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How Do You Save the World? One Child at a Time!

www.forsythwoman.com | April 2011 | Download PDF

Robin Sizemore, Medge Owen and Parker Lovell

Three mothers. Three diverse careers. One massive project for orphans, half a world away. How do you save the world? For three local women who’ve joined forces, the answer is: One child at a time.

Medge Owen, Robin Sizemore and Parker Lovell are all powerful, successful women in their own rights. But as a triumvirate, their energy and passion is palpable – and contagious.

Working together, this local doctor, executive director of an international adoption agency, and business owner of a horseback riding academy, are planning to adopt – but not just one child. They’re adopting at least 35 children, living 5,100 miles away, in Teshe, a poor suburb of Accra, Ghana.

The children are fostered with a pastor and his family in a small, rented, cement structure. Ranging in age from 3 to 14, they’re boys and girls, each with the same hungry, eager eyes. They share tattered clothing, shoes and mattresses. They often are without running water and electricity. There are no toys. But at least they’re safe.

Owen recently met these children through Percy Gogoe, a Ghanaian child advocate, during one of her frequent humanitarian trips to Ghana. Owen is founder of the international humanitarian/education organization, Kybele, Inc. Through Kybele, Owen takes teams of doctors and nurses into developing countries, such as Ghana, where they teach safe child-birthing practices to local care givers.

“I was deeply moved by what this preacher and his family are doing for these orphaned children,” Owen said. “When children are sent to traditional orphanages in Ghana, it’s frightening. There is overcrowding, little supervision and poor medical care. Children sleep outside on the ground in places where there is no sanitation. So this one remarkable Ghanaian family said ‘No more.’ And they started opening their home to children who don’t have a home. These kids are so beautiful, and they have so much promise — so much that they can give to the world. And this one poor family is trying to save them alone.”

When Owen returned to Winston-Salem, where she is Director of Maternal and Infant Global Health Programs and Professor of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist, the Ghanaian children remained in her thoughts. Over breakfast with her friends, Robin Sizemore and Parker Lovell, the idea to join efforts to help the Ghanaian children began to take shape.

“Of course, we can’t literally adopt all these children,” Owen said at the breakfast. “But we can adopt them in spirit, and help make their lives better by providing funds for school, supplies, and clothing. We have the power to do that.” The weight – and challenge – of her words titillated the air at The Dessertery on Stratford Road.  Sizemore and Lovell immediately wanted to help.  Sizemore, a former account executive for WFMY, and now Executive Director of Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc, founded the agency in 2006 in High Point, NC. Since then, she’s helped hundreds of children from Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ghana and Morocco find permanent families. She specializes in the placement of children with special needs.

Sizemore is also the adoptive mother of two children from Georgia. In 2004, while in labor with an unlikely and surprise pregnancy, Sizemore met Owen while Owen provided pain relief for Sizemore’s labor via an epidural.

The two women quickly became friends and close colleagues in the world of child advocacy. Sizemore is a member of Kybele’s Board of Directors, and she accompanied Kybele to Ghana in 2008. Through that visit, a successful adoption program was launched in Ghana. Since then, nearly 30 Ghanaian children have since been adopted by American families.

Lovell and her family operate Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy in Winston-Salem, NC. The barn’s youth club, Lovell’s Little Bits, is well-known for its philanthropic work with and for children. Owen’s daughter, Jozy, is an active member of Lovell’s Little Bits, and Owen and Lovell have worked together often on humanitarian projects. Two years ago, Lovell’s youth club adopted a school in Afghanistan, supplying the entire school with educational supplies and children’s backpacks.

“I am always looking for ways to teach our children how to give back, how to instill in them the desire and passion for helping others and changing the world,” Lovell said. “I knew my children could relate to these children in Ghana, which is English speaking. They can imagine living in a rickety shack with a dirt floor. They can imagine what it would feel like to have no parents, no food or clothing, and no toys. They will be able to help these children, and communicate directly with them. I’m hoping that life-changing friendships on both sides will develop.”

Lovell said that when Owen and Sizemore first spoke of the Ghanaian children and their needs, she immediately felt a calling to help.

“In this country, so many of us can’t comprehend the kind of poverty that much of the world endures daily,” she said. “I want our children to see the world through broader eyes. I want them not to be afraid to push the boundaries and reach outside their comfort zones. I want this generation to believe that they can change the world. Because if they believe they can, then they will.”

