The Stuff of Champions
Are you ready?
By Lara Popovich & Michelle Bonjour
Minda Dentler held her three-month old baby as the little girl received her first polio vaccine. An ordinary occurrence for most, but not this mom: Minda was seated in a wheelchair, having contracted polio as a baby born to an impoverished single mother in India. If an American couple hadn’t adopted her, she believes she never would have survived past
Now Minda has a family, a career and she has completed an Ironman competition (covering over 140 miles using just her arms). She is a champion in many ways, including being an advocate for the UN Foundation’s campaign Shot@Life,. You’re invited to be one, too.
We met Minda Dentler in the underground meeting rooms of the Citibank tower in Manhattan, after her speech to hundreds of us at a conference put on by the UN Foundation called the Moms + Social Good Campaign. We’d come to learn what we and the group we founded, the Immunization Ambassadors, could do to help.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably involved in the giving and tracking of immunizations. Odds are you work in North America in a place where a couple hundred cases of measles makes news. But at Shot@Life, they agonize over a much bigger number: 1.5 million children in developing countries dying of preventable illnesses. Every year. Or, put another way, one child every 20 seconds.
To rally American support for international efforts, the UN Foundation began the Shot@Life campaign, bringing together two of the heavyweights of philanthropy, Ted Turner and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
(It was 20 years ago, this year, that Ted Turner began the modern era of big money gifts with his $1 billion donation to the UN to create the UN Foundation. Five years ago, when the Gates Foundation recognized the cost-effective work that the UN Foundation was doing with childhood vaccines, they put up the money to create an expanded program, and that’s when Shot@Life was created.)
We met Shot@Life’s Director, Martha Rebour (pronounced raBOOR), at the conference. She noted the intersection of those two great philanthropic efforts, saying, “It says something when such thoughtful, visionary leaders support the work we’re doing.”
Martha herself comes from a marketing/branding background, with a number of years at Discovery Channel, including working on the marketing of “Shark Week.” So it wasn’t surprising that she called her career change, joining Shot@Life in 2014, a “pivot.” We could feel the passion for her new work as she described travels to the field in Haiti, Rwanda and Zambia:
“I’ve been lucky enough to get out in the field to meet with health care workers, ones who’ve seen measles come through their villages, and these are villages in parts of the world where conditions are such that measles is often fatal. Those health care workers, and the mothers they serve, understand vaccinations in a different way.
I’ve seen mothers walk for miles, carrying a baby and with toddlers in tow, to stand in line under a hot sun waiting to get the children vaccinated. And, in some small way, I get to contribute to that.”
And Martha and Shot@Life invite everyone to contribute, too. They have a Champions program to educate volunteer advocates for global immunizations. They now have over 1400 such volunteers. Once you’ve joined, you’ll receive training via webinars, or you can apply for the annual Champion Summit in Washington, DC. The responsibilities of a Champion? Martha told us, “First and foremost, you’ll be expected to become informed to speak knowledgeably on the work of the UN Foundation, the Shot@Life campaign, and the vaccines we support: measles, polio, pneumococcal and rotavirus. You’ll also be asked to reach out to your Member of Congress and build a relationship advocating for global vaccines. Some of our Champions also get involved in fundraising and educational efforts.”
It’s a simple application, available here:
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Let us finish by going back to the Champion whose story we opened with, Minda Dentler.
In 2015, Minda traveled to India to be part of an immunization campaign. This is how she explained the emotions of that experience on stage:
I realized in that moment that my life had come full circle. My mother didn’t have access to the vaccine when I was a baby and I contracted polio. I had a daughter and was able to get her immunized and now I have traveled to my home country, India, and given the vaccine to other children.
Here in the U.S., getting children vaccinated is just another parental task– getting the kids to the doctor’s office and waiting for the shot. So picture how different that experience was for Minda when she had her baby vaccinated. She took her daughter at age three months and she asked the doctor to let her get a picture of the moment, the one you saw earlier.
During her speech, Minda recalled that she teared up just after that photo, and that she “cried the entire way home.” It hit her in that moment that her daughter would enjoy all those childhood firsts that she herself had never experienced: the first steps, the running, the jumping.
Yes, the rest of us may take vaccines for granted, but that’s something you can’t do when you’re a polio survivor holding your baby while sitting in your wheelchair.
Our Photos from the Moms + Social Good Conference