This month I had the opportunity to meet an amazing woman who is changing the lives of women and girls in Africa through her organization Just Like My Child Foundation.
Vivian Glyck has a powerful story of personal growth that ties into her work. She left a successful business as a marketer for such clients as Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford to pursue her greatest calling as an advocate for women and girls.
You will be incredibly inspired by this interview!
Angella Nazarian (AN): Can you share what inspired you to start Just Like My Child Foundation?
Vivian Glyck (VG): Just Like My Child Foundation was really inspired by my desire to have another child. When my son was born in 2002, the doors to my heart were blown wide open, and I knew when I looked into his eyes for the first time, that my love and energy had the power to make him thrive. And it has.
My husband Mike, a technology consultant and Internet marketer, and I wanted another child. But I had back-to-back miscarriages. After the third one, I couldn’t do it again. I got very, very down. People tried to comfort me, but I went to a dark place. I’d find myself sitting in my car at traffic lights, sobbing inconsolably.
At about that time, both Bono and Angelina Jolie were in the news for their humanitarian work in Africa. I found myself thinking, if they can do something to help, so can I. One night shortly afterward, I sat bolt upright in bed, woke Mike and told him, “I have to go to Africa.” Soon after, I was in Senegal, West Africa with the Agape Church from LA when an Italian photographer told me about Sister Ernestine Akulu, an administrator at an impoverished clinic in Uganda. The clinic was fighting for the lives of its people and losing ground every day. It was a desperate story from a land of many desperate stories.
He said, “There are people dying left and right. There is no doctor. There is no nothing,” and I said, ‘”That sounds like the right place for me. Where people are suffering, that’s where I want to be so that I can help.”
AN: Can you share a little bit of your personal history and how it has influenced the work you do today?
VG: I realized that my inspiration to work with vulnerable children came from a deeper place. My parents are Holocaust survivors, and I grew up in Spanish Harlem, well below the poverty line. The mental and emotional toll on the parents gets passed down to the next generation. I don’t tell a lot of people this, but starting at four years old, I was abused in every possible way by my father. Many nights I cried for help. And no one came, until finally at fourteen years old I was old enough, smart enough, strong enough to stand up for myself.
I never forgot how lonely and terrified I was in the grip of my father’s abuse. And although I never made a vow to myself to save the world, I knew I needed to be a voice for the voiceless. Once my son was born, I found the real focus for my passion.
That’s when I realized that every child is Just Like My Child, and each and everyone of us at JLMC have passionately committed ourselves towards protecting the rights of the world’s most vulnerable — especially women and children.
AN: Much of the work you do is focused on empowering others, and you have worked with some of the great experts such as Debbie Ford, Deepak Chopra, and Tony Robbins. What do you believe some of the keys are to empowering someone to harness their potential?
VG: I think that the story of the little boy and the butterfly has informed me on what the keys to empowerment are: The little boy comes upon a chrysalis, a cocoon of a caterpillar ready to emerge into a butterfly. The boy watches the butterfly struggle to break free of its home. Taking pity on the butterfly, the boy removes the chrysalis for the butterfly. The butterfly spreads its beautiful wings a few times and then, unable to fly, lays down and dies.
The butterfly needed to struggle out of its shell to gain the strength to fly and live. From what I’ve seen, this is a major key to empowerment:
We all need to grow, struggle, and strengthen on our own for us to live our fullest potential. No amount of “charity” can substitute for the internal strength needed to flourish.
As an organization, we believe in solidarity, not charity. The solutions to poverty are right there on the ground, and when we partner with the indigenous, rather than just giving a “hand out,” we see amazing transformations happen. We’ve seen that the keys to empowering someone to harness their potential is to provide the resources, encouragement, and then give them the dignity and independence to implement solutions for themselves.
AN: Can you share some of the statistics facing girls today?
VG: No one is more vulnerable than an uneducated girl living in poverty. She is at risk for dropping out of elementary school, sexual violence, marrying early, becoming pregnant as a young teen, dying during childbirth, and contracting HIV/AIDS. If she survives, she will be raising her children in poverty and they too will be at risk.
And yet, girls have the potential to move themselves and their families into a healthier, more secure life. We believe that by investing in empowering adolescent girls, we are supporting the most powerful force for change on the planet.
o 16 million adolescent girls ages fifteen-nineteen give birth each year
o Gender inequalities such as vulnerability to rape, sex with older men, and unequal access to education and economic opportunities make HIV-related risks especially acute for women and girls.
o In sub-Saharan Africa, the center of the epidemic, women still account for approximately 57% of all people living with HIV.
o Medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages fifteen-nineteen, worldwide.
o In Uganda, 77% of reported child abuse is rape against girls.
o 150 million girls worldwide are victims of sexual violence in a year.
o Less than 2% of all international aid goes to help girls.
