the nick of time, the children who didn't, and the people who are working to stop it. For 28 days we are telling their stories, and we pray that you will listen. 

The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Now, you can help sustain the impact by sending an email to your member of congress. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action and make an impact!

This story comes from UNICEF Uganda and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign. A follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Each day in February, you can read another impactful story on global childhood vaccines. Tomorrow, don’t miss my dear friend Renee Ross' post! Go to www.shotatlife.org/impact to learn more.  

 

#hungeraction month

September is Hunger Action month, and so ye ol blog is going orange in support. Here's why:

Just over a year ago, I was exhibiting at a conference for a tech company that I occasionally work for, one that creates software to track and treat foster children in major US cities. I went to dinner one night with colleagues - this guy and one of the nation's leading experts on foster-child care and treatment. We sat talking and a few minutes after our food came, when Jim and Janet were just getting started with theirs, I realized that mine? It was gone.

So now I'm totally freaking embarrassed, like I am every single time this happens in front of people howthehelldoesthiskeephappeninginfrontofpeople? let alone a Harvard grad and a seriously big-deal colleague, and so of course Jim diffuses the situation for me like he always does - by finding a way to compliment me for it. "Shannon eats fast, like it's her superpower fast." Janet looked at me, smiled, and said, "Aaahh, you're food-insecure." I minimize the whole thing, saying, "I'm just a fast eater. My brother is a fast eater, too. We're fast eaters." and she said, "Oh, honey, no you're not." She pointed at her full plate, then my empty one, and said, "THAT'S food insecurity."

I am your average thirty-something, middle class, slightly overweight, white mother of three kids and a dog, and I am food insecure, from growing up so far below the poverty line we couldn't even see it.

And I didn't even know it. But now I do, because I was able to talk about it. And you know what? I don't feel so ashamed about it anymore.

There are so many stories I have to tell about growing up right next door to middle class white suburbia and literally starving. I want to tell you about the woman who, out of her own pocket, made every hungry child in our neighborhood breakfast one day a month. I want to tell you about the people who showed up on my doorstep one night with a bag full of Thanksgiving dinner and changed the direction of my life. I want to talk about how caustic silence is, how easy it is to question yourself and blame yourself when you're surrounded by a bunch of people who refuse to acknowledge the emaciating elephant in the room. 

I want to talk about how important it is to acknowledge the emaciated elephant in the room, and do something - anything- about it. I weighed 45 pounds in middle school and no one questioned it. That's not okay.

I want to talk about how easy it is to help the 1 in 5 children in America right now who are thanking god right now that school is back in session, because they at least know they'll get one hot meal a day until their next break. I want to talk about the changes schools have made to help those children never know the shame I knew of being the free lunch kid, helping them not make the choice to go hungrier because they can't bear hunger and ridicule. 

September is Hunger Action month, and I am so super proudly donating my time, my blog, my social networks, and my stories to Feeding America to help spread awareness about the hunger crisis in our country. 1 in 5 children know what I know, and that is 1 in 5 kids too many. No one should know what I know, not here, not waaaay over there on some other continent, not anywhere. 

Giving people access to food, especially real food, is life-changing. Showing people there is no shame in needing is life-changing. Helping people - tossing good, real, whole food into the donation tubs, or working at the food bank, or giving your kids' teacher some snacks to hand out to a kid she sees didn't get any breakfast again - is life-changing. Giving $1 to help organizations like Feeding America feed up to 8 families, that is huge. Talking about these issues in your community, with your neighbors and friends and peers and colleagues and children, this changes people's lives. Helping a parent feed their kids without them having to ask you for that help first tells those parents and those kids that they matter to you, they matter to someone, they are worth something

Anything makes a difference, and everything matters. Visit Hunger Action Month's info page at Feeding America to learn how you can help. Turn your avatars on Facebook and Twitter orange here, to show your support. 

Talking about this also changes lives. I'll be posting about this regularly through the month. I hope you're able to join me. 

After all, you're my wonderwall.

I've been kind of obsessing over how to write this post today. If you hadn't noticed, I've had a bit of a hard time blogging lately. It's not that I don't have anything to say; to the contrary, I have a ton to say and no clue how to say any of it.