The women’s work formally begins on Friday, April 8th, when Percy Gogoe, the child advocate from Ghana, will be in Winston-Salem. He, along with families who’ve adopted Ghanaian children through Hopscotch Adoptions, will gather at Cash Lovell Stables in Winston-Salem. Members of the barn’s youth club, Lovell’s Little Bits, will brainstorm the project and set short and long term goals.

Also at the meeting will be a team of local women, all brought together by the triumvirate of Lovell, Owen and Sizemore, who will act as the project’s board of directors.

“We each are connected with brilliant, wonderfully-compassionate women from all walks of life who want to help,” Sizemore said. These women will be instrumental in the project’s success.

One of those women is Nancy Hawley, Vice President of Manufacturing for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.

“When I learned of these children, and learned about Medge’s first-hand, on-the-ground ability to see that the children are helped by our work, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved,” Hawley said.

One of the reasons that many people are often leery of international philanthropy, Owen explained, is that often there is no way to track the donations of goods and money. But with Owen’s and Sizemore’s frequent trips to Ghana, and their network of partners on the ground, the project’s work should be easy to track and document.

In addition, there are tentative plans to organize an advocacy trip from Winston-Salem to Ghana in the next year to 18 months which will be open to those who are working on the project.

“We’re in this to make a difference for these children, and to teach our children how to make that difference,” Lovell said. “That is the kind of exponential change that fires me up. If children, on both sides of the ocean, grow and learn through this project, we will have truly changed the world.”

The project’s kickoff is open to the community, and those who are interested in learning more are invited to attend. Date: Friday, April 8, 2011 Time: 6 pm. Place: Cash Lovell Stables is located at 2210 Darwick Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27127.

“Our plan initially is to explore the needs of this group of children,” Sizemore said. “Then we will work together, in our professional and civic communities, to fill those targeted needs. We will raise funds, collect needed goods and items, and coordinate their delivery – all the while conducting an awareness campaign to broaden our support base.”

And if along the way, some of these children find adoptive families . . .

“The best place for a child is in a permanent, stable and loving family,” Sizemore said. “But when that is not an option, we have the privilege and obligation to assist these children within their own communities. Having our own community reach out to vulnerable children abroad is particularly gratifying, and made even stronger by involving and connecting children to children.”

About Robin Sizemore, Medge Owen and Parker Lovell

Robin Sizemore
http://www.hopscotchadoptions.org
info@hopscotchadoptions.org

Robin was a recipient of the “Angel in Adoption” award in 2008, by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, in recognition of her service to children since 1995. She is an adoptive mother and has been an adoption professional since 1995. In addition to placing children in forever families, Robin has been politically involved in issues of child welfare: she has brought educational opportunities to a variety of officials in Georgia and Armenia, spearheaded cooperative humanitarian efforts, and hosted numerous international delegations through the U.S. State Department and Ministries in other countries which are associated with institutionalized children. Robin has a warm rapport with the wide range of individuals involved with children in need, including government officials, orphanage directors and staff, hospital and humanitarian aid administrators, and adoptive families and children alike.

Medge Owen
http://www.kybeleworldwide.com
kybele@wfubmc.edu

Medge Owen, M.D., is Director of Maternal and Infant Global Health Programs, Professor of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Wake Forest University and the founder of Kybele, Inc. She has long been interested in international women’s health care issues. She received a Fulbright scholarship in 1997-99 to Turkey to improve childbirth conditions, and she coauthored the first Turkish textbook of obstetric anesthesia. She has worked and lectured in countries around the world and has received numerous teaching awards. She is married with one daughter who has joined her during Kybele related travel.

Parker Lovell
www.cashlovellstables.com
parker@cashlovellstables.com

Parker Nash Lovell, and her husband, Cash Lovell, operate Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy in Winston-Salem – a third-generation equestrian business. Parker is a former investigative newspaper reporter who worked with Pulitzer Prizewinning papers such as The Orlando Sentinel and The Charlotte Observer. She earned her Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University in the City of New York. Parker’s passion for inspiring and teaching children through their love of horses is well-known. The barn’s motto is: Horses Raise Great Kids. Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy is one of the largest, most successful riding academies in the country – one that is routinely singled-out for excellence by the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA). In recent years, Lovell’s Little Bits Youth Club, has raised more than $50,000 for local charities. Their philanthropic work is well known throughout the local and national equestrian communities.