It is now known that educating and supporting girls reduces infant, child and maternal mortality rates, population growth, HIV infection rates and changes the conditions that create a cycle of poverty. Women are known to reinvest 90% of their earnings for the family while men invest 35%. The health and wellbeing of the next generation is dependent on the health and well-being of the soon-to-be mothers of those children.
o When a girl has seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (Center for Global Development 2009)
o A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. (The Global Campaign for Education 2011)
o Girls who stay in school during adolescence have a later sexual debut, are less likely to be subjected to forced sex and, if sexually active, are more likely to use contraception than their age peers who are out of school. (girleffect.org)
o Increasing the secondary education of all girls could result in an annual income increase of 30% per capita. (Chaaban 2011)
o Wages rise by 20% for every year beyond the 4th grade that a girl remains in school. (USAID 2011)
o Educated women reinvest 90% of their income in their family, while men reinvest 30-40%. (USAID).
o Giving women the same access to resources and services as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million. (girleffect.org)
AN: Do you have a personal motto or philosophy that is translated through your work?
VG: In the end, only kindness matters. I believe that given enough time, love and compassion can heal just about anything.
AN: Do you have any projects or initiatives that Just Like My Child Foundation is particularly focused on at this moment?
VG: Yes! We are focused on reaching 1 Million Vulnerable Adolescent girls who are ready to rise up and find their voice. We’re doing this through a program that has had remarkable results and that we call The Girl Power Project®. The Girl Power Project was created to address violence against women and girls and is a transformational peer-mentoring program that empowers adolescent girls to stay in school, avoid early pregnancy, disease, and live the life of their dreams.
Girl Power steps in just as girls face the choices that could lead them to a life of early marriage, children and disease or an alternative life of education, economic independence, and delayed marriage. We are focused on achieving zero pregnancies, zero dropouts, and creating leaders who have a vision and path for their future among the nine to sixteen year old female population.
Our ultimate goal is to empower one million vulnerable girls over the next ten years through a model that brings the program to 100 communities where 100 girls (10,000 girls in total) are trained as peer mentors. The power comes when each girl brings this knowledge back to her community and empowers 100 of her peers, neighbors, and family.
AN: In addition to founding Just Like My Child Foundation, you are also an author, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and have a background in marketing. What was your “ah ha” moment – when you first tapped into your power and found your own voice?
VG: I was fourteen years old. My mother and I had literally run away from my father in the middle of the night to escape his escalating violence. I was in 11th grade at a new school in New York City, and while I was trying to fit in with a new crowd in that awkward adolescent era, I was also dodging my father daily as he would try to abduct me from school. One day he finally succeeded, intercepting me as I was leaving school. He took me back to his apartment and I was trapped in a terrible situation.
When he finally fell asleep, I escaped the dismal apartment and ran down six flights of stairs and didn’t stop running for five city blocks. All of the mentoring I had been receiving from one of my teachers all at once gave me enormous courage. I called my mother right then from a pay phone and said, “This is the last time this will happen to me. You need to take me to get protection right now.” Within a week we had a restraining order against my father and I had my found an inner strength and voice that would serve me the rest of my life.
AN: What has been your proudest moment?
VG: My eleven year old graduated from 6th grade in June and he had to write and deliver a speech. Seeing him up on stage, all cleaned up and in a suit made my heart sing. In the same way, when I was with fourteen year old Nabatanzi Joan, one of our Girl Power Project mentors in Uganda in June, and met twenty of the girls in the Girl Power Club she created at her school, I was blown away by the power of one girl. I was so proud of her internal strength, vision, and compassion for her friends.
AN: What time in your life did you grow the most?
VG: In 1994, I became very ill with an unknown virus. At the time I was working in mid-level management at a small health insurance company near Boston, Massachusetts. I had been at this job for a long six years and had recently been unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend because I was so sick. Nothing in my life was working. It was one of the harshest winters in New England history and my spirit was really ailing.
That was when I started to meditate and explore other healing. By being still and in the moment, I could see all manner of opportunities that had been unavailable to me when I was hijacked by my anxiety and despair. Once I got out of my own way, I healed quickly, I found a job working as marketing director for Deepak Chopra and I was traveling around the country with him for his events and speaking engagements. Going to work for Deepak, who was not as well known at the time, was a massive left turn in my life and broke all the rules I had thought I needed to follow. My entire life blossomed once I let go of the fear and followed my own bliss (instead of everyone else’s).
My pathway to growth was through pain, and I’ve learned to appreciate the challenges in life because I know they will always make me stronger.
AN: How has the work that you have done healed you?
VG: By helping young girls to find their voice and step into their own power and potential, I have been able to grow beyond my own story and see the common path we all travel. There was a time when I was very fearful of public speaking because I truly hated to have attention focused on me. Now I can hardly contain myself when asked to speak about our work because my story encompasses the greater whole. I am in complete integrity about my passion rather than self-conscious about my own ego.