I have been honored to sit on the UNICEF Board for the last 9 years. I have come to know the organization extremely well. The United States Fund for UNICEF contributes to the worldwide operations with the assistance of the United States government. I have now traveled both to Nepal and Montenegro, and met the brilliant and dedicated people who give their lives to helping children. In Montenegro I found an organized office targeting every area of children’s needs in what is designated as a middle income country.
One of their top priorities is closing the institutional orphanages and moving the children into foster care where they will get a great deal more attention. Recruiting foster parents, and working closely with the government has reaped tremendous success. We had the chance to meet the new foster parents and see the program in action as well as visit an orphanage which was too often used to political advantage for their local candidates and ignored the balance of the time.
Universal preschool is a problem for all countries. The evidence is overwhelming that early education makes a huge difference in the later success of children. We know it with the results of our own Head Start program in the United States. We traveled to the rural areas of Montenegro to see the school houses that have been converted so that children would have the experience of Kindergarten.
Inclusive education is another UNICEF initiative allowing autistic children and others with various disabilities to participate in a normal school is reducing the stigma of any handicap. I sat in a classroom where the children were working together so successfully. We also visited a resource center where first rate education was being given to disabled children.
One of the most exciting parts of our trip was seeing the Innovative Lab program. This is a UNICEF inspired program that brings together teams of high school students to organize a solution to a problem which the students identify. They are mentored and make a presentation and the top teams are given a grant to complete their project. One group was dealing with eating disorders, another with tolerance, and the importance of living together and accepting various religions. These students were excited and motivated and were sure to be a success in life. We also spent a beautiful evening in the home of the American Ambassador. I am so proud of UNICEF and the tremendous strides they are making for children around the world.
The children painting Easter eggs for Orthodox Easter Sunday in an inclusive primary school which includes students with disabilities. One of UNICEF’s big initiatives is to involve all children in the educational process.
A quick trip from the walled city of Kotor overlooking the magnificent views with my three new pals, Swati Patel, Rebecca Gupta, and Alexandra Walker. Two from Atlanta, and one from Shanghai.
Skipping with the colorful clown who came to entertain the foster children at UNICEF’s headquarters for a dinner with foster families.
Hearing about the success of the foster parent’s initiative in Montenegro.