I had heard about meditation before. I’ve tried it several times before. I didn’t just wake up one day and say to myself “C’mon Maureen…let’s try to meditate for 3 straight months!” No, no, no!
Actually, it wasn’t until I felt completely out of whack that I decided to install this app full of guided meditations, meditation music, and the likes.
“Nothing to lose,” I thought.
So I started…Eyes closed…I choose to lay down since my back was having a terrible flare up from herniated discs and all the stress I was carrying with me.
“Okay let’s do this…”
Music flows…the soft voice coming out was gentle and loving. I followed the instructions to the dots.
“Inhale…hold it in for 3 counts…” “Let it out…”
When I first started, my breathing was shallow. I could never inhale fully. A blockage maybe. I’m not sure but it was challenging. After all those guided meditations I feel light. Calmer! I kept doing these short guided meditations twice a day. Slowly, I began to see how much the simple acts of lying still, breathing deeply and allowing whatever thoughts came to my mind to just flow like clouds passing through started to shift me internally.
Here’s what I learned from 3 months of meditating every day:
I found peace. Cliche as it may sounds but I did find peace. I was able to find that soft spot in my heart that fills me up with a sense of peace. Each and every meditation sessions refilled it.
I am able to react less emotionally to things that are beyond my control. Example: One time at work, an angry lady shouted to my face so loud that the whole room heard her outburst of complaints. I was able to stay calm and actually sympathize with her. If this were to happen before my meditation days, I would have taken it personally and probably ended up in the bathroom stall crying! I thanked my daily meditation practice for this.
Patience. I am not the most patient person especially when it comes to parenting. When I am tired, my fuse is short and I often quickly feel irritated and I burst. At first, I didn’t notice this until my fiance pointed it out. He said I reacted in a more gentle and loving ways to my boy. Score!
I feel happier! No, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t happy before I started to meditate regularly. It doesn’t mean that my life is automatically perfect after meditating. But somehow by being calmer, more positive and grounded, it allows me to feel happier.
Increased happiness level also allows me to be a happier mother to my son.
More Mindful. By focusing on the breathing, on how my body feels during meditation and examining my thoughts with clarity, allows me to be more mindful.
Muzoon Almellehan, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador; former Syrian refugee
For the past three years, I have attended the Social Good Summit in September and have always been excited to hear speakers address issues that deal with SDG’(Sustainable Development Goals). This year’s speakers did not disappoint. In addition, I was invited to be a part of the SDG Media Zone during the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) in the same week, where media influencers and high-level delegates from around the world came together to address the global problems facing us today.
With celebrities like Aasif Mandvi speaking on the fairness of media when covering politics and Whoopi Goldberg, whose involvement with the AIDS Foundation in collaboration with Quinn Tivey, Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson, there was no shortage of inspiring changemakers whose goal was to further the conversation of the SDG’s for #2030NOW; but of those that I heard, one speaker made the biggest impact on me.
Muzoon Almellehan is the youngest Syrian refugee who changed her unimaginable circumstances to one of inspiration. She was 14 when her life was upended and had to escape to Jordan with her family to escape the war. For most children, the thought of starting a new life in a different country, let alone a refugee camp, would be daunting, but for Muzoon, it was more than that; she had to leave the school that she considered her second home.
Facing the reality that she couldn’t go back to Syria, she decided to pursue the one thing that the war couldn’t take away from her: education. Relieved to find out that the refugee camps in Jordan offered education to children, she dedicated all her energy to continue her learning. It was during her stay at two refugee camps in Jordan that made her realize the impact she could make for her community. She used her voice to raise awareness of the importance of education for children, especially for girls. Muzoon knew too well that the fate of young girls was bleak since her community believed early marriage was the only way to protect girls. She made it her mission to convince organizations in the refugee camps that education was the way to break the cycle of poverty and traditions that threaten the safety and future of girls.
Her commitment to bringing SDG 4 (Education) to the forefront of the Social Good Summit speaks volumes. Muzoon is not content in spreading the value of educating girls only in her community, but to the rest of the world. It is her passion towards education that has earned her the distinction of being the youngest UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
While I was not a refugee, like Muzoon, my family came to the United States to escape a Philippine dictatorship when I was 10 years old. Before we left, I was lucky to have been taught English as my first language by two aunts who were teachers before the national language, Tagalog. Like Muzoon, I had to leave my home, friends, and school and start over. My family had to rebuild our lives in a different country, but the one thing that was never compromised was my education. I didn’t realize how much I would be grateful for learning English at an early age because it made me feel like I belonged, even though I looked different.
