A Walk for Lasting Change
A Walk for Lasting Change
I have to confess that sometimes I bribe my children — with a doughnut or an ice cream — so they will join me in this or that community service project. They always end up having a great time and I am often amazed by how much kids can contribute — how hard they can work to plant a tree, paint a mural or tutor a younger child. But getting there can be a little painful, in spite of the occasional sugary incentive.
It was no different with CARE’s “Walk for Lasting Change” event in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward Park, to mark the International Day of the Girl. “Why do we have to spend another Saturday doing service,” my kids asked. “We’re tired. How long, again, is the walk?” I wasn’t completely unsympathetic, given the grey, low-lying clouds on the brink of a full-on shower.
But as we approached the park near downtown Atlanta with a touch of fall in the air, we saw hundreds of orange t-shirts popping through the overcast morning like as many pumpkins in a patch. We heard the chorus of the Fugees Academy Choir, and with growing anticipation, I knew, once again, that the day would be inspiring and meaningful.
Shortly after I took the helm at CARE 100 days ago, the team shared with me the idea of A Walk for Lasting Change. It would be an opportunity for CARE — and Atlanta — to join a global celebration of girls everywhere while calling out the challenges they disproportionately face around the world. In some places, for example, girls carry six times the domestic workload as their brothers, causing them to be late for school or to miss school altogether. In fact, a CARE report released for International Day of the Girl found that in 26 countries girls are actually more likely to walk down the aisle before age 18 than into a high school classroom. So on this day, in the name of changing that reality and unlocking the potential of girls, we would do the walking.
In mere weeks, more than 1,000 people had registered for the walk, and without a single doughnut-bribe from me, more than 600 of them turned out in threatening weather. They heard a rousing speech from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who said he was marching for his daughter and daughters everywhere. They witnessed traditional African dance and drumming from the women of Giwayen Mata. I told the crowd about Nasra, an 18-year-old girl who had so inspired me during a trip to Somaliland in June. The only one of six girls in her family to ever have formal schooling, Nasra walks 90 minutes each morning to the secondary school where she has spearheaded a fundraiser to build a library, starred in the school play and, following the recent death of her father, declared her intention to be a doctor in a region with so few.
I was thinking of Nasra as we all, unified in our orange CARE shirts, walked for and with girls who often trek miles to the nearest water source or school or health clinic. I talked with a lot of people at the walk event who shared their hunger for getting more involved, to further demonstrate the concern they so generously expressed by walking that symbolic mile with CARE and with the girls we’re working so hard to reach. In response to that kind of interest, we are creating a volunteer program at CARE, so stay tuned for more details. When greater awareness meets determination and hard work from our citizenry, great things can happen.
I’ve seen how this awareness and engagement plays out in my own home. The other morning, my 12-year old son woke up and came into our room. He sometimes tells us about a strange or scary dream he has had. But this time, he told me that he dreamed our family had started a home for refugee children, stemming no doubt from our talks about the plight of Syrian refugees and the work CARE is doing to help them. He said we had found a way of covering all of their expenses. Only, for some reason in his dream, the refugees had to pay for one thing: their doughnuts! So those doughnuts, walks, and service projects really are, in some mysterious mix, making an impact on my children and, I hope, thousands more like them in the future.
I look forward to working together to expand and extend our walk and our journey for social justice across Atlanta and across the country and the globe. We can involve millions more with commitment, determination — and maybe some doughnuts for good measure.