I have wanted to go back to school for a long time. It started even before having my first baby and moving states. But one thing led to another and the time never seemed to be right. In the Spring of 2020—when school went online for my kids, then 9 and 12, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic—life stopped in so many ways.
I tend to be more of a hands-off parent, and instead I found myself over organizing and overthinking. I was at a point where I was feeling like my kids were beginning to exercise their independence. So, by the end of summer 2020, I decided to apply to grad school.
I knew that I wanted to learn formally about global policy. Running World Moms Network for over a decade increased my knowledge and enthusiasm for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and I wanted to learn more to help the planet move forward and make lives easier and more fulfilling for people, especially women and girls.
I live in New Jersey, so I was looking at schools only in that corner of the U.S. to accommodate my family life. In nearby New York City, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) was the dream. The school was created by the same founders as the United Nations, originally as a school for diplomats. It is also ranked as the number one school in the country for international affairs. I wasn’t planning to start school until September 2021, or maybe even Janury 2021, the earliest. However, before I knew it, I was in conversations with SIPA’s admission’s department, and they asked, “Why don’t you apply now?”
NOW??? How could I apply now? I hadn’t written a resume in over a decade. I also would have to write the essays and find 3 people to recommend me. And then there was even a video interview part of the admissions process to prepare for! The admissions counselor had just invited me to a challenge, that I didn’t even know what the result would be. After all of this, would they even admit me?
Why did I think I’d need 6 months or a year to prepare my application? (You don’t.)
So, I put the pedal to the metal. I found three people to ask recommendations from. Now I had transcripts to get from Villanova University. It’s been a long time since I graduated! It’s all online now – it was so easy to do. Next, I had to work on the essays.
My kids and husband understood that I was now on a mission, one that seemed to excite them, too, and they left me to it. Iced tea and snacks were quietly delivered to me by kids as I hashed out my application in front of my computer.
Before I knew it, my application was in. Then I waited. Then, I found out that I was accepted! I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work at first – the money, the commute to New York City, getting coverage for the kids when we needed it, etc. But I made a plan. My first year, beginning with the Fall 2020 semester, wound up being virtual during a very still unknown part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to Fall 2021, and I was volunteering on a Zoom panel for new students, had already lobbied the EMPA administration about a possible new degree specialization, and was now starting my classes in person.
If I said it was all easy, I’d be lying! I’ve had to make other things in my life as easy as possible in order to survive – give up volunteer positions, order take out more often (the kids don’t mind), or make appointments closer to home to fit them in. My husband and kids had to pitch in more at home, too. It’s all still not enough, but this stage of my life will only last until graduation.
Now in my Spring 2022 semester, I have only 5 out of 15 classes left to take, and I am halfway through 2 of them. I am not entirely sure exactly what the future will hold yet after I graduate, but I have some ideas, and I am learning soooo much – economics, global trade and development, global energy policy, policing in the 21st century, strategy, management, statistics, social welfare policy, social justice movements, nonprofit finance, social enterprise, etc. I plan to be on the planet for a long time!!! At 45 I’m not done — I’m just getting started again. The skills and knowledge and connections that I am making at SIPA will, no doubt, help me work towards improving life on the planet for those who need it most for decades to come. So, right now was the right time!
Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India.
She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls.
Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.
I have no words, and also a thousand words. I am profoundly sad and helplessly angry at the same time. What is happening in Ukraine feels surreal, yet it is horrifyingly, heartbreakingly real. It’s taken me days to get words down because nothing that I write could possibly encompass and explain the horror of what’s happening on the ground or adequately express how I feel. I humbly try now because the Ukrainians deserve our attention.
Don’t look away
Don’t choose to ignore
It’s hard to watch. But watch. Don’t go on with your life as if nothing is happening. Acknowledge what is happening. Don’t gloss over the egregiousness of Russia’s actions if your children ask you what’s happening. Talk to them about it. Tell them why it is egregious.
This could easily be you,
had we been born into different circumstances.
These people–these brave, resilient, courageous people, that I have lived with side by side for the last year and a half–they are truly the most remarkable human beings in the face of adversity. What they feel for their country is an intense pride, an unparalleled sense of duty and service, a ferocious nationalism, and ownership of their fate and the future of Ukraine.
They will not give up!
They will not back down. Women will fight. Older men will fight. Young couples will say goodbye to one another so that young men can fight. Everyone will do their part. And there will be no complaining. Only a sense of duty and love for their country, and a need to do what is necessary to try and preserve the life they knew and had only one week ago, and for the last 30 years. I’m sure you’ve see the heroic stories from regular individuals on the street. This is how it goes. These are Ukrainians. My heart is shattered in a million pieces for these people, and their country.