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Thanked for Service: Kybele Board Members

One of the most rewarding opportunities has come through serving on the Kybele board of directors for the past 10 years.   I am in awe of all that Kybele has accomplished under the devoted and visionary leadership of my dear friend Dr. Medge Owen.  Our first meeting, under the most stressful conditions, resulted in a deep friendship and collaboration to change women’s healthcare in labor and delivery’s regional anesthesia practice.  I’m so very proud of all that Kybele has done to change and save lives of the countless women and infants from many countries.  In particular, the countries where Hopscotch shares in vision and work to also change and sometimes save lives through intercountry adoption, have been the most meaningful experiences.  Thank you Medge and Kybele for this incredible journey we’ve shared together.  Robin 

Thanked for Service – Kybele Board Members 

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The following three board members have served for numerous years on the Kybele board of directors and have rotated off the board.  We would like to sincerely thank them for the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of service to our organization. Board service is a one of the most valuable contributions one can make to Kybele and the intellectual capital by our board members is invaluable. It has been a privilege and an honor to work with these three outstanding volunteers.    

6afe520031d99f1b768ba50186582910Helen Akinc (Winston-Salem, N.C.)

For the past six years Helen has served as an active board member, vice president for business operations, newsletter editor, and Conflict of Interest Committee member. Her strong writing, networking, mentoring and communication skills; ability to bridge cultural divides; intelligence; and wit have guided us through strategic planning, project streamlining, fundraising, committee forming, hiring, and team leader summit organization.  Helen is a local board member, residing in Winston-Salem, and we look forward to her continued volunteer support from time to time. Thank you, Helen, for helping us stay focused on advancing the organization.

 

0a8375428e8af92322a6393fbd1ab604 Virgil Manica, MD  (Boston, M.A.)

Virgil Manica has served on the board since 2007 and has been a team leader or co-team leader on programs in Romania, Republic of Georgia, and Armenia.  A native of Romania, Virgil is an OB Anesthesiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.  Virgil has been a key player in initially developing these programs and has participated in numerous in-country conferences, lectures and training seminars.  He has also provided hands-on instruction, worked on networking and promotion, and helped to keep the Kybele store stocked with unique items from his travels abroad.  Virgil is an active member of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology (SOAP) and we look forward to his continued participation in the Romania/Moldolva programs.  Thank you, Virgil.

 

193ca4f0e988f7b385473929e636fd2a Robin Sizemore  (High Point, N.C.)

Robin has been involved with Kybele since 2004 when she met Medge Owen in the labor unit as Medge administered an epidural to Robin. Having mentioned to Medge that she had two adopted children from The Republic of Georgia (where Kybele would eventually start a program), they sparked a friendship that has lasted more than a decade.  Robin is the executive director of Hopscotch Adoptions in High Point, N.C., and while serving on the board has helped Kybele network with key leaders in both Georgia and Armenia. Thank you, Robin, for helping open new doors for Kybele.

Sharing Safety – Two Triad Women Join Forces to Help Improve Conditions for Mothers in Other Countries

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
By Lisa O’Donnell JOURNAL REPORTER

Robin Sizemore and Medge Owen felt a bond the first time they met. And it wasn’t just because Owen was administering an epidural that eased Sizemore’s labor pains.

In June, while Owen looked for a good spot to place the epidural needle, Sizemore mentioned that she had two adopted children from Georgia.

Owen asked: “The Georgia beside Turkey?”

Sizemore was delightfully shocked. Most people would have asked: “Oh, you mean Atlanta?”

The women soon discovered that they were deeply involved in humanitarian projects in neighboring countries.

Owen, an obstetric anesthesiologist, is founder of Kybele, a nonprofit group working to improve obstetric anesthesia in Turkey, among other countries. Owen first started working in Turkey while a medical resident. Her husband, Can Unal, a molecular biologist, is Turkish.

Sizemore helps coordinate relief projects for orphans in Georgia.

“I got excited,” Sizemore said. “I said that I was taking a medical team to Georgia the first two weeks of October. And she said, ‘Oh, really?’ I’m taking a team to Turkey in September.'”

Sizemore asked her to come over to Georgia when she finished in Turkey. She hoped that Owen could introduce modern anesthesia techniques to doctors.

“I’m on the plane,” Owen said.

Their chance meeting could result in improved childbirth conditions for Georgian women, many of whom deliver children without pain relief.

She brought by some material about her organization to Sizemore’s room. They talked more and realized they had much in common. Sizemore is 40, and Owen is 42. They both gave birth to children when they were 40.

“We found out that we had similar life stories,” Owen said. “We had young children yet we were traveling back and forth every three months or so to countries that are side-by-side.”

