Back to Ghana

As I write this I am sitting in my hostel/hotel room in Accra (it’s hard to call it a hotel since electricity and water are rare, I sleep under a mosquito net, and it costs under $20USD/night).  A lot has happened in the last few days, both for me, and in the world at large.  We’re also preparing for the measles campaign here which will officially kick-off it’s ramp up tomorrow with a press conference in the capital (of Accra, where we are now) and launching ceremony with the First Lady of Ghana.

While we were in NY the UN Foundation held a meeting of its Directors in Kumasi (Ghana), which included Kofi Annan and Ted Turner (the media mogul and founder of the UNF).  Ted Turner created the UNF in 1998 with a gift/endowment of $1BN USD.

Former Senator and now president of the UNF Tim Wirth has a great op-ed in Huffington Post about the importance of the UN and its many related organizations.  As he point out, the UN vaccinates 40% of the world’s children, thus it’s pretty hard to argue against its importance!  It’s especially interesting to me because the article was written from Ghana, and partially about Ghana, so the things Mr. Wirth has seen here over the last few days are much the same things I have seen over the last 7 weeks since we came to Ghana.

On the more sensational (or perhaps just confusing) side of things, there’s a story floating around that Ted Turner has promised a gift of either $1billion or $80million to Nigeria for polio and measles vaccinations.  The international media sources I stay updated through quote the larger number, American sources say the smaller, and the Washington Post has now retracted its story all together.  Since the other stories may also disappear, I am going to post them here as screenshots (pardon the small size, I’m on my Dell netbook).  I am posting them mostly so others can see how difficult it is to get accurate news sometimes, even when it’s big news about famous people (e.g. Ted Turner), let alone news about whether Zambia’s measles outbreak has been curtailed.

For the record Turner donated $1BN to found the UNF, which is probably partially the source of confusion.  It seems he may not have promised the $80million either, since the UNF’s twitter is carrying a story on the AP retraction. UPDATE: UNF has issued a clarifying statement and it seems that the already pledged monies were indeed the source of confusion (although why some sources say $1Bn and some $80m is a bit of a mystery still).

Screenshots to follow:

Times of India, Ted Turner donates $1BN…

Allafrica, CNN boss commits $1BN…

Business Week, Ted Turner gives $80M to UN fund…

Washington Post, STORY REMOVED: AF–People-Ted Turner

Switching gears a bit, I’d also like to mention that on Thursday 21 October, 2010, I officially became a UN Ambassador.  A small presentation ceremony took place at the UN for the five other cum-ambassadors and myself, with certificates presented by Undersecretary Akasaka.  I wore a Ghana Health Services TB control shirt that I had made (after GHS TB control generously donated a few yards of the fabric), and it makes me quite happy that I was wearing a shirt that says “Fight Poverty” while accepting my certificate.

Thursday was just a prelude to the activities and events of the day to come, and in retrospect Friday feels more like a week than a single day.  The day was packed with events and things to see, thanks to the hard work of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).

We had a press conference in which we were introduced to the press, fielded a few questions, and I received my official UN nameplate — which looks a lot like something you could have made for a few bucks at an office supply store, but carries a much more sentimental significance for many.

By this time we (the six newest Citizen Ambassadors for the various regions of the world) had all gotten to know each other pretty well, and I was happy to find a certain kinship with all of them.

The highlight of the day for many was meeting with Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, and discussing the millenium development goals.  The Secretary General was amazingly gracious and generous with his time, even taking a brief pause to read on-the-spot a hand-written letter (in Korean!) Gerardo (the Mexican Ambassador) delivered to him.

During a Korean-themed lunch with Undersecretary Akasaka we discussed the promise and challenges of new media and how the UN works to stay relevant and to inform the citizenry of its missions and workings.

After lunch we visited UN Radio and conducted interviews in our respective native languages — I did my best to be brief but informative when it comes to measles and the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases.

We also had an MDG briefing earlier in the day, a briefing that normally would have been conducted by Jeff Sachs (!!!), however he was in Greece at the moment, so we met with Deputy Director of Policy, Mr. Njie.  I found Mr. Njie to be eloquent and in perfect alignment with my belief (or perhaps the other way around, hah) that despite some lack of progress on each Millenium Development Goal, that is no reason to throw in the towel.  There is no better time to strive to end poverty and alleviate child deaths.

There were some brief (and I do mean brief) breaks for photos and viewing some of the inner workings of the UN (for instance, we popped into the Security Council!), with an hour or so break to head back to our hotel and get ready for the night’s concert.

The concert was to mark the 65th anniversary of the creation of the UN (24 October, otherwise known as World UN Day).  This year the concert was a symphony delivered by the KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) Orchestra.  I am not much of an orchestral music fan, but I found them to be amazingly competent, and the music was a layperson-friendly arrangement of well known classical pieces (William Tell Overture, Ode to Joy), traditional Korean folk music, and one contemporary piece (with the composer in attendance, sitting two rows behind me).  We sat with the Secretary General (two rows behind him), and the entire concert took place in the UN General Assembly hall, which was perhaps the most surreal event of a day that was replete with surreal events.

Throughout the day, everywhere we walked, as we moved from one building to the next, we passed iconic sculptures and artworks that I have seen in various places (Time, etc) my whole life.  The Swords Into Plowshares statue, the Knotted Gun, and so on.  I think it would be one thing to visit the UN as a tourist — I’d certainly seek out these statues, but to be there as a guest for other matters, and to simply be amongst these icons of culture was, well, quite surreal.

Overall the entire day was amazing, and I’d just like to again extend my most sincere thanks to the United Nations and especially to UNDPI for giving us all not just a great day, but a significant opporunity to continue to educate and effect real change.

We’re back in Ghana now, and the last few (whirldwind) days in New York are fading into long-term memory.  What isn’t fading, however, is the sense of encouragement that I feel, that now is a critical time in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases and that we (those who care to win this fight) have the allies necessary to make the difference.  I’m just a random guy from Seattle, and that I can find myself sitting with the UN Secretary General as we talk about the importance of vaccination is a testament to how many people — people on every level from elementary school student to world leader — care about ending these senseless diseases.

One Response to “Back to Ghana”

  1. […] to come to New York along with the five other newly minted Citizen Ambassadors.  His blog has the full write-up of his accounting, but we just want to extend another heartfelt thanks to the UN and everyone at […]