December 9, 2011 will forever remain ingrained in my memory. It happens to be the day I stepped in the White House and participated in my first White House Community Leaders Briefing Series with the ONE Campaign.
The day began with an East Wing Tour of the White House. At the beginning of the tour, we were handed a greeting letter from the President and First Lady which made clear the emphasis this Administration puts on public service. In the letter the President stated, “This holiday season, we recognize that each one of us holds the power to make a difference in our world through service to one another, whether we serve in uniform to protect all that we hold dear, or share our gifts in our classrooms and neighborhoods. Each act of service touches others in ways we may never see, while guiding us toward an ever-brightening future”.
After the tour, it was time to start the briefing and get down to the business that brought me to the White House. The first speaker at the briefing was Aaron Williams, Director of the Peace Corps, who shared the successful projects carried out by Peace Corps volunteers around the world. Some of the notable projects mentioned were; GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) - a girl’s empowerment camp funded by PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and facilitated by PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), and Malaria Boot Camp. When asked What Peace Corps needed most, the director mentioned that they would like to see more participation from minorities as well as experienced older volunteers. His talk was simply amazing.
Next in line was Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Development and Democracy on the National Security Staff. Her talk was very informative, clearly outlining why US Government is interested in helping developing countries achieve sustainable economic growth. She talked about the Horn of Africa famine, and called upon the participants of the Community Leaders Briefing to help spread the word about the famine. She stressed that to prevent further famines, it would require comprehensive approaches that include investing in agriculture, infrastructure and markets.
Our final speaker was Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator at USAID. He talked about Feed the Future, the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative that supports country driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. He also touched on the Horn of Africa famine and urged everyone to help make it visible. His talk was simply outstanding.
Finally, Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement, closed up our Community Leaders Briefing morning session by thanking us for what we were doing at the grassroots level. He opened the floor for attendees to share success stories or ask questions. Wow, what a morning!
In the afternoon we attended the small group break-out sessions which allowed for more in depth discussion on new issues as well as some topics that were brought up in the morning.
I personally chose to attend the Bureau of African Affairs session that was facilitated by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bruce Wharton. He shared the three main objectives of the Bureau of African Affairs which included working to: 1) support Africa’s democratic institutions, 2) create economic opportunities for Africa and 3) prevent conflicts on the continent. His talk was very enlightening.
Wow! To be recognized and invited to the White House Community Leaders Briefing Series for volunteerism and my continued service on behalf of the World’s poorest people through ONE campaign was an honor. I simply had the best day of my life. I encourage everyone to find their passion and voice and use it on behalf of the World’s poorest people.
Esther Ngumbi is a member of the ONE Campaign and recieved her PHD in entomology from Auburn University.