David Cook interview, Idol Gives Back takes him to Ethiopia
By April MacIntyre Apr 1, 2010, 23:58 GMT
David Cook pays it forward in Ethiopia, courtesy of FOX
American Idol Season seven winner David Cook was dispatched to Ethiopia with Elizabeth Gore, the Executive Director of Global Partnerships and Nothing But Nets for the United Nations Foundation. Their legwork in the impoverished African nation will be featured on "Idol Gives Back" this April 21.
Ms. Gore spoke of her excitement to represent the United Nations Foundation, connecting people, ideas and resources to the U.N. to help solve global problems. She shared with Monsters and Critics on a conference call that a simple $5 donation can save someoneís life and it can solve real-time problems.
Both Ms. Gore and David Cook were immersed in a fact finding and goodwill trip to Ethiopia in an issue that has been very important to the U.N. Foundation since it's inception Ė the cause of girls.
According to Ms. Gore, adolescent girls are a huge priority to her organization and to the U.N., and the fact that 70% of the worldís out-of-school youth (about 130 million people) are female is a shocking and telling statistic.
"Idol Gives Back" allows her organization and the UN to work in tandem to elevate a population rife with illiteracy, and a gender held hostage by oppressive tribal customs that permeate sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. Cook told a small group of online journalists by phone he was deeply moved by his trip. "Before I get into it, I do want to make sure that I say thank you to not only the U.N., the U.N. Foundation, and Idol Gives Back, but specifically to Simon Fuller for offering the invitation. I have wanted to do this since I was on the show, and to be able to finally come out here and see firsthand what you see so often on television back home Ė this has been one of the most enlightening and fulfilling experiences I have been able to be a part of."
"My experience here Ė I have been very present at the Biruh Tesfa School here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I ... speak candidly about what I have seen here, but obviously, I think everybody listening and everybody talking can agree that the situation here is not as great as it could be, but having said that, there is definitely a sense of hope and an amazing vibrancy here, especially with the young girls at this school. That is what is great about this initiative that the U.N. and the U.N. Foundation have put together, it really gives these girls a chance to Ė statistically I think only 20% of the girls in this country have any sense of education Ė and so seeing that and really realizing how that it is not just in Ethiopia, but how much of a widespread problem that is.
Mr. Cook added, "But on the flip of that, you see the millennial generation and just this massive opportunity for change that we have. As massive as that change is Ė as big of a picture as that is Ė it is something as simple as donating $2 to these girls, and it makes just a world of difference, and so I am extremely excited to continue to come home and to really drive home what I have seen here because it is something that needs immediate attention."
Ms. Gore was effusive to have such an enthusiastic partner in David Cook. "We are really excited to have David's support and echo his words of thanks to Simon Fuller for having the vision to do this, as well as support the U.N. in Haiti a few weeks back. I think that this is all within our reach, and we are hoping that on the 21st of April that everyone goes to Idol Gives Back and donates because the girls that David Cook actually saw will be benefited through the U.N., through our work, by these donations. So itís really exciting to have someone who has seen it firsthand and then can talk about it."
Ethiopia is a tough place for any female. Massive famines of the 1980s created a spiral of misery for thousands of women who joined the ranks of the economically-vulnerable. Women who dwell in the rural areas continue to perform the bulk of the nationís work, especially in the coffee-producing industry at little to no pay.
The country suffers from infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and childhood malnutrition is widespread. The problem that "Idol Gives Back" addresses is that of educating girls, and it is direly needed.
Ethiopia's maternal mortality is too high. According to the World Health Organization and many human rights groups that monitor these figures, it is estimated that 74% of Ethiopian women undergo female circumcision, a culturally instilled belief that makes the girl a prized bride in the culture, chaste and acceptable.
The repercussions of this practice, often performed at ages 4-6 years old, are grisly and cause a condition known as fistula, which many of these human rights organizations also raise money for to surgically correct for women who suffer in pain, and are often ostracized.
The efforts of many charitable organizations and government literacy programs have helped elevate millions of women and girls to learn to read, but the sad fact remains that currently less than 40% of Ethiopian girls are enrolled in school. "Idol Gives Back" strives to put a major dent into these numbers and help Ethiopian women rise up from horrific customs and abject poverty.
Education and enlightenment will save these girls of Ethiopia.
Monsters and Critics was fortunate to speak with David Cook and Elizabeth Gore on a conference call yesterday.
People: I wanted to ask David in particular, were there particular exchanges with specific girls you met that really drove home on a personal level what donations could bring to them?
D. Cook Sure. Well, I actually got a chance to meet two girls in particular. One was a seven-year-old girl named Magnus. Both of Magnusís parents have passed away, and she has been at the school for seven months. I think, obviously given the circumstances Ė not having either one of her parents, sheís actually living with her aunt now Ė to meet this girl and, forgive me, whatever I say about this girl is not going to come across over the phone as well as it will if you were to ever meet this girl. She is one of the most vibrant, joyous girls that I think Iíve ever met. The girls at the school genuinely want to learn. They want to have that education. They want to have that opportunity, and thatís inspiring to see a seven-year-old girl want to build a better future for herself. I remember being seven years old, and I didnít have that foresight. These girls are wise beyond their years, and both fortunately and unfortunately theyíve kind of had to be.
E. Gore I would add quickly that a simple $5 donation Ė some of these girls donít have the money to even get school supplies, and they are required to have both a uniform as well as a notebook to go to school. So something we take for granted in the U.S. and such a small dollar amount can actually mean changing a girlís life and allowing her to go to school.