My family and I were posted to Kyiv, Ukraine in August 2020 and evacuated in January 2022. As I try to figure out how best to process what is happening, I thought I’d share life stories on social media of some of our Ukrainian friends before the war– families of some of my girl scouts, a guitar teacher, a gardener, preschool friends, a 71-year old housekeeper and more. All of these people are still on the ground in Ukraine.
This is Sergeii. He helped us garden in the summer months and shovel in the winter. Sergeii is kind and gentle, fair and honest. He doesn’t have a family of his own but he loves children and is incredibly patient. You would never catch Sergeii having a bad day; he always had a smile on his face. This is a little video clip of Sergeii teaching my youngest son how to put down grass seed and take care of our yard. I have spoken to Sergeii three times within the week of the Russian invasion. He has chosen to fight and has been issued a gun. Please pray for his safety and the safety of all Ukrainians. Pray for the future of the Ukrainian nation.
This is not an original post to World Moms Network by our contributor, formerly in the Ukraine, Loren Braunohler. This post first appeared in Loren’s Facebook feed but was modified for WMN with the author’s consent. Images appearing in this post are attributed to the author.
Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.
Many years ago, when I was still living in South Africa, I was on the organizing committee for a national conference at which Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the keynote speaker. There were about ten of us on the committee, and we were all unspeakably excited at the prospect of an in-person meeting with this great man.
All of us had witnessed in real time the dismantling of Apartheid. Desmond Tutu played a major role in this process, and he helped shape the landscape of post-Apartheid South Africa. He was, without a doubt, one of South Africa’s greatest heroes.
At the time we were putting the conference together, South Africa was still a fledgling democracy. The first democratic election in which everyone had a vote was still a fresh memory, and the nation was in the early stages of its healing. Desmond Tutu was a bright light that all of South Africa’s people looked to for guidance.
On the day of the conference, the committee members were assembled in the room that had been allocated as our centre of operations. This was where the logistics happened, it was where we took our coffee breaks, and it was where we greeted the speakers and presenters.
When word reached us that Archbishop Tutu had arrived in the conference centre parking lot, we arranged ourselves in a line down one side of the room. We knew that Archbishop Tutu would only be there for a few minutes before he was whisked to the auditorium to deliver his speech. Each of us would have the opportunity to shake his hand and have a brief exchange with him.
I was standing beside my friend Dave, who seemed unaccountably nervous. There were little beads of perspiration on his face, and he was jiggling his leg so much that I kept nudging him to stop. As momentous as this occasion was for me and the other committee members, it was doubly so for Dave. He was the only Black person in the room, the only one whose life had quite literally been saved by the demise of Apartheid.
When the door opened and the Archbishop was ushered in, he instantly won all of us over with his grace and charm. He moved down the line of people, engaging everyone in a brief conversation, presenting himself not as a global celebrity but as an equal. When it was my turn, he grasped my hand with both of his. I told him what an inspiration for change he was, and he told me that I had the power to change the world in my own way.
He moved on to Dave, who was standing dead still, looking absolutely terrified. Dave managed to extend his hand for the Archbishop to shake, but he was unable to utter a single word. Archbishop Tutu told Dave he was a trailblazer for the generations to come, and Dave just – stood there. When the silence was on the verge of transitioning from mildly awkward to downright uncomfortable, the Archbishop started moving to the next person.
All of a sudden, Dave blurted out, “You’re a lot shorter than I thought you were going to be!”
There was a beat of stunned silence, followed by a guffaw of laughter from the Archbishop. He shook Dave’s hand again and moved on to the next person.
When all was said and done, I said to Dave, “You had the chance to say one thing, and that was it?”
“I didn’t know what else to say,” Dave said. “Anyway, it’s true.”
It was true. Well, kind of true. Archbishop Tutu was small in physical stature, but he carried himself as if he was ten feet tall. He was one of those people whose presence could fill an entire stadium. We saw on multiple occasions how he could sway the sentiment of an entire nation with just a few words. In a country that for decades was torn apart by racism and government policies designed to pit groups of people against one another, Archbishop Tutu’s message was one of peace and unity.
Desmond Tutu believed in the interconnectedness of all humans. He promoted the message that everyone has value, that the path to peace lies in talking to people whose views differ from our own, and that there is strength in diversity.
As South Africa – and the world – reels from the loss of this great man, we can take comfort in the fact that his legacy will be with us forever. He leaves behind lessons that all of us can teach our children as they strive to make their own marks upon the world.
