In my Wordless Wednesday post yesterday, I asked who this woman is:
and I promised “the icing on the cake” today of revealing her identity as well as the 1st birthday that is being celebrated.
This woman is Polly Palumbo. I am excited to have had an opportunity to learn about her past year as a Champion for Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. Shot@Life is celebrating its first birthday this week, along with World Immunization Week.
Here’s our conversation:
PK: There are so many different campaigns about causes that help children. What was it about Shot@Life that captured your attention?
PP: As a mom it’s hard to learn kids are still dying from illnesses we can largely prevent. I also know parenting is challenging. Every day there are decisions, choices to make from the simple to difficult. Although the latest study or expert might claim to know what’s best for your child, it’s not always clear. Sometimes there are no clear answers. As a former researcher and psychologist who now writes about parenting and children’s health I often hear people say there’s nothing we know for sure about kids or they don’t know who or what to believe. I get it. One expert says make sure your kid drinks 3 glasses of a milk a day, the other one says kids drink too much milk. It’s true we hear more advice than ever, more conflicting advice than ever and I agree, it can be confusing. It’s easy to believe the experts don’t know anything.
But there’s one thing we know for sure – giving children in the developing world access to vaccines is the best way, in fact the most cost-effective way to ensure their future health. Plain and simple. Children are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea and more parents should hear this. Most of us here in the United States have the luxury of not having to worry about our kids dying from measles or pneumonia but that is not the case in some parts of the world. Yes parenting is a challenge anywhere but there are risks and then there are risks. It’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to forget that we do know how to prevent disease and literally save a child’s life. I find that refreshing both as a mother sometimes worrying about things I needn’t worry about and as a professional debunking research and telling parents what we don’t know for sure or what they can ignore.
PK: One thing I have always struggled with as a parent is how to help my children understand that issues in places that are far away affect children who are the same age and gender as they are – that these kids aren’t just a picture in a magazine or an abstract problem (sort of the “eat your dinner, kids in China are starving thing). What is a way that I as a parent can help my children (13 and 16) have a basic understanding of the issues Shot@Life addresses?
PP: Kids get Shot@Life and want to help. I don’t think it’s hard for them to understand, even young children. After I spent a couple days at the Shot@Life Summit in D.C. last year I came home and told my children about it and explained what was so important to take me away from them. They had a lot of questions. Kids want to know, they want to put it all into context. We talked about how kids were still dying from diseases we could prevent, ones we could prevent for very little money. My kindergartener at the time looked up and asked “how much money?” When I said a few dollars he asked why if he had that much money in his piggy bank, the kids were still dying. He just couldn’t understand why the grown ups were not saving more kids. I told him I didn’t understand. That’s when I knew I would do more to help. It’s my kids, really, they make me want to help and they were eager to get involved.
Older children obviously have different questions and concerns. My oldest, a sixth-grader, had questions about the diseases themselves. She wanted to know about measles and polio in particular, where people were still contracting these diseases and also the history of these diseases here in the United States. We looked at several sites online together.
PK: Once my kids understand these issues, how can they get involved?
PP: My kids threw a simple fundraiser at their school (where they have a dress code). They sponsored a dress-down day where kids donate a dollar. They gave a brief presentation about Shot@Life. My daughters had fun making Shot@Life bracelets and cupcakes. We’re planning on making some t-shirts too. My oldest and I do Charity Miles for Shot@Life.
Kids can also write letters to their Senators and members of Congress on behalf of Shot@Life. An advocate in California, Tracy Clark, her teenaged daughter basically got her involved through Model UN at school. Other kids have participated in Valentine-making parties, birthday parties, free-throw fundraisers, walkathons, and helping out at booths at street fairs. The events have been so creative. My kids are already planning lemonade stands for the summer. They’ll help me throw some parties and a tag sale.
PK: How do you keep Shot@Life “front and center” among the various causes you espouse?
PP: Good question. We all have so many opportunities to help so I find it helpful to be clear why I advocate. There are causes or organizations that help a lot of people but in a small way. Then there are causes that can significantly improve the lives of a smaller group of children, maybe even kids who live around the corner. Then there’s Shot@Life that significantly changes, even saves the lives of a lot of children. So it gets my attention over and over! From writing about it on my blog, participating in Twitter parties, speaking about the cause at others organizations, making green friendship bracelets with my kid to finding myself in the same room (a large one!) at a “high-level” polio summit with world leaders at the United Nations, Shot@Life provides plenty of opportunities to get involved.
How do I keep it front and center? It’s not difficult with the momentum surrounding Shot@Life. From Blogust, the Champion Summit and the Global Mom Relay to this Birthday Bash, there’s always something brewing at Shot@Life. As one of the first advocates I now mentor other champions of the campaign. I find these women and men volunteering their time, efforts and dedication to helping kids so inspiring. It’s a pleasure to get to meet with people from other organizations and speak about Shot@Life. Each time I go out on behalf of Shot@Life I am reminded each time that people identify with the cause, with the need to improve the health of children everywhere, be it in their families, neighbors or across the world. People want to help, they understand the pain of having a sick child. Their kids have had pneumonia or diarrhea. They didn’t have to worry if their children would survive these illnesses. Some remember measles and polio first-hand. And it’s easy to get involved. Sign up for emails, follow Shot@Life on Twitter, fill out an advocacy card, write a Senator, like us on Facebook, buy a t-shirt, go to a fundraiser, become a champion. Or download Charity Miles, a great way to get involved on a regular basis. I’ve enjoyed watching how Shot@Life figures into other advocates’ lives from photographers championing through their artwork, writers in their articles, health professionals in their offices or practices and teachers in their classrooms. We lend our unique gifts and insights to helping kids.
PK: As a Champion, what has been a highlight of the past year in terms of making a difference through Shot@Life?
PP: One of my most memorable experiences and probably most rewarding came in a room of women mostly in their seventies and eighties. I’d been invited to speak but after a few minutes of technical difficulties I couldn’t show a slideshow so decided to ask about their experiences with polio and other illnesses. I asked if anyone in the room or a close family member had had polio. Some hands went up. Then I asked if they’d had friends with polio. More hands. Then I asked about measles, pneumonia and you can guess that most hands were in the air. They remembered these diseases all too well. They were eager to tell their stories. Also they just wanted to say thank you to me even though I’d basically just showed up, talked some then listened. They wanted to help too. So although I haven’t traveled to Nigeria or India on behalf of Shot@Life or met any families directly helped by the campaign, I think these women reminded me how terribly devastating these illnesses can be and not just for the victim but their family and friends even decades, a near lifetime later. They still remembered the pain.
Don’t you agree this interview is the “icing on the cake” that I promised last night?
Thank you, Polly!
(I am linking this post up to Mama Kat. One of the prompts this week was “describe a time when you wish you had spoken up.” I think issues like immunization beg for us to speak up, and I thank Polly for helping me broaden the ways in which I can do so as well as my children.)
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.