© Kiwanis International | UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta accepting a token of appreciation from Kiwanis International Foundation President Hugh Siggins during Kiwanis International Council in New Orleans.
Recently, I was honored to join our colleagues from Kiwanis International at a special event during the 2012 Kiwanis International Council in New Orleans that included more than 250 global Kiwanis leaders. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta was the keynote speaker at a special fundraising dinner for The Eliminate Project. It was fascinating to learn of Ms. Rao Gupta's background and how it has informed her life’s work to address the social injustices suffered by women and families.
Having grown up in India, she noted her first hand experiences, where she saw the sharp contrast between those with access to the most basic amenities afforded by her country and those without access. The quality of access to basic medicine and education often depended on one's gender, caste, economic class and geographic location. I was particularly moved by the story she told of her grandmother. Bhagirathi, her paternal grandmother, married at the age of 11 or 12 before completing her schooling. Over the span of 20 years, she gave birth to 11 infants, only six of whom survived, and she suffered several unsuccessful pregnancies, dying at the age of 33. I thought of how proud Bhagirathi would have been of her granddaughter—and I thought of our partnership with Kiwanis International and the work they are doing with UNICEF through The Eliminate Project, an effort to help eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). Through an immunization campaign for women of childbearing age, the initiative is reaching the hardest to reach and the poorest of the poor with vaccines that will protect or save a mother and her newborn from MNT. Important maternal and newborn health information and guidance on clean cord care and hygienic birth environments is provided to these women—all so that these mothers will not have to endure the pain of losing their precious baby to tetanus. I continue to be moved by the commitment of so many Kiwanians who have chosen to partner with UNICEF to bring us closer to the day when no mother—no matter how poor or how hard to reach—has to face such a devastating loss.