This is fine, usually. I can typically gimp my way to Bethlehem when the time and the internet connection make themselves evident, and you guys always pat my head and tell me I'm not crazy and that you love my shoes and you make me feel 10,000 times better. But this isn't any normal blog post. This blog post is for 10,000 kids. I feel like I have to do it, like, properly.

And I've already started rambling. Sorry, 10,000 kids.

I was invited to join #Blogust, which is a blog relay for/by @ShotAtLife. For 31 days, 31 bloggers post and for every comment left, $20 is donated to get a kid in a developing country life-saving vaccines. If you've ever had the vaccination conversation with me, you know how I feel about them.

 

I grew up with a kid who had Polio.

My kids will get every freaking vaccine you can shove in their chubby wubby widdle thighs.

The end.

And if I can write one blog post to help give some other kids that same protection, well, I better get to it. 

....

Except, yeah. There's that thing about not even knowing where to start. I mean, look at me. I'm posting in sentences. I can't even bring myself to form coherent paragraphs. This thing, this cycle-ending, it's the sucks. It is so hard to process what my family is going through right now enough to type it out into little text editors. It's harder still to throw it on a public space and let a ton of people I don't really know sift through it.

But I do anyway. Because of this. 

 

...and a gazillion emails, tweets, comments, FB messages, and texts just like it. Somehow, this trainwreck I'm digging myself out of is helping someone, and that's really why I keep writing this. Every time I don't want to write something, I don't want to say something, I don't want to admit something, I think about the blogger who emailed me to tell someone, anyone, that an addict ruined her family financially and they're on welfare now and she just needed to say it to someone. I think about every single person who's emailed privately and just said, "Me, too." I think about all the Gwennyrah's out there who feel as alone as I did, as I do, and I type. 

For us.

Badly. I'm so sorry

What we say to each other matters. What we do in this space, lifting each other up, holding each other close and saying yes, my sisters and brothers, we are in this together, that matters. That changes lives. 

In my old line of work, I spent a lot of time studying the online community, watching trends, deciphering behaviors. I noticed a very grand thing that I would very much so like to take out a gov't grant to do an anthropological study on...that after a few years of us asking the question, "What can I get from blogging?" we all kind of shifted a little, and now the question seems to predominantly be, "What can I do with my blog?" I imagine this is a natural human process, but it's been remarkable to watch the sudden-evolution in a virtual space. 

Some of us get the chance to do very large-scale things, like my fellow Shot @ Lifers and dear friends CC Chapman and Karen Walrond. Some of us get to do more home grow things, like using our blogs as a platform to advocate for kids with disabilities, like my Canadian bestie Tanis. Some of us form non-profits to help give women a voice, like my friend and hero Maggie Dammit. Some of us use what we know and can do to shine lights on social injustice, like my ohmygodshe'smybossnow Lesbian Dad

And some of us, like me, just type some crap on the internet.

But I think all of us would agree that no matter what we do, we are getting a whole lot more than we could ever possibly give. You guys, each one of you, even you lurkers who think I don't know you're there, you save me, every single day - even the days I'm not here. You are my shot at life. Your support, your understanding, your acceptance of me with all my flaws and imperfections and failures and struggles...you make me feel like it is all going to be okay. You make me not ashamed that I have no money in the bank, and I had no furniture two weeks ago, and that I keep cycling through this same crap over and over again like a karmic rebirth groundhog day. 

So really, this is to say thank you. Thank you for your comments, your emails, your DM's and messages. Thank you for your vibes when you don't know what to say, but you're thinking about us. We feel it. Thank you for your kindness, your gentleness. Thank you for your ear. Thank you for listening. Thank you for holding us up.

...

Okay, so, every comment left on all 31 of our blogs up gives $20 to vaccinate a kid against measles, pneumonia, diarrhea and polio, up to $200,000. That's 10,000 kids who get a shot at a better life. Yesterday, Suzanne Chan of Mom Confessionals handed the torch to me and now I'm going to hand it to my friend Renee Ross of Cutie Booty Cakes

You guys are really good at helping me. What do you say we help some kids? Comments are below; you know what to do. 


Thank, yous guyses.