Why I choose to Advocate2Vaccinate

March 27, 2014

Fourteen months ago I knew very little about how to contact our Senators and Representatives, much less about lobbying in Washington D.C. Last January, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs selected me to represent them in their partnership with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign to advocate for global vaccine access. I was sent to Washington, D.C., to learn about public speaking, advocacy, and fundraising, but I discovered much more about myself as a citizen and as a person. 

Image credit: Shot@Life

In 1933, a young woman named Rose Garland Cole graduated from Union College. She moved to a holler’ in Stinking Creek to teach, first in a one room school, and eventually at Dewitt Elementary. Rose was small in stature, but what she lacked in size she made up for in heart and passion. She taught hundreds of students in her education career which spanned nearly five decades. Rose taught at several one room schools in the Dewitt area, Dewitt Elementary, and Dewitt Baptist Church Sunday School, often with a Bible on her desk and a paddle at her side. She loved God, her family, her students, and this community. 

Rose Garland Cole 

Rose was no stranger to generosity, and her own family undoubtedly influenced her kindness. Her brothers Beckham, Charles, and James Garland had each contributed to her education; they helped to pay the tuition for Rose and their sister Etta to attend Union College. All five siblings would eventually graduate and teach in Knox County during their careers. 

It was Rose Garland Cole who motivated me to return to Washington, D.C. with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign in recent weeks. Her devotion to community influenced me profoundly. She had always told me to stand up for others—a lesson that I had almost forgotten. She wanted to positively influence her students and family. 

Poverty has a powerful influence on society. It prevents access to basic needs including food, clean water, access to healthcare, and education with no respect for geographic boundaries. I stumbled in on Cameron Mills speaking at Knox Central High School on Tuesday, and he mentioned the difference between the poverty we see in our community and extreme poverty abroad. He reminded students that many families living in extreme poverty don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and there are no organizations there to help. 

People here struggle with paying for doctor visits, medical procedures, and medication, but children in developing nations don’t even have these options. Did you know that every 20 seconds a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease? Polio, measles, pneumococcal disease, and rotavirus routinely take the lives of children around the world. Did you know that $20 can vaccinate a child against these diseases for an entire lifetime? Every child deserves the right to a healthy life, and parents shouldn’t live in fear of losing their children to vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Image credit: GFWC 

Last week I had the pleasure to speak the Interclub dinner for the Barbourville Woman’s Study Club, Barbourville Junior Woman’s Study Club, and Barbourville YoungerWoman’s Club. The clubs collected enough donations in one meeting to vaccinate five children for a lifetime, and they completed 56 advocacy actions to let Representative Hal Rogers, Senator Rand Paul, and Senator Mitch McConnell know that they support funding for global vaccine access. Those three clubs are a testament to the collective impact that a group of individuals can have when devoted to a common cause. 

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” Rose worked to improve education in an area overrun with poverty, and that would be her legacy. What will be this generation’s legacy, and what will your legacy be?