"I'm standing up for childhood because..."

Was the question I posed the other afternoon at a presentation I made to about 160 middle school students this past week. I was invited to speak about the volunteer advocacy work I do in the district for positive parent/family engagement in education as well as the work I do on behalf of the United Nation's Foundation Shot@Life program. Many of these students during this past school year have participated in two leadership programs through the YMCA: Kentucky Youth Assembly (where they elect a governor, create and present legislation/bills and visit the state capitol to talk with elected leaders) and Kentucky United Nations Assembly (where they represent a country and talk about global issues and propose solutions). Each 8th grade class is also required to work on a "service learning" project during the year. Shot@Life program's goal is to raise awareness about the importance of global vaccinations. The number of children dying every year from preventable diseases in developing countries is nearly equivalent to half the children entering kindergarten in the U.S.*

To this end as I spoke with the students about how:

  • One in five children lack access to the life-saving immunizations that keep children healthy
  • that a child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine
  • that by expanding access to vaccines we can prevent an additional 1.7 million deaths each year
  • immunizations give children around the world a shot at more "firsts." Vaccines open the door for a child's growth and development-first steps, first words, first day of school. Immunized children are more likely to celebrate their fifth birthday, do well in school and go on to be productive, healthy adults
and I then pointed out about how their voice, their time, and their support can change a child's life forever. That they too can stand up for childhood. That by lending their voice, they can provide every child with a Shot@Life. 

In the conversations we had that day about how we are now, more so than ever before, globally connected with one another, either because of the Internet or because we have the ability to travel to places where we never have before, not one student raised their hand and said "why does this matter to us?" In fact, they were ready to sign pledge cards urging our elected leaders to also stand up for childhood as well as planning ways to raise awareness within their school and surrounding community. 

At the Illinois State PTA convention speaking about Shot@Life, March 2012

Here's what some of these students had to say: "I'm standing up for childhood because every child deserves a shot at..."
  • to dance around like they don't care of what anyone else says
  • conquering their fears
  • laughing until they cry
  • catching fireflies
  • intellectual freedom
  • make enormous messes and drive their parents off the deep end
  • meeting a new sibling
At the end of the day, I gathered all the pledge cards and will be forwarding them to our leaders in Washington, D.C. because the students wanted their voices to be heard. These students have also decided to host a "walk a mile in my shoes" to demonstrate to their fellow students how many miles parents in other nations walk (on average it is 15 miles) in order to have their child immunized against measles, polio, pneumonia, and diarrhea. They will be making green and white friendship bracelets and distributing these to other students who participate in the walk and sign a pledge card. Service learning isn't just about planting a tree or painting a room (which I also encouraged them to do during Louisville's My Give A Day event in April) it is also about connecting others with issues and advocacy. 

As Milan said,  doesn't every child deserve a shot at...
"a chance to have fun and experience life the way it should be. Everyone should be able to have a childhood without worrying about dying as a result of a preventable disease. Every child deserves a shot at life." 

*U.S. Department of Education, 2007

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