Passion and drive to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus at Kiwanis family conventions
By Kate Weber, Director, The Eliminate Project, U.S. Fund for UNICEF
I have just returned to New York after attending three inspiring Kiwanis family conventions – the Kiwanis International (KI) and Circle K International conventions, held in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Key Club International convention, held in Orlando, Florida. This year I had the honor of attending the conventions as an official U.S. Fund for UNICEF Kiwanis club delegate. These annual gatherings provide time to conduct organizational business, offer learning opportunities and a chance to reconnect with friends.
As you may already know, Kiwanis and their family of clubs have joined UNICEF and partners in the global fight to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). It was exciting to see that The Eliminate Project: Kiwanis eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus was front and center at all of the conventions. The passion and commitment from every level of the Kiwanis family to eliminate MNT was apparent and took many forms. I watched an inspirational video from Alan Penn, KI’s President, in which he noted that as the son of missionaries he helped his mother during vaccination campaigns. He described how these memories resurfaced when he traveled with UNICEF to Cambodia to observe MNT immunization activities. There was an energizing 6 a.m. fundraising walk along the Mississippi River attended by more than 500 Kiwanis family members. Kiwanis youth continued to showcase their energy through projects dedicated to the theme of eliminating MNT, such as a shoe box float competition created by K-Kids and a video competition for Circle K and Key Club members.
Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF Chief of Staff, and Dr. François Gasse, MNT expert, retired UNICEF Senior Officer and first recipient of Kiwanis' Humanitarian Award, joined the events, as keynote speakers at a special luncheon. Both provided updates and further inspiration to a room of more than 1,000 supporters of the project. Flint Zulu, UNICEF’s program officer, also joined us for a series of technical workshops about elimination efforts.
The 4,000 Kiwanis members and more than 1,700 youth members who attended the events continue to enthusiastically raise funds and advocate for The Eliminate Project. Kiwanis members who had attended field visits with UNICEF served on panels and spoke about their experiences. They highlighted the urgency of raising funds: time is ticking to meet the global MNT elimination goal of 2015.
I’ve been with the U.S. Fund since 2001, and eliminating MNT was one of the first programs I worked on. Incredible strides have been, and continue to be, made by UNICEF and its partners—since 2000, 25 countries have eliminated MNT. Yet there are still 34 countries where mothers and newborns die of tetanus. Every nine minutes, a newborn dies of this entirely preventable disease. Additional resources are sorely needed.
I would never have thought in 2001 that one day I would witness a room full of teenagers dancing to eliminate MNT, wearing T-shirts with “Dance, baby, dance,” and creating a new dance move to celebrate The Eliminate Project! These same youth raised more than $688,000 this past year for the campaign. Young people are supporting all kinds of fundraising activities. They are dedicating their 18th birthday celebrations to the cause by asking family and friends to donate. One young man is using his graduation gift funds to match other clubs’ contributions and another is creating jewelry out of buttons to raise funds (I came home with two charming rings!).
I can’t write about these kids or Kiwanis’ commitment without getting emotional. This is what acting locally and globally is all about. By “changing the world, one child and one community at a time,” Kiwanis is the perfect example of global citizenship.