“Essentially, we’ve both become convinced that divine intervention brought us together for a greater common purpose,” said Owen, who is an associate professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The two women recently returned from Georgia. With Sizemore acting as her guide, Owen spent four days meeting doctors and learning how they use anesthesia.

Sizemore, who lives in High Point with her husband, James, and children Karina, 8, Kelley, 5, and Reese, 5 months, worked on several of her projects while in Georgia.

She helped bring over a team of orthopedists from the United States who performed corrective foot surgery for orphans. Another team helped renovate a dentist’s office in one orphanage.

Sizemore became involved in the plight of Georgian orphans after adopting her daughter, Karina, in 1995.

The country, a former republic of the Soviet Union, was reeling after years of civil strife. The infrastructure was collapsing. Heat was so scarce that people ate their meals wearing mittens. Chickens and dogs roamed the hospital where the Sizemores adopted their daughter.

Karina was an undersized 3-week-old infant when the Sizemores first saw her. She was kept in a dark room and was rarely held.

“She truly suffered. My God, it was awful,” Sizemore said.

Several Georgians rallied to help the Sizemores adopt the girl. They offered lodging and helped them wade through bureaucratic red tape.

This generous spirit, in the face of such bleakness, inspired Sizemore. She quit her job as an account executive at a local TV station and eventually became the Georgian liaison in charge of relief projects for Carolina Adoption Service, a nonprofit international adoption agency.

Later, the Sizemores adopted Kelley, who is also from Georgia.

She visits Georgia every two to three months to develop and manage projects for orphans and other children in need.

Sizemore and her team visit orphanages, hospitals and government officials. They have installed generators, built running water systems, renovated parts of orphanages and supplied clothes and school supplies for children.

Owen’s work fits perfectly with Sizemore’s vision of how to improve the overall quality of life for Georgian children.

“My work is humanitarian relief for the children of Georgia, but obviously that care begins at or before the birth of a child,” Sizemore said.

She talked to several women in Georgia about pregnancy and was surprised to learn that they did not have epidurals, a regional anesthetic injected into the spinal column that relieves pain during childbirth.

“It shocked me to imagine a general population being fearful of epidurals,” Sizemore said.

Though epidurals have been widely used in the United States for about 30 years, doctors in many countries are unfamiliar with how they should be administered, Owen said.

In Turkey, Owen discovered that doctors used general anesthesia for women undergoing Cesarean sections. The result is a high maternal death rate.

According to Owen, the number of deaths during a C-section is 17 times greater with general rather than regional anesthesia.

General anesthesia also denies the woman the chance to see her baby at delivery.

Doctors in developing countries are eager to learn about regional anesthesia, Owen said. They have been to conferences and read about it, but they don’t get the chance to practice it.

“I use the analogy of swimming,” Owen said. “Just because you go to a conference about swimming doesn’t mean that you’re able to get in the water and swim. It’s the same with this technique. It really takes someone getting in the water with you and showing you how to swim.”

During her four-day visit in Georgia, Owen discovered a different set of challenges from those in Turkey.

Women are afraid of C-sections and know little about epidurals. As a result, they suffer through childbirth without any option for pain relief.

Sometimes, the women forgo epidurals for cultural reasons, Sizemore said.

“Women feel that if they don’t experience the full depth of pain they feel less of a woman,” she said. “I could take being less of a woman.”

Other women have even been convinced by doctors that epidurals will harm their babies. Though complications are rare, side effects include headaches, backaches and nausea.

Epidurals cost about $42 in Georgia, an exorbitant amount to pay when the average monthly wage is $15.

“You do epidurals primarily for comfort,” Owen said. “Women have a right to be comfortable.”

Owen visited a hospital in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that about 30 percent of pregnant women get epidurals (by comparison, Owen said that about 80 percent of women at Forsyth Medical Center receive epidurals).

Their methods were outdated and the epidural kits they used were “bare-bones minimum,” Owen said.

Owen said she hopes to train more doctors in Georgia how to administer regional anesthesia, much as she did in Turkey. Next year, she would like to return to Georgia with a team of doctors that would include an obstetrician, a neonatalogist and two obstetric anesthesiologists.

Owen and Sizemore also plan to learn more about the kinds of equipment and drugs hospitals need to increase the availability of epidurals.

“We’re not there to force epidurals down everyone’s throat but to teach techniques and safety,” Owen said. “We’re in 2004, and the technology is there, and women can make a choice.”

Post script: Fast forward to today, Kybele, Inc, now has active programs in  Armenia, Croatia, Egypt, Ghana, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Mongolia

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