My education has allowed me to pursue a career that I love, which may not have happened had we not left the Philippines. Now, as a Mom of an eighteen-year-old woman, I am so grateful that she will not have to fight to get an education and pursue her dreams, unlike girls in countries whose education is suppressed, thus affecting their future.
Muzoon’s commitment to implement SDG 4 (Education) for everyone is inspiring and should be heeded as a wake-up call. Education makes it possible for anyone to dream big for themselves and their communities. Her parting words say it best: “Even if we are young, even if we have challenges in our lives, we really can make a change. Yes, life is difficult, yes we face difficulties like war, conflict, poverty, but when we believe in ourselves, and when we believe that we are strong enough to make a change, we will make this change and we can actually make a difference in this world. No matter who we are, no matter where we are and no matter how old we are. Just remember that we are all humans, and at the end, we have the same feelings and same rights. So let’s be one and let’s come together for making our world much better”.
I, for one, am ready to join her mission of bringing education to every single person.
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.
Last year I spoke at the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Summit to a room of almost 200 advocates for global vaccines from all over the country. I had a story to tell, as many of us do, though you might not know it. The story of how Polio touched the lives of so many goes back a couple of generations for most Americans, people forget how terrifying it was, was but if you speak with anyone who grew up before the Polio vaccine became available and mention the word Polio you can watch their eyes grow wide at the memory of the fear that gripped this nation. Try it. Ask your grandmother or grandfather, and I bet they have a story for you about how it touched their lives. This is the story I told:
“Every story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a girl, a child, . Every story is a birth”….- Ishmael Beah Author of Long Way Gone & Radiance of Tomorrow & UNICEF Advocate
As a storyteller, and a mother to my four children that quote by Ishmael Beah really touches me. Because before I was a mother, I was of course a daughter. And the story of why I am here speaking to you today begins with her. my mother was born in 1922 , she was 45 when I was born, and a polio survivor. She stood all of 5’2” at a tilt, since Polio had left her with one leg slightly shorter than the other.
Eventually I would come to tower over her at 5’9″, and now that I am a mother myself I muse at how odd it must have been to have ended up with a daughter so much taller. While I was still a daughter, and before I became a mother, I was a traveler. I still think about the mothers who approached me as a westerner in my early twenties and held out their babies to me asking for medicine or a cure. If those babies survived they would be in their mid-twenties now, and surely not all did survive. Knowing what I know now I wish I could go back in time with a bag of medical supplies and give them whatever they needed, because the pleading looks in those mother’s eyes haunt me to this day.
I never was a mother and a daughter at the same time. My mother passed away four months before my own first child was born. Though she had told me stories about having Polio as a child it never really resonated with me in the way it did once I became a mother myself. How terrified my grandmother must have been of losing her. And to be honest I hadn’t really reflected on those mothers I met as a backpacker in my 20’s until I became a mother myself, and then I remembered that helpless feeling I was left with when I did not know what to do to help them. When I joined shot@life as a champion in 2013 I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to DO SOMETHING. To honor my mother’s legacy as a Polio Survivor, and to help the mothers that I know are out there in developing countries desperate for proper healthcare, for lifesaving vaccines for their children that every mother should have access to.
As excited as I was to join Shot@Life I have to confess that had I known that I was going to be visiting my government representatives on capitol hill that first year I attended the summit, I may never have joined. I had never done anything like that before. Yet, the next thing I knew I was hoofing it around capitol hill (in the wrong shoes…I might add…) advocating for Shot@life with my congressmen and Senators. I brought the messaging back to my community and realized how much work is still to be done just in terms of awareness alone. There is so much misinformation and lack of awareness out there on vaccines.
In this country we take it for granted that our babies will not die from a simple case of diarrhea, but mothers in countries where they lack access to vaccines have lost, or know someone who has lost a baby to a vaccine preventable disease.
Every 20 seconds a baby dies from a vaccine preventable disease, mothers will walk for days to get vaccines when they can for their children. I realized there is a huge need to get the message out to the public.
So what can YOU do to make sure every child gets a fair Shot@life no matter where they are born?
