Monday, March 4, 2013

Hero. Advocate. Parent. Friend To Children

Peter Thomas Senese: Heroes Of Today

Peter Thomas Senese: Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation

I have been blessed to share wonderful friendships in my life with some truly remarkable people. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many, they are incredible heroes who give of themselves for the greater good of others. They act unselfishly, with courage and bravery, with honesty, and with unbending dedication toward enhancing the human condition.

Some of my heroes are well known individuals such as Kenya's Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari Maathai (who sadly passed away a few years ago), whose actions were applauded on the world stage as she fought to elevate the voice of African women, and for that matter, women everywhere. Others, such as South Africa's Haseena Patel may not be as well-known at the moment as Wangari, but I fully expect the entire world to take notice as Haseena works tirelessly to empower girls across the globe to find their voice, respect their identity, and similar to Wangari, to live in uhuru.
Whenever I think of the word 'hope', one person more than any other comes to mind. That person? Haseena Patel.
For those of you who have read my writing and ramblings over the years, you probably have seen the word 'Uhuru' on occasion.  The word 'uhuru' is Swahili  and means to live in freedom by being true and unbowed to your beliefs, ethics and morals.
Personally, I have learned the great value in finding and being true to my own voice, and standing unbowed in my beliefs.  Humbly, aspiring to live in uhuru has allowed me, in my capacity as the Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation, to help reunite many internationally kidnapped children while protecting an even larger number of children.
There is no question that when each of us finds our voice, we tend to live in freedom.  And living in freedom causes a person to respect the freedom of others. 
Which brings me the remarkable American's Patricia McKnight and Pamela Mitchell: two extraordinary women who have used their own life's challenges to make a tremendous impact for so many others.
Patricia McKnight has championed the rights of all individuals to live free from abuse.  There are so many people around the world who have been impacted by this indefatigable. loving women who used her own experiences as a spiritual, physical, and emotionally abused prisoner to help others.  Tricia not only found the courage to find her voice, but then she has literally used that voice through a host of social media outlets - from book publications to national talk radio shows  to speaking engagements - to help others find the courage to find their own voice. 
And Pam is indeed a 'Survivor on a Mission'.  In fact, when I think of the bravest individuals I have ever known, two people immediately come to mind, and one of them is Pam Mitchell.  The other is by adopted grandfather, Rabbi Morton Kohn. 
Now Pam's heroism is seen on so many levels.  At one point in her adult life, Pam was captured, detained, and enslaved - as a women in her 40's in the United States. Somehow, and after incurring severe physical injury, she escaped from her prisoner.  But, as you may expect, Pam sustained severe injuries. Physical injures that required multiple extensive surgeries.  So what did Pam do after her ordeal? She became a tireless, world renown voice against human slavery who has not only raised the bar on awareness of human trafficking, but who has helped, and inspired others to help individuals who have fallen into the world of trafficking.  In fact, the I CARE Foundation's recent key role in rescuing the young girls in Central America who were trafficked was inspired in great part due to the lessons that Pam Mitchell shared with me.  There is no question that Pam raised my own awareness - and that awareness led a group of young, imprisoned girls to be free.
Protecting children from crisis has become a very important part of my social activism, and so on this note, there are not enough words that I can ever express to share just how impactful, intelligent, and caring of a person Carolyn Vlk is.  Unquestionably, Carolyn, a board of director member of the I CARE Foundation and member of the Amber Watch Foundation's special advisory board, is one of the world's leading international child abduction and trafficking prevention advocates.  How important, measurable, and impactful has Carolyn's work been?  Scores of known children have been rescued or prevented from abduction due to Carolyn. It is no surprise that after nearly 30 years of continued reported growth in international child abductions originating from the United States, that the United States has reported for two consecutive years a 15% decline in reported cases of abduction. Without question, Carolyn's advocacy had a lot to do with this groundbreaking news.
It has been said that a hero is an ordinary person who rises up to do extraordinary things.  Well, this may be true in part, but Canada's Jennifer Husson Cluff is by no means an ordinary person. Considered one of the world's top parenting blog writers, Jennifer has used the paradigm of social media platforms to raise awareness for parents dealing with a host of issues revolving around children in crisis, particularly children with special needs, and children at risk of abduction.  Jennifer's advocacy has protected a large number of children, but I think what is also of great significance is what Jennifer represents: the world of social media parenting blog writers has collectively become the most influential group of activist, consumers, thinkers, and trend-setters.  Many, but surely not all of these parent blog writers, were once in the professional workforce, only to dedicate their lives to raising a family. In the past, many individuals, particularly women, who shifted their focus from their jobs to raising their family may have felt that they lost their voice, and that their social impact was dramatically reduced.  Well, as we have seen, the ability of parents who use social media to share information and educate others has led to the creation of a large, highly informative, connected group of advocates and consumers who are able to quickly mobilize and move on important subjects that impact all of us.  And Jennifer Husson Cluff, in her own way, represents the best of  today's 'new world media'.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to edit a manuscript written by Kate Wright about her mother Jacquieline Saix and godmother Mary Welsh Hemingway (Ernest's 4th and longest-lasting wife).  What the world did not know was that it was Mary who was one of the first woman war correspondents, reporting the news of World War II from the frontline in Britain during a time when women were not considered journalist! In fact, Mary, who was as tough-as-nails was the one who rescued Ernest son, Jack, from a Nazi prison camp! Meantime, side-by-side with her was Jacquieline Saix, who was also a war correspondent for Time Magazine with Mary. Together, they broke down the 'who reported the news' barriers way before the Martha Gellhorn's of the world appeared on the global stage. Mary and Jacqueline were news mavericks who changed the world in incredible ways. You may wonder just how so? Well, Jacquieline Saix, Kate's mother, was one of the first, if not the first, women television producers! What did she create? Magazine style shows that were eventually the creative inspiration behind such shows as Oprah!
Perhaps there is no hero in my life more than Maria, my son Tyler, and Christ - who I truly believe in - than my adopted grandfather, Rabbi Morton Kohn.  In all my life, I never knew a person who understood the power and importance of forgiveness.  Which is remarkable considering that not only was my grandfather a prisoner in Auschwitz, where over 60 of his family members died, but he also after escaping the murderous camp, he became a member of an uber-elite group of Auschwitz escapees that recked havoc on the Nazi SS.  After the war, Rabbi Morton Kohn of Hungary moved to Italy, then eventually to the United States. He taught me so much, but perhaps one thing more than any other: the importance of forgiveness. Several years have now passed, however, there is never a day that goes by that I do not feel his presence in my life.

Some of my friends are on the world stage, others behind a computer sitting at their kitchen table. Regardless of where they are, they have one very important thing in common: they are trying to make the world a better place. I invite you to read about the essays and interviews I have compiled about each of these friends, all of whom have not only enriched the human condition and made the world a better place, but who have impacted me in ways I could never accurately describe other than to say that their spirit is part of me.



Patricia McKnight

Wangari Maathai

Mary Welsh Hemingway and Jacqueline Saix

A Great Man: Rabbi Morton Kohn