From April 29 to May 7, 2015, supporters of the Clinton Foundation visited the sites of several Clinton Foundation projects and CGI Commitments to Action that are improving the lives of thousands of people across Africa. This trip highlighted many of the issues that the Clinton Foundation has long worked on — economic growth and empowerment, climate change, empowering women and girls, global health and conservation. At the trip's conclusion, Heather Nodelman, from San Francisco, California, reflected on what it was like to see this work first-hand.
In Nairobi, we had the chance to visit a Starkey Foundation hearing aid distribution site, which was quite emotionally moving for everyone. Starkey is the leading manufacturer of hearing aids in the U.S. In 2011, the Starkey Foundation made a CGI commitment to serve a worldwide need for hearing aid distribution. The CEO and founder, Bill Austin, his wife Tani and their team, travel globally to set up camps which offer hearing tests, hearing aid fitting and counseling to make sure people of all ages and income levels using a hearing aid for the first time know how to use and maintain it. To date, Starkey Foundation has given over one million hearing aids to people in need around the world.
In Kenya, before Starkey Foundation started this work there, most of these people who simply needed hearing assistance were considered deaf and, if they were children, sent to deaf schools with no attempt to teach speech.
I was most moved by a mom who had been in a serious accident – crushed between two buses – and lost her hearing as a result. During her fitting, I was nearby watching and could see the moment she could hear again. Her young child came up to her and she could hear her daughter speak for the first time ever. As a mom of two girls around the same age, I couldn't hold back the tears. It's difficult to imagine not being able to hear my daughters' laughs, cries and words, giving me a renewed sense of gratitude for one of life's most basic senses.
Traveling to Samburu National Reserve, we met people on the ground working to Save the Elephants. The Clinton Foundation’s three-pronged approach, "Stop the Killing, Stop the trafficking, Stop the Demand," has brought many different elephant conservation groups together in coordinated and concerted efforts with the local tribal communities, governments, NGOs, celebrities and the private sector to fight the good fight.
Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, head elephant champion, who has been studying elephants and elephant behaviors seriously since the 1970s, founded an organization called Save the Elephants in the early 90s. Ivory trade is now illegal in much of the world including Kenya, but because the illegal markets have driven demand up, poaching reached an all time high again recently in 2012. If we don't stop the poaching, African elephants may become extinct within 10 years. Even more critical to our future, these illegal ivory markets are funding terrorists groups around the world.
I was surprised to learn that, after China, the U.S. is second in terms of its national ivory consumption. Thanks to education and awareness campaigns, many people now know to obtain ivory means you must kill an elephant; they can't survive without their tusks. Still, ivory is found in valuable collectibles and musical instruments, and many in the U.S. aren't willing to give it up. They are not recognizing the brutality of the ivory trade, and the dangerous threat it poses to us as a nation-state. If we want to improve global security, we need to actively work to find alternative materials to ivory that can provide the same aesthetics and sound for these products.
Why I’m Optimistic
The Wings to Fly program is creating leaders in Kenya's next generation who are aware of their country’s needs and concerns. In the long term, this program will effectively change the outcome of the country on many levels, as it relates to key growth areas of agriculture, climate, health, education, government and private sector entrepreneurship.
A CGI commitment created from a partnership with MasterCard Foundation and Equity Bank Foundation, Wings to Fly has given over 10,000 students chances to start anew or continue to secondary and higher education who otherwise never would have had the opportunity.
We sat among 5,000 of the 10,000 students enrolled in the program in the largest indoor arena in Kenya, a stunning sight in its own right to see this shear number of students assembled. We then heard students sing and speak of what the program has given them. We heard from students who were born and raised orphaned street children, others who had become young mothers too early in life never dreaming they could go back to school and have a career, and still others who had done well in primary school but whose parents had given up hope that they could continue to provide for them to the point of committing suicide. Each of these students, men and women, were now given a second chance and spoke with an elegant confidence filled with gratitude like nothing I have ever witnessed. In addition to educating and empowering these students, the goal is that they will go on to be leaders in their communities and give back to help others succeed. Programs such as Wings to Fly shine light on the future of Kenya and more broadly, on our shared future.
The Last Word
At the Nainokanoka Dispensary in the Ngorongoro Crater Rim area, I was in awe at (a) the widespread acceptance that vaccines are needed, and (b) the commitment by both parents and the community to vaccinate their children, no matter distances traveled. We were in the heart of the Maasai lands, and could see where the Maasai lived (thatched roof huts), how they worked (herding cattle), how they commuted (on barefoot for miles), how they dressed (everyone, male and female, in purple and red dress, huge holes in ears for jewelry and beautiful jewels around their necks, all made by hand, mostly from beads and cow bone). We had the added bonus of our driver being Maasai so we were able to get a true feel for the culture. He had lived in a village as a boy and had the very rare opportunity, mentored by the vet who came to his village to tend the cattle, to get an education and leave the village for more opportunity. He now works in tourism and has a family of his own but visits his parents in their village frequently and if they need things like medical help or market/supply needs, he can drive them.
The clinic serves 14,500 people and parents often travel on foot as far as 60 kilometers to get vaccines for their children who wouldn't otherwise have access to critical immunization services. We got to witness a little one having a vaccine administered, showing the same signs of fear my girls show when they have shots administered, and the mom and nurse offering the same reassurances we would witness and offer at home. We also saw the Solar Direct Drive refrigerator that CHAI procured which ensures the vaccines are stored at the proper temperatures for them to be effective. CHAI has also recently installed remote temperature monitoring devices that alert staff when vaccine storage temperature is abnormal so they can safeguard the vaccines before they are damaged.
It was incredible to see the work being done there and how open the Maasai tribe has become to let non-Maasai people into their community and culture to provide help. Mostly, I couldn't help but think of how lucky we are to have these vaccines safe from temperature damages and readily available at our disposal whenever we need, how many lives they have saved and how often people in the U.S. take that for granted.
Learn more about our work in Africa at africa.clintonfoundation.org.