The activist doctor and the radical from advertising
It wasn’t her time as a health volunteer working in the Manila slums of the 1980s that most shocked Stephanie Sison, but her work as a doctor in the superb private health facilities of the city’s elite.
‘I realised’, she tells me, ‘that we knew very well in the Philippines how to take good care of mothers and babies, it’s just that as a country we were choosing to help the “haves” and not help the “have nots”.’
Her training as a doctor had emphasised the calling as much as the profession. She decided that closing the chasm that exists betweeen the health and survival chances of Philippines rich and poor children could not be done through her own medical work alone. She needed to use her knowledge to advocate for action to tackle the disparity.
It was this passion that led her to join Save the Children, initially overseeing programmes that have trained thousands of public health workers, and now supporting Save the Children’s advocacy and communications across Asia, especially for the EVERY ONE campaign for child survival. She sometimes misses the direct connection of being in medical practice, but she is clear that she is able to help even more people now.
At around the same time that Stephanie in the Philippines was observing Asia’s dramatic inequalities, Fariha Sarawat, two thousand miles away in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was a living embodiment of them. Fancy international school, holidays in Europe, and then a job in advertising and PR for major corporates.
‘I grew up in a “bubble”,’ she admits, embarrassed, ‘completely cut off from the real situation that most Bangladeshi children face. Later, I came to learn more and see more of the real Bangladesh, and to understand better its relationship to the “bubble”. The most important thing I realised was that the poverty that most Bangladeshis experience is rooted in decisions that are determined by people in the “bubble”.’
Her experience in advertising had trained her well to communicate with the “bubble”, and now she had a new mission.
‘I knew that the most important role I could play was not as a teacher of the poor but as a teacher of the people in the “bubble”. We have to get the “bubble kids” and their parents to raise their voice, and use their influence, in solidarity with the whole nation, rather than only for themselves.’ Now Campaign Manager of Save the Children in Bangladesh, and still only 26, Fariha is currently putting the finishing touches to plans for popular mobilization for the EVERY ONE child survival campaign, launching in the coming weeks.
Fariha and Stephanie share the kind of energy and commitment to every child that was shown by our founder, the child rights campaigner Eglantyne Jebb. They are, in many ways, her heirs, and fulfil very well the call she made in 1922 ‘to evoke a co-operative effort of the nations to safeguard their own children on constructive rather than charitable lines.’
‘We should claim certain rights for children,’ Eglantyne urged almost 90 years ago, ‘and labour for their universal recognition.’
‘Every year four million Asian children die before the age of 5,’ points out Stephanie. ‘We can’t talk of Asian growth unless we let these children grow too.’