Become a United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Champion, as a Champion here are a few ways to reach out to make an impact in your community that can ripple around the globe:
Hold a party to get the word out, if you don’t want to do it in your home there are so many companies that offer fun alternatives. In my community stores like Alex & Ani, Pinkberry, and Flatbread Pizza will help you have a party on site to fundraise for your event.
Hold an event at your child’s school or set up a booth during an international fair, take the opportunity to work the importance of vaccines into the broader issue of global awareness.
Use social media as a messaging tool for good by following and sharing information through Shot@Life social channels, Write op-eds, letters to the editor, blog posts, or articles for your local paper or magazine.
For World Pneumonia Day in November of 2015 I was paired up with Pediatrician Dr Mkope from Tanzania and at the National Press Club in Washington, DC we did over 20 radio and TV interviews! It was a great feeling knowing that the message of the importance of vaccines, with real life proof of efficacy from Dr. Mkope, was being broadcast so far and wide. At shot@life we say “a virus is just a plane ride away”, and in a perfect example of this ever shrinking world, it turned out that Dr. Mkope is the pediatrician of the one friend I know in Tanzania.
Polio is still known to exist in only three countries in the world, the World Health Organization predicts that, with vaccines, it will be eradicated soon.
Every story is a birth, for my mother who survived Polio, for the mothers I met in central Africa with the pleading eyes, for my children and my children’s children, what I have learned as a Shot@Life Champion is that we have the opportunity to shape this narrative on global health, together lets write this story to end with no child dying unnecessarily from a vaccine preventable disease.
A version of this post previously appeared on Documama.org
Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog, Documama.org, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid, ONE.org, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on ONE.org, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com, EnoughProject.org, GaviAlliance.org, and Worldmomsnetwork.com. Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.
When I first came to Canada just over seventeen years ago, I was struck by the fact that every murder in Toronto made front page news. Every single one. When I heard that 2000, the year of my arrival, had seen 81 homicides in the Greater Toronto Area, I was slightly stunned.
81 homicides in Canada’s biggest metropolitan area, and less than 600 in the whole of Canada? What, in just one year? It just didn’t seem real.
To put things into perspective, I came to Canada from South Africa, which at the time was experiencing roughly fifty reported murders every day. Only the most sensational murders, such as the violent demise of South Africa’s former first lady Marike de Klerk, made national news. The rest got a three-line mention on the inside pages of the local community newspaper.
The realization that I had become desensitized to tragedy was one of the most sobering moments of my life. I felt that in losing my ability to mourn the loss of human life, I was losing a key part of my humanity.
I fear that this kind of desensitization is happening en masse in North America, specifically in the United States. We are becoming so accustomed to hearing about mass shootings that we are no longer surprised by them. What’s worse is that we actually expect them to happen. They have become an inevitable part of life in the United States.
American children are growing up in a world in which gun violence is “normal”. Their parents are becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that since gun laws are unlikely to change in any meaningful way, this is just going to keep happening.
In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 59 and wounded hundreds more, I am seeing some depressingly world-weary sentiments on my social media feeds.
“If nothing changed after Sandy Hook, why would we expect it to change now?”
“The right to guns is more important to lawmakers than the right to life.”
“It’s going to happen again before long.”
And the one that really breaks my heart:
“We just have to accept it.”
It seems that Americans fall into two very general camps. There are those who are spending their time trying to convince everyone else that, in spite of overwhelming evidence and common sense, guns are not really a problem. And there are those who desperately want things to change for the better, but are losing hope that this will ever happen.
The danger is that once that resignation sets in, desensitization is likely to follow. If you don’t think anything is going to change, you start to accept the status quo, and you lose the ability to be shocked by mass shootings.
My American friends, I say this to you with love. Keep the faith. Don’t lose hope, and do whatever you can to bring about the change that is so desperately needed. Educate yourself about the gun laws in your state and lobby your government representatives to change what isn’t working. Above all, use the power of your vote at every possible opportunity.
Don’t allow yourselves to get used to tragedy. Nothing will change unless we continue to feel the shock, the outrage, the sadness. We can avoid desensitization by thinking of the lost lives, the parents who have lost children, and the children who have lost parents, brothers, sisters and friends.
Shed some tears, feel the sadness, mourn for the victims of mass shootings. And for them and their loved ones, keep fighting for change, and keep believing that change is possible.
Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).
Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.
When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.
Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.
Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!