Thursday, 26 May 2016

Finding inspiration in the field

By Gabé Hirschowitz, UNICEF Next Generation in Los Angeles


While drinking my bottled water as I sit down to write this blog post, I am instantly reminded of the children I met in Kupang who walk twice a day for two hours (once in the morning before school, and once in the afternoon after school) to collect clean water for their families.

Four hours per day. How could this be? How is this fair?  Why is clean and safe drinking water not readily available to children and families around the world?

These are just some of the many thoughts running through my mind as I choke up thinking about the world water crisis that so many individuals face on a daily basis. Every single being has the right to clean water. It’s shocking that so many go without it in 2016.

When asked what they do for fun during their free time, the youth group replied, "We help our families around the home and we help our parents at work."

This concept probably seems somewhat foreign to many American teenagers. Yet, these Indonesian teens are beaming with love and light, and they are so grateful for our visit. Their motivation and excitement to connect with others is remarkable.

They are part of a UNICEF Innovation programme that NextGen funded for our Innovation Project. This incredible youth center helps kids identify what they think are the most pressing problems in their communities during emergencies. During our visit, they presented two prototypes of ideas to solve some of their problems relating to flooding and drought. This productive and creative process teaches the youth group to think outside the box and also allows them to gain the confidence and feedback they need to improve their communities with the help of UNICEF.

This visit was a special moment in my life because the Tap Project has always been something that I have gravitated towards since I joined NextGen. My first Los Angeles NextGen Art Party benefited our clean water initiative. That said, I truly believe this specific visit occurred in my life for a reason: to remind me to always hold this cause close to my heart for the rest of my life.

Clean water is an essential part of everyday life. It’s what keeps us going and growing. It’s our basic human right as living creatures, and I will do everything in my power to make sure I do my part in supporting this important cause.

What a truly remarkable way to spend my 30th birthday afternoon. The group sang me the sweetest Happy Birthday upon our departure, a memory which I will forever cherish in my heart.

During our first full day in Jakarta, we drove to a UNICEF-supported health centre on National Immunization Day. Children and mothers gathered around this “pop-up” health centre for their kids to receive polio boosters, while also checking their kids’ weight and height to ensure that their children are growing at a healthy rate.

It was so inspiring to bear witness to such a wonderful and productive programme. Every single mother was determined to get her child the proper care and attention that he or she deserves. One vaccination drop under the tongue prevents polio for life. A major “WOW” factor occurred in my mind. I became emotional while describing this memory, because why shouldn’t every single baby receive this vaccination drop that can prevent such a life-altering and deadly disease?  It’s so simple and I’m truly grateful to have witnessed such dedication and commitment on behalf of these health centre workers and mothers in Indonesia _ they are true heroes.

I’d like to conclude with our visit to a beautiful elementary school in Kupang. As we pulled up to the school, it felt like a beam of sunlight was shining down upon the playground. The children were wearing bright yellow uniforms as they greeted us with huge smiles, singing, dancing and waving hands. Their positive energy and beautiful spirits were one of the most genuinely special and memorable moments that I have ever witnessed.

Kelly, our Los Angeles NextGen chair, and I locked eyes, and at that very moment we both broke down crying out of pure joy, gratitude and appreciation.

They had a wonderful garden in the back of the school where each grade was responsible for maintaining and growing different types of vegetables. They then prepare and cook the vegetables once they are ready for consumption. They also had a lovely library where the books were alphabetized and separated into fiction and non-fiction. It was so nice to see such care and appreciation for reading and education. Perhaps it was the wonderful faculty, perhaps it was the joyful kids, or perhaps it was both, but anyone will tell you that there is something very special at that elementary school. I will honestly remember that day for the rest of my life.

All in all, our experience in Indonesia was extremely fulfilling and informative. I am forever grateful for this memorable journey with UNICEF. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

We met a mother in Kupang who had baby twin boys who had suffered from malnutrition as infants.  Michael, from UNICEFUSA, asked us if we had any questions for her and I replied, “What is your dream for your children’s future?”  She emotionally replied that her wish for all her children is “health and happiness.” At that very moment I realized that health and happiness are universal desires that all mothers want for their children around the globe. The well-being of our children and loved ones is the strongest bond that ties so many mothers together in this journey we call life.

This experience has opened my eyes even more and inspired me in so many positive ways. I am so grateful to be a part of the UNICEF family to work with such exceptional and devoted individuals. I am also so beyond grateful for my amazing parents and family who inspire and motivate me to do such good work on a daily basis.

Thank you for the journey of a lifetime.

***

A handful of Next Generation members travelled to Indonesia from the United States recently to see up close how the money they helped raise for UNICEF Indonesia’s Innovation labs is making lasting change. Below are their first-person accounts of their time in Indonesia: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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