Deborah J. Johnson, DeBrenna LaFa Agbényiga and Robert K. Hitchcock (eds.)Vulnerable Children2013Global Challenges in Education, Health, Well-Being, and Child Rights10.1007/978-1-4614-6780-9_17© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
17. Defending and Nurturing Childhood in Media, Public, and Policy Discourses: Lessons from UNICEF’s Juanita Communication Initiative in Colombia
Department of Communication, University of Texas @ El Paso, 202 Cotton Memorial, El Paso, TX 79968, USA
This chapter describes and analyzes UNICEF’s strategic communication approaches to defending childhood in public, addressing the largely “silent emergency”—the daily tragedy of millions of undefended and vulnerable children dying as a result of poverty, pestilence, disease, and environmental degradation. Through the historical backdrop of UNICEF’s Child Survival and Development Revolution of the 1980s, which sparked countless global, national, and local initiatives to safeguard and enhance the health of the world’s children, I specifically focus on the Juanita Communication Initiative in Colombia, which translated national-level goals for children’s causes into local plans for action. In a world where childhood is still largely muted, the Juanita Communication Initiative provides important lessons on the role of communication strategies in defending, upholding, and nurturing childhood.
This chapter builds on the author’s previous writings on overcoming childhood vulnerability (Singhal, 2008a, b; Singhal & Howard, 2003; Singhal and Rogers, 2003). The author thanks UNICEF’s Communication for Development (C4D) Unit in New York for supporting the documentation of this project and especially acknowledges Colin Fraser and Sonia Restrepo Estrada for serving as key informants for the Juanita Communication Initiative in Colombia. Robert Cohen, Ketan Chitnis, and Rina Gill of UNICEF’s C4D also provided helpful comments on a draft version of this manuscript.
Addressing an audience of pediatricians in Rio de Janeiro, the late Jim Grant, former executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (from 1980 to 1995) and perhaps one of the staunchest defenders of children’s rights, recalled the story of a young woman who was walking along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. When an old man asked her why she was doing this, she said: “The starfish would die if left on dry sand.” “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young woman looked at the starfish in her hand, threw it to safety in the waves, and replied: “It makes a difference to this one.”
To make a difference for one and all children, under Grant’s leadership, UNICEF took the lead in launching some outstanding, innovative advocacy, mobilization, and strategic communication interventions to defend, uphold, and nurture childhood globally. As a result, tens of millions of children’s lives have been saved, especially since the decade of the 1980s.
This chapter describes and analyzes UNICEF’s strategic communication approaches to defending childhood in public, addressing what for the most part is a “silent emergency”—the daily tragedy of millions of undefended children dying as a result of poverty, pestilence, disease, and environmental degradation. Through the historical backdrop of UNICEF’s Child Survival and Development Revolution (CSDR) of the 1980s, which sparked countless global, national, and local initiatives to safeguard and enhance the health of the world’s children, we specifically focus on the Juanita Communication Initiative in Colombia, which translated national-level goals for children’s causes into local plans for action. In a world where childhood is still largely muted and goes undefended, the Juanita Communication Initiative provides important lessons on the role of communication strategies in defending, upholding, and nurturing childhood.
The Child Survival and Development Revolution
Under Jim Grant’s leadership in the early 1980s, UNICEF launched the CSDR, riding on four available, simple, and low-cost technologies known as GOBI: G for growth monitoring to detect under-nutrition in children, O for oral rehydration therapy to treat childhood diarrhea, B for breast feeding, and I for immunization against the six childhood diseases (tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles). As part of high-level global advocacy, Grant personally met with more than 100 heads of state to enlist their personal and political support for the achievement of CSDR goals. He kept his messages simple and pockets full. Sitting with a prime minister, a president, or a king, he would pull out a packet of oral rehydration salts and say: “Do you know that this costs less than a cup of tea and can save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives in your country?” (Bornstein, 2004, p. 248).
At the country level, Grant provided incentives for UNICEF country offices to work with national government agencies to mobilize around GOBI. In later years, GOBI became GOBI-FFF as food supplements, family planning, and female education were added (Singhal, 2008b). He utilized the annual State of the World Children’s Report (SOWCR), which he launched in 1980 upon assuming office, as a forum to both report and rank child survival achievements by country. SOWCR became a leading tool of advocacy on behalf of the world’s children, achieving worldwide outreach. Released annually with fanfare, it often received front-page media coverage. Now, a country’s performance in meeting the goals of the CSDR was more visible. There was no hiding. Now, one could know the rates within a country and, more importantly, how they compared with others.
Grant’s vision, launched in the form of CSDR, was to orchestrate a global movement—a “Grand Alliance for Children,” he called it—in which governments, civil society, international agencies, and nongovernmental organizations formed creative and dynamic partnerships for children and sustainable human development. UNICEF forged partnerships with hundreds of groups—the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Catholic Church, the International Council of Nurses, associations of pediatricians, mayors associations, and others. UNICEF was also instrumental in mobilizing Rotary International to underwrite the costs of all the vaccines needed to eradicate polio. Rotary pledged to raise $100 million within a few years. By 2000, they had raised over $400 million.
In 1984, Grant persuaded Belisario Betancur, president of Colombia, to back a national vaccination campaign. Betancur had grown up in a large family in which a number of his siblings had died young. Three national vaccination days were declared. Media promoted the campaign, and 100,000 volunteers from the church, police, military, trade unions, public school teachers, Boy Scouts, and Red Cross vaccinated 800,000 children. It was the first large-scale, nationwide effort at mobilizing all sectors of society, and it proved to be a trend setter. Many other countries followed suit.
In 1985, Grant engaged in this effort Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, whom he knew personally from when he was national director of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (Turkey) in the 1960s. With Turkey’s immunization rate then below 20 %, an unprecedented social mobilization campaign was launched to vaccinate five million children. On the launch day, Prime Minister Ozal, President Evren, the Turkish Minister of Health, the Chief Imam, and Jim Grant each vaccinated a baby against polio. It was covered by the national electronic and print media and hailed as a momentous national event. Astutely, Grant had personally invited the ministers of health from Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, and Syria to attend the launch ceremony (they would become champions of such immunization drives upon returning home).
Along with extensive mass media coverage, 200,000 school teachers, 54,000 imams, and 40,000 muhtars (village leaders) were mobilized to help out with the immunization campaign. The country’s meat and fishing industries offered use of their cold storage facilities by the campaign to preserve the efficacy of the vaccines. Vaccines were moved on cars, trucks, horseback, mules, and foot. Constant radio and television announcements had reached 30 million Turkish homes, ensuring everyone knew what was at stake, what to do, and where to go. Within 2 months of the campaign’s launch, 84 % of the target group was immunized (Bornstein, 2004).