September 28, 2012In Praise of Storytellers
Earlier this week, I had a chance to catch up with Nick Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times and co-author of the best-selling book “Half the Sky.” As some of you may know, Nick finger-tapped my story into his poetic prose on the opinion pages of The New York Times back in 2009.
We were both invited, along with Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children and Jeffrey Walker, Chair, Frontline Health Workers and the MDG Health Alliance, to participate in a Save the Children-sponsored panel discussion on where the world stands today in meeting three of the Millennium Development Goals – reducing child mortality rates; improving maternal health; and achieving universal primary education. (These and five other important goals were agreed upon by leaders in rich and poor countries in 2000 and have an end date of 2015. NBC’s special foreign correspondent Ann Curry moderated the panel. (Ann is to be recognized for her unwavering commitment to covering humanitarian and development issues.)
Right down the street from our event in New York City, corporations, policymakers and non-governmental organizations were engaged in similar conversations at the Clinton Global Initiative and, later in the week, at the UN Global Summit.
Inevitably, in all these discussions, and even at our own breakfast event, numbers and data will creep in. 34 million: the number of African children who went to school for the first time between 1999 and 2006. 64 million: the number of children globally still out of school. As a professional evaluator of development programs, I value math and statistics. They help us determine what is or is not working, as well as how close we are to reaching our goals.
But facts and figures don’t show the whole picture. They don’t tell us that a cattle-herding girl in a rural village in Zimbabwe, if given the chance to go to school, would keep going all the way through to get her PhD.
When someone in the audience asked Nick how he manages not to get discouraged or downtrodden after all these years of seeing such strife on-the-ground, he said there are sad stories to be told, but for every sad story, there are many more hopeful ones - stories of mothers and women who do extraordinary things every day to make change happen in their own communities. (He could have been speaking about the mothers and women of Matau.) Nick said their stories aren’t commonly told by traditional media outlets.
So in praise of the storytellers, will you join me in sending a tweet or a Facebook post to @nickkristof or @anncurry, thanking them for telling the hopeful stories of the voiceless, for keeping these issues on the minds of millions of Americans, and for inspiring us – you and me -- to work together to help 61 million children who are still out of school today write down and realize their dreams of getting an education, too.