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!
Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to honor the United NationsGeneral Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles. The UDHR was the first international document that spelled out the “basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy.” The UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages and dialects, making it one of the most translated documents in the world.
The theme for 2021 is EQUALITY – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights. The official slogan is “All Human, All Equal”.
“This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to ‘Equality’ and Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Equality is aligned with the 2030 Agenda and with the UN approach set out in the document Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart of Sustainable Development. This includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others.”
Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings. For more ideas, check out our previous posts:
“We’ve combed through the episodes to make sure they’re free of profanity, graphic references and other adult content. (Although talking about race and racism is always complicated, so parents, use your judgment here.) Our episodes never have all the answers, and we’re hoping these will open up space for some good old-fashioned dinner-table discussions.”
“Developed in collaboration with United Nations agencies, civil society and other organizations, YUNGA Challenge Badges aim to raise your awareness, educate and motivate you to change your behaviour and become an active agent of change in your local community.”
9. Make your own human rights meme!
Use this year’s Human Rights Day theme and brainstorm with your kids to come up with a meme. Use any free online meme generator to create your own meme. For inspiration, check out these take action memes.
10. Talk to your kids about how important they are to making the future better for all of us!
Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.
As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!
In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.
The irony is not lost on me as I write this post going on almost 48hrs without power. 90,000 other Rhode Islanders lost power as well in the most recent Nor’easter to blow through. Storms and power outages are becoming more frequent and more severe. The climate crisis is here and only going to get worse if we do not take drastic action.
In August Harriet Shugarman of ClimateMama wrote a guest post on World Moms Network about the UN Climate Reportthat called the climate crisis a “Code Red for Humanity”. This week she shared plans to present the organizational letter to demand real action at the upcoming COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow from October 31st through November 12th.
I signed on to the letter for presentation at COP26 crafted by parentsforfuture.org to demand no new fossil fuels. Now is the time to speak up and lend your voice as the world comes together to tackle this pressing global issue.
We demand you take the critical step to end financing and licensing for all new fossil fuel exploration today.
“We are millions of parents from all around the world, writing on behalf of the children we love. We demand that you end financing for all new fossil fuels now.
Our children are being poisoned by toxic pollution from burning fossil fuels with every breath they take. That burning is also the key driver of the climate crisis, which is ruining our children’s futures and destroying our only home.”- Read more
In the best interest of our children, we at World Moms Network are joining in to make our voices heard. Please join in.
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.
Last month, my county had its 32nd Annual AIDS Walk to pay tribute to those who we have lost, and to support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Whenever I receive an invitation to this event, I remember a news story I did a decade ago about how child marriage and HIV have common drivers, and what UNICEF was doing to combat child marriage and HIV/AIDS.
Some of the factors that put girls at risk of child marriage also place them at higher risk of HIV infection. These include poverty, low education attainment, and gender inequalities, especially those that limit girls’ ability to make decisions about their own health.
And this year, there is one more factor—COVID-19.
With 25 million child marriages averted in the last decade, UNICEF issued a warning earlier this year that these gains are now under serious threat: 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage due to COVID-19.
According to the UNICEF analysis, school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years. In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5. This is the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, a gain that is now under threat.
“COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.
And the AIDS Walk just reminded me of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.
Here is the situation on our hands. When a girl turns 12 and lives in poverty, her future is out of her control. In the eyes of many, she’s a woman now. She faces the reality of being married by the age of 14 and pregnant by the time she’s 15. If she survives childbirth, she might have to sell her body to support her family, which puts her at risk of contracting and spreading HIV. Definitely not the life we would imagine for a 12-year-old.
There is a solution. Imagine rewinding her to age 12. Have her visit a doctor regularly, and help her stay in school where she’s safe. Then she can use her education to earn a living, avoid HIV, marry and have children when she’s ready, and raise happy and healthy children like herself. Now imagine this solution continuing for generation after generation.
COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the solution and the lives of girls in poverty. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing make it difficult for girls to access the health care, social services and community supports that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence. As schools remain closed, girls are more likely to drop out of education and not return. Job losses and increased economic insecurity may also force families to marry their daughters off to ease financial burdens.
Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those marriages occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria. To off-set the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice by 2030—the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals—progress must be significantly accelerated.
“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” added Fore in the same statement. “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and polices, ensuring access to health and social services—including sexual and reproductive health services—and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”
Is child marriage a common problem in your part of the world? What can those of us who live elsewhere do to help?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit: Raphael Pouget/UNICEF.