Tuesday 18 November 2014

My top 10 #AYASummit Moments

I've got so much going round my head at the moment and it is just becoming a big jumble. I sit down at the computer to put my thoughts into words and nothing comes and then I get cross with myself and try to focus, realistically it is a bit of a vicious cycle.  I know myself well enough to know it is time for a bloggy break and that's coming but I've just got a few things to sort out first.

One of the things I really did want to capture before taking a break is all the amazing moments I experienced when I was in Washington DC with ONE for the #AYASummit. As I've said before this really was the most inspiring and all-consuming conference that I have ever had the privileged to attend. I just need to get my head in order so I can use all the information and experiences I gained.

Here is my top 10, I thought about doing a count-down but it would seem wrong to place the events in any kind of order of importance or relevance as they were all so impacting -

1.  Listening to Marquesha Babers read her poem she had written as an entry to the Girl Rising competition to attend the Women in the World summit. What was remarkable is that 19 year old Marquesha has spent most of her life homeless and yet her spirit and morals are fabulous, she talked after about protecting her cousins for poor TV choices and getting an education.

2.  Meeting Aliza Sherman, a woman who can make things happen! So touched was Aliza by hearing Marqueshas poem and story that she started working straight away to see how she could help. Her logic was that there was at least 80 powerful and influential people in the room and we could make a difference. By the afternoon session a scholarship had been set up and Marquesha is now the first recipient of the Marquesha Babers Storytellers fund, which is being administered by GetLit.org the charity that works with at risk teens to help them realise their dreams through the power of poetic expression. The room was captivated as Holly Gordon, founder of Girl Rising announced this new initiative to the room and as of now there is $3250 donations in the fund which means Marquesha now has a safe place to stay for the foreseeable future and some kick-ass mentors working with her.
“I thank my struggles for giving me my poems,” Marquesha Babers
3. President Johnson Sirleaf spoke to us over videolink and answered some questions we had submitted in advance, I was very humbled to find that one of those questions was my one about how Liberia is managing to continue with its regular commerce and agriculture activities in the face of this massive outbreak. It was very humbling to listen to President Sirleaf and it really got me when she asked us not to abandon her country, to please keep praying and working with Liberia for an end to Ebola.

4. Appearing on US TV! Little known to us there was a film crew with us the first day of the conference and the next morning we were shown a clip and we had made the news and it did make me smile when I saw the tweet in the stream they choose to show was a picture of myself and Saa, the young Nigerian girl who had escaped from Boko Haram, that I wrote about last week.

5. Listening to Petronella Halwiindi, Malawi Country Director for Heifer International speak on a panel about change through economic opportunity. This whole panel was extraordinary and we easily could have listened to them for another hour or two but Petronella really captured me when she talked with such passion about the people she works with being participants as they are active in the process of change, not beneficiaries who are just gaining. They already having their own ideas of how things could change for the better and it is so important that we do not try to fix 'their' issues with 'our' solutions. Whose eyes are we looking through when we see poverty? What a key moment that was for me, to consider that many people living in Africa would not consider themselves poor or in need and I may have just judged them by my standards, Heifer use a holistic family based approach, as poverty is not just a women's issue, it is a family issue.
"Do not try to fix what is not broken...do what it takes to ignite the fire." - Petronella Halwiindi
Petronella with Clemantine

6.  Getting to meet ClemantineWamariya who recalled her experience of being a 6 year old displaced in the Rwandan genocide. She was left with her older sister wandering from country to country for six years, literally until her toe nails fell off one by one. I can see a bright future for this young woman who is determined that the stories of women must be told and you could see she had gained her Grandmothers natural poise and ability to capture her audience with her story telling.

7. Letting out a whoop when we learnt that the UK is the biggest funder of GAVI (the vaccine alliance). One of the things we were tasked with doing was hitting the White House through social media so they had to take notice and would up their funding for this next round for GAVI and most of the Americans in the room were shocked to hear that the US is the fourth biggest donor to GAVI. I was happy to tweet out -

8.  Hearing Paul Zeitz from the US Department of State talk lots of sense. Paul was on a panel about why we need better health in developing countries and how change is created by people being healthier. As with the others it was an interesting panel but for me it was when we got to a question about how we can persuade other people or our children that it is worthwhile to get involved and to try to make a difference to the state of affairs in other countries. Of course there is no simple answer but Paul's big recommendation was that people get out of their bubble that they live in, when we start to see the world we cannot fail to be impacted by it. Don't just go to the affluent neighbourhoods and stay in the suburbs at home, make sure you travel to other countries where there are different climates and economies. There are plenty of charities you can travel with to ensure you are safe, but that awareness of diference is what creates change and inspires people to do more. I'm certainly going to be encouraging all my children to do at least one mission trip in their teen years.

9.  Being Inspired - I've mentioned the change through economic opportunity panel above and it really was amazing. I've visited FashionABLE in Ethiopia and it was a privilege to get a hug with Barrat Ward the man who co-founded that enterprise with his wife. There was another young woman on the panel though who really stole the show for me. Jane Mosbacher Morris has an amazing resume, it really is beyond what you would expect of one so young but instead of climbing the dazzling heights of government or private corporations she left and has established a social enterprise TO THE MARKET that she is currently running for love, not money. Jane talked constantly about the dignity of work and she is passionate to see survivors having a channel to be able to profitably sell their artisan goods. To The Market combines the powers of commerce and storytelling to empower the world’s most courageous survivor populations, in the belief that resilience is more powerful than suffering.

Jane photographed at Freeset, a Calcutta-based organization that employs human trafficking survivors. Image Credit: Neil Ruskin

10.  Coming home and chatting to my kids about the summit and all the amazing people I had met and the things I had learnt. I was amazed when one of my 7 year old's Miss E wanted to know more and more about what had happened the night Boko Haram kidnapped the girls from Chibok. As a parent your instinct is to protect your children from the knowledge that these bad things are happening but she reacted in such a mature manner and her questions were so well thought-out that I realised with reassurance and a filter in place it is good for our younger members of society to know a bit more and to be able to pray for those in need. It then did make me smile when she quite sincerely told me I was representing the UK at the conference as I was the only British participant and I realised yet again just how lucky I had been.

Sneaky number 11.  I know I said ten but actually there is one last highlight that I can't not mention and that was the women I met. The ones that inspired me and made me go away with a stronger desire to do more were not the power bloggers, the most well known women in the room. They were the ones with massive hearts and a real hunger for justice and social good. I am truly thankful to have met Chelsea from Do a Little a Good, Cindy Levin of Results, Nicole Melancon from Third Eye Mom and Jennifer Burden from World Moms Blog. These are the women that had never set eyes on me before the Wednesday night but they befriended me and ensured my time in America was outstanding. I'm super chuffed to say that I've joined the xxx team and will be writing for World Moms Blog too.

We finished the summit with a talk from Jamie Drummond, ONE co-founder and we left on a high note, with this message resonating loud and clear: 
“There is no them. There is only us. We are ONE.”

Thank you ONE for affording me this amazing opportunity. I am humbled and privileged to keep treading this journey with you and I'm excited to see what we will tackle next and the changes that come about because we care.

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