Sometimes you attend a conference that fills you up with so many emotions, and so much knowledge, it takes you some time to process it. Such was the case for the first ever AYA Summit, held at Google’s Washington DC offices and hosted by the ONE Campaign along with their new initiative, ONE Girls & Women.
I had first heard of ONE about 10 years ago at an U2 concert with my close friend Marabeth. She and I went to college together and have seen U2 more times (together and apart) than I can count. Bono is a co-founder of ONE, and spoke passionately about the organization then, as he does about pretty much everything. But here is the thing, ONE has become a major advocacy group around the world, so it’s not just Bono’s voice – it’s all of ours – speaking out to fight poverty and disease.
Given my background in public health and cancer prevention for nearly 15 years, these issues are very important to me. I was honored to attend the AYA Summit with fellow bloggers from around the world, and meet people who are making such a difference in terms of health, economic stability, energy, human rights – particularly in Africa. As many of these problems affect women disproportionally, the majority in attendance and the majority of the focus was on female issues within the scope of global crisis.
“Aya” is a hardy west African fern, and the name was meant to represent the resilience and strength girls and women show during times of great stress.
Here are the highlights of ONE’s AYA Summit for me….
Reconnecting with ONE’s Ginny Wolfe and Jeannine Harvey. Both of these ladies are true professionals, extremely talented, dedicated, and damn fun.
Meeting our emcee Patricia Amira, one of Africa’s most popular talk show hosts. I can see why. She was gracious, thoughtful, warm… and had a very strong handshake – my favorite thing.
Marquesha Babers performed her poem, “Rising,” talked about being homeless, and the cruelties of her childhood – with candor. I was so inspired when people around the room started a scholarship fund for her in a matter of hours.
Whenever I go through something hard, I look back and say… “Thank you for my poem.” – Marquesha Babers
“I make an appeal to you. With journalism in decline, important stories are getting lost.” – Nick Kristof
I was mesmerized/horrified listening to Cindy McCain, Kristen Howerton, and Patricia Amira discuss human and sex trafficking around the world. This was an issue I only had superficial knowledge of and these women told us the facts in a straightforward, articulate manner. My world got smaller.
“27-30 million men, women and children are trafficked every year, with 79% sex workers.” – Cindy McCain
“The way to stop sex trafficking is prosecution. The hard part is many times the government officials are complicit.” – Kristen Howerton
My friend CC Chapman joined a session about vaccines around the world, something that is near and dear to my heart since a few projects at my former company not only worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation but also centered on vaccines. They talked about the need to refund Gavi, and the AYA Action team swung into action on social networks to spread the word. (You may have seen a tons of tweets.)
“When a child comes to the ER and is not vaccinated, their risk profile is completely different.” -Ruth Abaya, MD
Clemantine Wamariya spoke to us about being a child during the genocide in Rwanda. Her poise and grace soothed the harsh stories; I felt like I was watching a phoenix rise from the ashes. When I hugged her later, I made a friend.
“We now call it genocide, but I just called it noise. The noise was all around us.”- Clemantine Wamariya
To say we had comic relief next would be disrespectful, but smiles sometimes come from unexpected places. Paul Zeitz, from the Department of State (no joke), showed his laser-sharp wit over and over when he discussed global health with Rye Barcott and Emily McKhann.
“What do people think of when they look at the Washington monument? Is it a phallic symbol shafting the sky? The Washington monument *should* be an Excalibur, a symbol we are a leader in world issues.”- Paul Zeitz
OH. YES. HE. SAID. THAT.
Our next session concerned energy and electricity issues in Africa. Much of the discussion was about encouraging women to be part of the business community, elevating them with economics and how that affects everyone, including the United States. Not to mention the plain simple fact that you need electricity to run a hospital.
The lights dimmed and Danai Gurira performed several different parts from her five-woman play, “Eclipsed,” which was set in 2003 during the Liberian civil war. I don’t think I took a breath the whole time. She was absolutely stunning. And apparently I need to start watching The Walking Dead.
The lights dimmed once more and we were asked to put away our cameras. Out walked a slender young woman along with a towering man. Her name was Saa, changed for her protection, and she told us the story of being kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists during #BringBackOurGirls – but somehow, miraculously, she managed to escape. Luvvie, a blogger I was thrilled to meet at the conference, recounted her full story on The Root. After she was finished, Saa smiled shyly, and it was announced that we could take photos of her. To show she is not afraid.
Saa is now attending school and receiving therapy here in the United States with the very few other young women who have escaped.
Are you emotionally drained yet? I was.
In the morning, we reconvened to hear about how businesses are bringing social good to consumers, to local entrepreneurs and how it just makes good business sense within their own supply chains. I had met Barrett Ward from fashionABLE at Alt last year, and pretty much, he’s the nicest guy ever. I also ended up chatting about life with Jane Mosbacher Morris while squatting on the floor curled up next to the electrical outlets. I love her company To The Market, which features survivor-made goods.
“56% of the labor in the developing world is done by women, but they only receive 1% of the income.” -Barrett Ward
“How do you take big ideas about compliance and safety, teach them to local people? And then to be able to operate on a global scale, you must have a healthy workplace and healthy employees. Need this for lasting change. Creating a sustainable way for these communities to work and build is one of the MOST important ways to help.” – Sydney Price, Kate Spade New York
Our last session? Ebola.
Several of our speakers had been on the ground during the outbreak in Liberia and knew first-hand how devastating the disease is. We were also addressed via video feed by the president of Liberia herself, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. For many reasons, the countries involved and the world in general were slow to respond. The important thing now, is to get there.
ONE has recently launched an Ebola Response Tracker, to show the support from major countries and donors across the globe.
After all this information and emotion, that guy from that band showed up via video as well. He was sorry he could not be with us, he appreciated our help… he had to work on his “day job.”
(I’m not sure I could have handled it had he been there anyway.)
But Bono’s co-founder Jamie Drummond was there. He swiftly laid down facts and figures about the work that ONE and its partners (including RED) have done, where ONE is going, and had lots of indignant humor for people who don’t do their jobs.
(So yeah, I developed a big nerd crush.)
Net net, extreme poverty has been cut in half over the past 10 years and ONE is aiming for ZERO by 2030. The tricky part is, the closer to that goal we get, the harder it will be.
So, what can you do?
The good news is ONE doesn’t want your money, they want your voice.
Follow and engage with them on social networks:
Read about the issues. Join the ONE action team, and respond to alerts.
Many thanks to ONE Girls & Women for having me. This conference changed my perspective in many ways. We are all this together, a sisterhood and brotherhood of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to look up from our own desks, our own lives – thinking about the big issues can be scary.
But truly, it was good for my soul.