Heritage Night Helps Children Recognize their Role as Global Citizens
Mar 20, 2012

Each year, our local elementary school organizes a Heritage Night to celebrate the global diversity that exists within our school community.  This special event encourages both students and their parents to share their cultural cuisine, traditional dress and honored customs with one another in an engaging and interactive way.
The first year my family and I attended Heritage Night, I knew very little about the cultural diversity of the 500 elementary students who attend my children’s school in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.  But now, three years later, I feel privileged to know that my children live in such a diverse community with direct ties to dozens of different countries. The fact is that some of my children’s best friends come from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Korea, India and many other places around the globe.  Even those students who were born in the U.S. still have family ties in other countries and frequently travel overseas to visit.  Many of them have witnessed the differences in living conditions, schooling and health care that occur in these other  countries and they share these experiences at Heritage Night.
Fortunately, as these children forge friendships with their peers, they gain a better understanding and appreciation of what life is like outside of the U.S.  Heritage Night provides an excellent opportunity to educate children about the importance of being global citizens.  That is not to say that we don’t want them to appreciate their citizenship in the United States.  We certainly do.  However, if we can acknowledge the benefits and privileges that we do have, we can also understand how important it is for us to help others.  By cooperating with other nations, both now and in the future, we can work to address the most important and far-reaching international challenges that exist.
That is especially true when it comes to providing children with a shot at a healthy life.  So, in honor of Heritage Night, I called upon the students and parents who were present to join me in advocating for better access to life-saving vaccines by supporting the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign.
I described how vaccine preventable illnesses like measles, pneumonia, rotavirus and polio continue to claim the lives of children all around the world.  I explained how we could save a child’s life every 20 seconds by simply expanding global access to vaccines.  I let them know that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and improve global health.  In fact a small donation of just $20 can offer a child life-long immunity from four different diseases.   I then asked for everyone, young and old, to help me to raise awareness of this issue and speak out to ensure that we support U.S. led global health programs.  I even invited them to join me in meeting with our elected members of Congress to demonstrate our interest in this important movement.
As I spoke on stage I realized that many parents were nodding their heads in affirmation.  These parents know the challenges that children face in various countries and they understand the threat of disease and the lack of access to vaccines.  After my presentation many families expressed a willingness to help.  They wanted to know how they could reach out to their representative or spread the message among friends.  Some even offered to make monetary donations to the campaign.  One mother, previously from Pakistan, approached me about appearing on her radio show.  Since she broadcasts to the Middle East, she asked if I could talk about the Shot@Life campaign and explain to her listeners how people in this country are actively trying to help improve the health of children all around the world.
Certainly Heritage Night was a huge success.  Not just because of the awareness I was able to generate for Shot@Life, but because Shot@Life was  able to inspire so many young children to consider their role as global citizens.  These children desperately want to find a way to give other children a shot at a healthy life; a life that includes more dancing… more singing…more soccer players …and more giggles with Dad.
Stay tuned for more ways that various volunteer champions around the nation are spreading the message about Shot@Life and getting children involved in the process.  Perhaps you’ll discover that you and your family are called to join us as we set out to save the lives of children everywhere.


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