Children in Crisis
This article is cross-posted on TheCommunity.com. Click here to add your name to a letter to the UN Secretary General and
Of the 3 million babies the world loses every year in their first month of life, 99 percent are in the developing world, meaning this is simply an issue of poverty and lack of resources. The weeks following birth are an incredibly vulnerable time, but astoundingly 2 million newborns could be saved with a few low-cost measures.
They were so young, and yet looked so sad. I looked into the faces of these children... hundreds of them... all gathered together at a UNICEF program in Malawi, one of the countries hardest hit by AIDS.
The image of Masooma -- a bright, young girl who understood that without an education she wouldn't have the chance to live a full and productive life -- remains most deeply etched in my mind and heart. She taught me that powerful advocates can come in very small packages.
I've been on the front lines of tending to and advocating for the needs of children for more than 30 years. In countless countries around the world, I've held newborns struggling to make it through the day. I've looked into the innocent eyes of toddlers abandoned by the people who should have loved them most.
When we think of what a child needs, we think of food, water, shelter and of course, love. Access to education, health care, safety and freedom are also crucial. However, after meeting countless children around the world when I travel, I've come to realize there is one thing a child needs the most: hope.
I grew up in the U.S., in middle class social circles that often viewed children as an annoyance and inconvenience. So I was struck by the genuine joy almost everyone -- girls, boys, adult women and even some adult men -- in rural Nepal took in the company of children.
In 2012, my children and I awoke to the sound of heavy clashes erupting outside of our home in Qudsaya, Syria. We could hear the sound of bullets and gunfire dangerously close to us. I was scared and on the verge of tears, but I refused to let my children see me cry.
I've been the small boy feeling he must face the world on his own, and the teenager in a war-torn country fearing for his life and the lives of his family members. For as long as these situations persist in the world, I speak from experience and believe there will always be love and families that can help these children overcome trauma and reach their full potential.
Since I first picked up a camera, children have been my inspiration. To me they represent everything that is good in the world, and each and every one of them has the basic right to be protected, nurtured and loved.
I don't know if I saved that child from anything. I don't know if he carried my support with him as he grew or if my words slowly faded away with time and age. I don't know if my whispers were audible enough to carry him through whatever obstacles he might have faced once he left residential treatment. But I do know that he taught me a very valuable lesson: Meet the children where they are and always love them anyway.
At the height of the Ebola outbreak, a woman came to our SOS medical clinic in Monrovia with her 16-year-old son. She was desperate for us to admit him to the clinic, and all signs indicated that he was already infected with the disease.