The Power of One Idea and One Dollar

14 October 2002
Author: UNFPA

When Jane Roberts of Redlands, California, sat down at her computer to express her outrage at the United States decision to withdraw $34 million from UNFPA, she had no idea that a campaign had been born. She was also unaware that Lois Abraham was sitting at her computer in Taos, New Mexico, doing the same thing.

Jane and Lois sent emails to friends, urging them to donate one dollar or more to UNFPA to help bridge the 12.5 per cent funding gap caused by the United States withdrawal of funds in July 2002. They knew they had to be resourceful to get the message out to 34 million people and the Internet seemed like the perfect medium.

Working independently and tirelessly, Jane and Lois reached out to networks and organizations across the country, including Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, National Women's Federation and Rotary.

"I also sent private letters to every League of Women Voters in the country and information packets to Women's Studies Departments at 160 colleges," explained Jane, who is a retired French teacher and tennis coach.

The "34 Million Friends" campaign took flight and hundreds of letters containing dollar bills and generous cheques began to arrive at the offices of UNFPA. Within weeks, donations had exceeded $60,000.

UNFPA estimates that the loss of $34 million in funding from the United States could result in 2 million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths.

"These are real people, not just numbers," said Lois, who is a lawyer. "Young girls will suffer injuries in childbirth and women who want to space their families will not receive the contraceptives they need."

As a mother of three, Lois is deeply aware of the importance of reproductive health services for women. "I have been able to lead a safe and healthy life and have seen my children and grandchildren grow up safe and healthy," she said. "I would trade everything I have for the health and well-being of my children and so would every woman in the developing world. The difference is, they have so little to trade."

Today, 350 million couples lack access to a range of safe and affordable family planning methods and about half of all women in developing countries deliver their babies without skilled medical assistance.

"I gave birth when I was 35 and I had the best medical care," said Jane, who remembers feeling very cold after the birth and relieved to have been wrapped in warm blankets. She shudders when she compares the care she received to the fact that many women consider themselves lucky just to receive an emergency birthing kit from UNFPA. The desperately needed kits are distributed to women in crisis situations and consist of the basics tools needed for safe delivery: soap, a plastic sheet, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord and string to tie it up.

Six weeks after the "34 Million Friends" campaign began, Lois and Jane were finally able to witness the fruits of their labour. They met for the first time at the UNFPA offices in New York, where they helped staff to open a pile of 750 envelopes and read inspirational words from people who believed in their quest. As one woman wrote, "this is true power to the people".

Staff at UNFPA have also been motivated by this initiative. "UNFPA appreciates this spontaneous outpouring of support," acknowledged Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director. "It reminds us how deeply the American people care about the work we are doing."

While Jane and Lois recognize they have set an ambitious goal, they are determined to persevere until they reach 34 million friends. "This is truly the greatest cause on earth," said Jane. "I know that support for the campaign is building all the time."

As Lois remarked, "The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you have no idea where the message has gone."

Contact Information:

Micol Zarb
Tel.: +1 212 297 5042

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