As you might have noticed, I’ve been a bit slim with the posting. This has a lot to do with my triumphant return to (horns please – dun duh du duuuuuunnnn) High School. Yep. After almost 20 years, I’ve decided to finish my HS education. It’s been amazing and I will post more about it soon. But to tide you over, I thought I’d post an essay I wrote for my Sociology course about the organization UNICEF. This was an interesting essay to write, because when I started to research it, I was pretty sure I was going to come down on the exact opposite side of the matter. The reason education is so very important is precisely because of this sort of revelation. Those moments when focus, research and information leads one to a place they did not expect to go. Education is a place to change one’s mind, and change it back again, and again. It is not perfect. It is growing. So without further ado, my UNICEF essay.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, is one of the most ubiquitous international children’s aid organizations in Canada. Children of a certain age remember the little orange and black Halloween boxes, carried to collect change for UNICEF. Other holidays, like Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, see booths selling cards and small items, with funds going to UNICEF programs all over the world. It is certain that the Canadian population heavily identifies with UNICEF and the work it does, but does UNICEF achieve its once stated goal of providing basic survival needs for the children of the world? By abandoning their roots as a relief organization, generating ethical and cultural controversy and expanding their directive too broadly, UNICEF has surrendered its place as one of the greatest lifesaving organizations of all time.
Europe was devastated after the Second World War, but none were so vulnerable as the children. Many were orphans; most were starving, receiving poor medical care or missing school. The children of Europe were suffering. Amidst this suffering a movement grew. The mission was simple. Assure that every child had, in the words of UNICEF’s first Director Maurice Pate, “Some milk and some fat, on bread.” James Grant, who served as the CEO of UNICEF for 15 years, maintained that simple interventions, like a focus on clean water, breast-feeding, growth monitoring and immunization, provided the best chance of improving childhood survival rates around the world. Feeding children’s hungry bellies and fixing their broken bodies, UNICEF followed its straightforward ideals for another 40 years. Then, in 1989, the United Nations altered the mandate of UNICEF from providing very basic survival assistance to a broader children’s rights movement. With the passing of the Convention on the Rights of Children, UNICEF’s focus shifted from its original roots in basic relief and transformed into a children’s rights advocacy organization. As philosophy began to take precedence over philanthropy, UNICEF spent more and more resources on legislative, legal and social programming initiatives and less on basic needs.
With these changes has come controversy. Included in their rights mandate were clauses on sexuality, gender, family and religion that clashed with the beliefs of many nations and groups. While these issues are important and deserve attention, the inclusion of them in UNICEF’s directives made the delivery of basic care harder. While fighting the Israeli government on child prisoner laws, clashing with Indian leaders over sexual education content and confronting gender inequality in China, UNICEF is being prevented from providing care to needy children in those regions. Governments unwilling to go along with UNICEF’s rights mandate often close previously open doors to medicine, food, education and important health information programs.
As was previously mentioned, UNICEF began with a very narrow, yet difficult proposal: To extend and improve the lives of children. To accomplish this, UNICEF developed programs to improve breast-feeding rates, to teach about proper hydration (diarrhea and dehydration kill more children than war) and to immunize children against and treat children for the most virulent killers like malaria, polio, pneumonia, tetanus, measles and tuberculosis. For one organization to dedicate themselves to all of these tasks seems a massive undertaking and, indeed, it was. Despite the challenges they faced, UNICEF saved millions of lives by remaining true to their vision of helping children survive. By broadening their directives to include dozens upon dozens of specialized agendas, they have placed a higher value on ideas than on lives.
It is clear that UNICEF is motivated by good. It is clear that they also accomplish much good. What is not clear is whether they will continue to do good, or whether they will become lost in red tape while children suffer. By returning to their relief organization roots, resisting the urge to homogenize cultural childhood experiences and limiting their convoluted directives, they may be able to help the children who need them the most. While they fight for a quality of life that is beautifully utopian, they are neglecting the quantity of life they could save if they refocused and pared down their goals, turning once again to providing “some milk and some fat, on bread.”
So there you have it. The classic 5 paragraph essay. Oh simple form, you make me so happy. See you all soon, hopefully with some new reviews…