The president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl M. Stern, shared her passion for social justice in a lecture at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

In the annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lectureship on Wednesday, Nov. 19, Stern challenged attendees to think beyond their own Western luxury and consider the challenges faced by children in developing countries.

Stern called attention to UNICEF’s historical origins. The nonprofit was created in the wake of World War II with goals to make Europe safer for children. Decades later, it has become the world’s largest organization for children. UNICEF is not funded by the United Nations, which Stern viewed as positive, because it leaves the organization free from politics and is thus seen as neutral territory.

Stern’s passion for justice took root in her childhood; her family always “inherently implied that if you can do something, that’s what you should do.” When Stern first signed on with UNICEF, she hadn’t slept in a tent for 25 years. Now, she has visited 30 countries, war zones, disaster zones and refugee camps.

Often, her task in the field is completing malnutrition checks for young babies.

“It is the best job because I get to hold every baby in the village,” she said.

Prior to taking UNICEF’s helm in 2007, Stern spent 27 years in nonprofit and education work. She has been publicly recognized for her work, including being named as one of “25 Moms We Love” by Working Mother Magazine and a “Role MOMel” by the New York Daily News.

Stern revealed how on her first journey to Mozambique, she was shocked to discover there was only one doctor for every 70,000 people. She contrasted the poverty and patience displayed in the developing nation with Westerners’ frequent exasperation with medical clinics.

Further, Stern discussed her luxurious experience of giving birth, surrounded by extravagant champagne, baby books and a white nightgown neatly tucked into a designer suitcase.

In stark contrast, Stern met a woman who was working in a field, and walked four hours in 106 degree weather to the nearest clinic — where she gave birth with assistance from someone with a sixth grade education.

Despite societal differences, Stern said she has noticed three similarities between children globally.

First, “wherever there are kids, there will be a ball; kids love to play,” she said.

Secondly, “No matter where you are in the world, if you sit down on the ground, your lap will be filled by a child,” Stern added. “They will just sit there for a while, until they have decided they have had enough and they are done. Then they always turn around, give you a big hug and walk away.”

Lastly, all parents want the same things for the children, Stern said.

They all want health, safety, education and love; they all want their children to dream and to help them achieve their goals. These similarities are not defined by economies, but by being a caring adult, she said.

Stern broached the global issue of Ebola, saying that it is a transnational issue requiring a global response. From the beginning, UNICEF has been on the frontlines in Ebola-affected countries, delivering supplies, helping families protect themselves and preparing at-risk countries, she explained.

Stern also stressed the importance of staying informed on the latest Ebola news, as well as distinguishing fact from fiction.

In concluding the evening, Stern reiterated UNICEF’s mission of aiding at-risk children.

“Every day, more than 18,000 children die from things we can prevent,” she said. Referencing her book “I Believe in Zero,” she added, “We won’t stop until that number is zero.”

Interested in pitching in? Text Ebola to 864233 to donate $10 to UNICEF US.

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