Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lessons in overcoming adversity from the poorest parts of the world

This is ONE Week, a social media event following 10 U.S. bloggers who are in Kenya to see what life is like for moms in the developing world. ONE is the grassroots campaign committed to fighting against extreme poverty and preventable diseases (Bono is famously on its board of directors). The ONE Moms initiative hopes to get many more moms to support life-saving programs in Africa. Take a sec and Sign the Senate petition to urge Congress not to cut back on them, then read this moving guest post by Morgana Wingard, ONE's resident photographer.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a cofounder of ONE, Bob Geldof. He likes to say, and I'm paraphrasing, that the only reason we are not living in poverty—the difference between "us" and "them"—is we happened to be born on the lucky side of the world.

And yet, I think there are huge lessons for those of us here in the lucky side of the world that we can learn from people living in poverty, people who face extreme challenges—high maternal and child mortality, lack of access to education and clean water, high rates of HIV infection passed from mother to child, death of children from preventable causes, and extreme hunger.

The first lesson is perspective. Every one of us needs it once in a while. Though you can probably attest to the problems with the US health care system, and despite personal challenges you may face, we are still lucky. Most of us don't have to worry about our kids if, say, they get diarrhea. Most of us had good healthcare during delivery to ensure that both you and your baby were healthy. Most of us know where our next meal will come from. The U.S. is not perfect—believe it or not, we still have one of the higest mortality rates in the world, and millions of people living in poverty. But for most of us, our problems pale in comparison to those living in the developing world and the poorest places on earth. Consider the challenges a mom of a child with special needs there faces.

Women like Jackline inspire me. Five days a week, for $20 a day, she walks from house to house in villages in rural Kenya to test men, women and children for HIV and counsel them. She educates them about why it spreads, how to prevent transmission and how to get treatment. After only one day of following her around, I was exhausted. But she continued, unphased by the long walks up and down hills. My job, as a ONE photographer, is to convince and petition lawmakers to continue funding programs that keep her employed. But she is on the frontlines of the battle of HIV.

The other lesson I've learned in Africa is resilience. No matter how bad it gets in places I've visited, people always have hope. It's what carries them through situations most of us can't even imagine.

Take Harriet, a 24-year-old who weeks ago found out she was pregnant with her first baby—and that she is HIV positive. She bravely traveled alone for two hours in an overcrowded matatu for an appointment at Mbagath hospital in Nairobi. A doctor explained the effects of the drugs that are the only chance for her child to be born HIV free.

She'll likely vomit daily, but if too much she must rush to the hospital. She can also expect nausea, yellow eyes, rashes and perhaps fever. Despite all of that, she was only concerned about the fate of her child. And she had hope for that child. Like many people there, she will continue to get through her days in the face of some of the biggest obstacles—and, hopefully, have a healthy child.


  1. LOVE IT-You are so right, and one of the things I was least expecting to encounter(yet have seen the most of) on this trip is hope.

    Hope, and pride in what Kenyans are doing within their own communities to have dramatic impact on the issues you so accurately describe. Because they know that, as much as US and other aid helps, if it's not a fit within their existing culture, it's doomed. The creativity and nimbleness of the partnerships here awe me- US Healthcare could take a page out of what many CDC/US AID/ and Kenyan partners are accomplishing. We could stand a little less working within the system, and a little more making it work. That's what they're doing here, and it's inspiring. AS ARE YOU! Thank you so much for being a part, and I can't wait to see you next week in SD!!

  2. Very powerful post! What a great reminder that we really are blessed to live in the US. We take that for granted far too often!

  3. I can attest to the fact that Africa is hope. I once heard our housekeeper singing while she was cleaning the toilets and that ladies and gentlemen is something you will only find in Africa particularly in South Africa which is my home, my heart and my everything. I LOVE LOVE LOVE living here :)

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Thanks for sharing!

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