Local activist advocates for poor
Cindy Changyit Levin talks about her experiences volunteering with the group Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation campaign to expand access to vaccines for children in developing countries. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:27AM
Cindy Changyit Levin learned that one person can make a difference, even on an international scale, through the United Methodist Church of Evanston.
The Morton Grove resident wrote her first letter to a congressman in 2002 and made her first trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby her legislators in 2007.
In the years since, she has traveled to Washington several times on behalf of RESULTS, a grassroots, non-profit organization that works toward eliminating poverty and its associated problems such as hunger and disease in the United States and the rest of the world.
Last year she was one of 40 people recruited by a new United Nations Foundation organization, Shot@Life Campaign, aimed at increasing vaccinations for children in countries with high levels of disease and child mortality. The organization has partnered with such groups as the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Red Cross.
In that role in October she traveled to Uganda, where infant mortality has dropped dramatically in the past decade. Next month she will return to Washington D.C. to help train new volunteers for the organization.
In addition, Levin she has a video on the Shot@Life web site to teach others how to lobby their legislators.
Q. How did you become involved in volunteering for these programs and then volunteer for RESULTS?
A. “It started with my church, actually. That’s where I had an introduction to advocacy and learned we could have in impact on events.
“I was just moved to do it. I was hearing stories from other people that moved my heart.”
Q. Did that lead to your involvement last year with Shot@Life and becoming a Shot@Life Champion?
A.“They recruited 40 of us experts in different fields. I was an activist. There were doctors and others. We attended a Shot@Life Champion Summit last January. We met some people who were very, very active. Now there are about 200 Champions and they invited me back to be a Champion mentor. They are adding 100 more people. The goal is to get 500 by 2014.”
Q. What is the goal of the Shot@!Life program and what are some of the areas targeted for aid?
A. “We are working to increase vaccinations in areas where people don’t have access to hospitals for four diseases, polio, Measles, rotavirus and pneumococcal virus that causes pneumonia. We also are raising money. It costs $20 to immunize one child for all four of those. If they’re vaccinated they’ll never get those diseases. There are a lot of areas in sub-Sahara, Africa, Haiti, southeast Asia. There are other countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“What Shot@Life is doing is trying to vaccinate the hard to reach kids. They’re really going where the people are. Even where there are no hospitals there is a church or mosque. That’s where they go.”
Q. What was your trip to Uganda like?
A. “We were there for just one week. It went by fast. It was a whirlwind. There was no time for sleep. Uganda is a bit of a success story. The goal since 1990 has been to reduce by two-thirds the number of kids that die before age 5. They have taken it very seriously. Uganda has had its government problems, but has-been relatively stable the last decade. The infant mortality rate has dropped from 178 per 1,000 births to 90.
“For me it was a very hopeful trip. It was an inspirational trip. What I saw was our policies working to save lives. I saw parents with kids who were laughing and smiling. They didn’t have much. I saw that here was something that was working.”
Q. What do you see as the future of Shot@Life?
A. “This is a growing campaign. I think we have a real chance to do something, a real chance to touch peoples’ hearts so that kids have a short at life.”