But it is amazing that adolescent girls in the United States , we think could actually have an impact on adolescent girls around the world, and we are previewing a campaign that will come out this summer to talk about that. But what I had talked about was that girls make up 70% of the worldís 130 million out-of-school youth. So out of the children around the world who arenít in school, the majority of them are young girls. That can be because they donít have access to school, they canít afford it, they donít have the uniforms to go, or something, unfortunately, as simple as the fact that they have to go fetch water for 6 to 15 hours a day because they donít have water holes nearby. So itís an issue that is impacted by multiple interventions, but there are very simple solutions that we can find to change that figure and that number.
Niagara Frontier Publications: A lot of people, obviously I think, want to get involved but oftentimes they donít really think beyond their own backyard. They wouldnít necessarily want to leave America. So what was it about Ethiopia that made this appealing to you? Why did you want to go and spend time there and call attention to the plight there?
D. Cook I think, specifically, to come out here and work with the Biruh Tesfa School and the initiative set up by the U.N. and the U.N. Foundation, I wanted to be involved with this program specifically because women are the backbone of society, in my opinion. Every family has a matriarch, and they are the glue that holds that family together. You have to give these girls a basis. You have to give them a platform with which to start from. I donít think anybody can deny that education plays such an important role just across the board. And the fact that thatís not a right for these girls, but in a lot of cases itís a privilege, thatís pretty abhorrent. So that was a major mitigating factor for me. Thatís why I wanted to get involved.
E. Gore: And I think that folks that are struggling to figure out how to get involved, they can go to unfoundation.org, and thatís a good place to start to just learn about a lot of these issues.
Entertainment News: With American Idol reaching so many teenagers and this cause directly affecting young girls and young women, do you have any suggestions about what teenagers specifically can do to get involved and help?
E. Gore Absolutely. Step one is to just educate yourself. Go online. Read about these issues. Go to unfoundation.org and see where David went and why and what is happening there. But specifically, young people can take this information to their school and talk about it. They can get on Facebook and go to our page. They can tweet about it. UNF is our twitter account. Then they can donate. They can go to Idol Gives Back on April 21st, text in their donations, or they can go to unfoundation.org and donate there. So I think educate, donate, and get active. If something upsets them, then they can write their congressman and say ďhey, what is our congressional support for this?Ē So thereís a lot of great ways to engage, and one voice can make an absolute difference in these issues.
D. Cook And really, one of the things that I want to add to that question is that I got a chance while I was out here to actually play games with some of these girls. You watch a girl being a girl. You watch a child being a child, and thatís universal. A child being a child in Ethiopia is the exact same thing as a child being a child in America. I say that in this sense - I think itís easy to assume that the things that you surround yourself with and the things that surround you is reality, and while that may be your reality, it may not be somebody elseís. But there are common themes. There are common threads, and it has been a huge learning experience for me. You see these girls smile and laugh, and you realize very quickly that itís not that hard to help them, itís not that hard to empathize, and itís not that hard to want to help. I think that maybe just looking at this problem just a little bit differently would be a huge inroad.
Monsters and Critics: Thanks for your time. Your answer just took me a bit back because Sub-Saharan Africa and Ethiopia in particular and Somalia obviously, female genital mutilation is a huge problem Ė around 75% of the girls there suffer this. So they really arenít like American kids. There really isnít that common ground in what you just said in that they want to play and have fun. This is a huge problem. How can your efforts combat this tradition?
D. Cook Iím sorry. I donít mean to be misquoted in any stretch. Iím not suggesting that the struggles are the same. But what I am saying is inherently a child is a child no matter where you are. Your circumstances could be obviously different. But to answer your question further or more directly, it is a massive problem, and it is one of many problems here. I met this girl ... while I was here. She is 19 years old. She has been in the school for five years. She actually escaped from a rural area of the country on her own to escape early marriage and sex trade. So, yes, it is a massive problem, but it is something that I think, on an individual level, we can do with a small donation, taking time, giving resources, and itís something that everybody can do.
Monsters and Critics: Why do you think women are so devalued in this culture?
E. Gore I think a big part of this isÖ
D. Cook Iím not sure I can answer that question. I donít know. Itís a large scope kind of thing that I donít know that Iíve wrapped my head around fully.
E. Gore I think a big part of a lot of these cultures is that there is a history of women, and specifically girls, not rising to the top and getting the resources and the support they need. As David just said, the majority of girls in Ethiopia are actually promised to marriage before they are 18 and actually by five years old. Even though ... and these other things are a large-scale issue, they are things that are being tackled. In Ethiopia, the good news is that they just outlawed child marriage, which is really exciting.
I want to actually agree with David that children everywhere in the world really do just want to play and have a safe place to learn, live, and thrive. Thatís what these programs that the U.N. Foundation and the U.N. are providing and trying to give these individuals, so actually, I completely agree with you, David, that children are very similar, but these kids just happen to have the negative geographic birthplace of being in places where they are not valued. But we are getting there, and I think people are making a difference and changing to where they are going to be valued in the future.
TV America: David, you said at the beginning that this is something that you always wanted to do. Could you kind of tell us emotionally what went through your mind when you were there as one of the contestants when they did the Idol Gives Back and what did that stir up in you, and how did that kind of make you always go just go further with this.
D. Cook Thank you for that question. I actually remember specifically, on my season when we did Idol Gives Back, that we all snuck up to the balcony and got a chance to watch, from the front of the house, Annie Lennoxís performance. It was just her on the piano, and in the background, they were showing images of children, and it just tore me apart.
I think to have that kind of visual moment when everything kind of clicks and you realize that my reality is not their reality, it really puts you in a position where you want to help, and so from that point on I was just kind of chomping at the bit to get involved with Idol Gives Back. This couldnít have come at a better time.