A Great Opportunity to Work With UNICEF and the United Nations

Even if I did have to put on a suit and tie, I still consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to address the scientists and UNICEF management from around the world who attended the conference. Credit: Ray Stubblebine for UNICEF.

The world works in strange and mysterious ways. This, for example: the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, happens to come across a review of Last Ape Standing in the New York Times last year, reads it and ties it in with other concerns he has been thinking about in his capacity as the world’s number one protector of children. Because of the book, it seems, he saw and learned things about the way a child’s brain develops that he had been previously unaware of. So he starts to tell everyone he sees, “You must read this book!” (I may be forced to pay him a small fee for this :-).

At the same time Yale scientist and child development expert Pia Britto, who had recently joined UNICEF and had also read the book, learned of Tony’s interests. Pia was exploring ways to tackle child emotional trauma as powerfully as UNICEF has already tackled starvation. She already knew about the long term damage that emotional trauma wreaks, not only on children, but everyone around them.

The next thing I know, I am on the phone with Pia who is asking me if I would be willing to help plan and moderate a series of discussions at the UN with the world’s top experts in child brain development. The goal — take the first step on a long journey toward finding better ways to protect the world’s children from trauma, abuse, fear and terror. Right now the stories of the girls who have been abducted in Nigeria and the continued civil war in Syria stand as two powerful and painful reminders of how many young people around the world face this kind of life-wreecking stress and pain every day.

I jumped at the chance to be involved, even if it did mean I would have to put on a suit and tie. How could I not? I can’t think of more important work. Our children are both our legacy and our future. If we don’t raise healthy, confident, loving children, how can we expect the world to improve? How can we hope to have the future we all want; a world that’s worth living in?

We took our first tottering step toward creating a better world April 16th, 2014. Pia Britto assembled an all star cast of 15 brilliant neurologists and pediatricians from every corner of the globe. Tony Lake, to show how important he feels this is, not only kicked the conference off with his remarks, he devoted his entire day to the four panel discussions I was privileged to moderate. He is committed to building scientifically based programs around the world that will help children. After the conference, some of the scientists told me they felt we would look back on this day as historic.

Let’s hope so.

Immense challenges remain and years and years of work, but our first challenge is to get the science right and help governments, cultures, leaders and parents around the globe see what the research reveals: that there are certain universal needs that all children share and if we ignore them, bad things happen. If we fail to provide our children with stability, love, support, safety and encouragement, we are creating time bombs.

Next, we begin the work of nailing down the best ways to communicate the science so that it is helpful and supportive. The pay-offs with even moderate success will be huge — a world with fresh and newly minted humans who are happier, stronger, and creative. More stable societies shaped by those children when they grow up. And in the end — stronger economies; less violence, more communication, more opportunity.

I can think of no better way to build a better world. (And no better reason to put on a suit!)

 

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