David Cook and Elizabeth Gore, executive director of global partnerships and Nothing But Nets for the United Nations Foundation, were on a conference call Tuesday morning talking about Cook’s trip to Ethiopia and the segment he will do for Idol Gives Back.
Following is a transcript of that conference call. Comments on Cook and Idol Gives Back coming in a separate post later today…
EG: “We are a platform that connects people, ideas and resources to the U.N. for help on global problems. Working with the U.N. is cool but not as cool as working with David Cook. He went to Ethiopia and is there as we speak. Adolescent girls are a huge priority to the U.N. and this organization.”
DC: “I want to thank Simon Fuller for letting me do this. I’ve wanted to do this since I was on the show (American Idol) and to be able to come out here and see first-hand what we so often see on television back home has been one of the most enlightning experiences I have ever been a part of. During my experience here I have been very present at the Biruh Tesfa (Bright Future) Project in Ethiopia. Everyone will probably agree that the situation here is not the greatest but having said that there is definitely a sense of hope and an amazing vibrancy here… especially with the young girls at this school. What the U.N. has put together here really gives these young girls a chance. Speaking statistically I think only about 20 percent of the girls here have any education. Seeing, not only in Ethopia but everywhere what a widespread problem that is. But something as simple as donating $2 can make a world of difference. I am really excited to come back (to the U.S.) and drive home what I have seen here because it’s something that needs immediate attention.”
EG: “The girls that David actually saw will be benefited by the donations made on April 21st on Idol Gives Back. It’s really great to have someone who has seen it first-hand and can talk about it.”
Were there particular events with specific girls you met that really drove home on a personal level what donations bring to them?
DC: “Two girls in particular. “Mac” is one. Both of her parents had passed away and she had been at the school for seven months and she is living with her aunt now. But to meet this girl … and forgive me because whatever I say about this girl is not going to come across over the phone as well as it would if you could ever meet her. She is one of the most vibrant, joyous girls I think I have ever met. The girls at this school genuinely want to learn, they want to have that opportunity. And that’s just inspiring. A 7-year-old girl wanting to build a better future for herself. I remember being 7-years-old and I didn’t have that foresight. They are wise beyond their years.”
EG: “A simple $5 donation and some of these girls have nothing. They are required to have a notebook and a uniform to go to school.”
What were your first impressions of Ethiopia? What surprised you most about the country and the people?
DC: “I was completely shocked by this country in an extremely confident way. When you hear Africa, I’m thinkin’ impoverished and everything that goes with that. But I came here and the people here are amazingly sweet. They are such nice people. Very accommodating. They get it that we are here trying to help. And the city itself is really beautiful – lush and green and it has an infrastructure in place. They just need that kind of boost in the right direction.”
EG: “Girls make up 70 percent of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth. That’s because they don’t have access, they can’t afford it, they don’t have the uniforms. It’s an issue that’s impacted by multiple interventions. But there are multiple solutions we can find to change that figure and those numbers.”
Do you think this life experience will turn into music you are writing?
DC: “It would be really hard to fathom that it wouldn’t. I think anybody that isn’t completely self-absorbed it would be impossible not to be moved by this situation. To really drive home the fact of what these girls are dealing with, the girls who are dealing with no education are immensely more likely to fall into things like the sex trade, domestic servitude and that opens it up to so many other things …HIV is one of the big killers here. To see that first-hand I would say that I’ll bring that back and it’ll find it’s way into my career path.
Is music a part of what you are doing there and do they know who David Cook is over there?
DC: “Very few people know who I am over here. We had to explain to the little girls who I was and why I was there. But we did get a chance to play some music for them. My guitar player (Neal Tiemann) came out here with me and we played. You know it’s always cool to see music is the universal language I guess. But I enjoyed the moment. They didn’t quite know what to do with the tall tatooed white guy.”
How long have you been there and how much longer will you stay?
DC: “I have been here a couple of days and I’m leaving today after this phone call, unfortunately.”
What does your travels to a Third World country do to make you appreciate what we have in North America?
DC: “Having been here for a short time you kinda appreciate the bubble that you have built for yourself, but I also feel kinda guilty for the bubble that I have built for myself. This reality is so far removed from even what we see on TV. What the people here have to deal with on a daily basis…it’s real. It’s something that truly deserves our attention. I’ve said that a lot in conjunction with this trip but is. You take on this mantra of we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with, and if you take that on a global level…everybody is struggling right now…but we as a country are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. But we are in a great position to give them help.”
EG: “One thing you learn by seeing these place and travelling there is that when someone says, ‘Oh, how can one person make a difference?’ you see how you can change one person’s life. You learn that very quickly by seeing it first-hand.”
What was it about Ethiopia that made you want to go there?
DC: “I wanted to be involved 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 think of these girls as the basis, you have to give them a platform from which to start from. And I don’t think that anybody can deny that education plays such an important role across the board and in many cases that is not a rite for these girls, it’s a privilege. That was a major mitigating factor for me, that’s why I wanted to get involved.”
EG: “Go to unfoundation.org. That is a good place to start if you want to get involved with a lot of these issues.”
When you get back will you perform on the Idol Gives Back show and if so what will you perform?
DC: “There’s been no discussion of a performance but I’m going to do everything in my power to be present because I want to do everything in my power to drive this point home.”
How can teenagers here specifically get involved in this?
DC: “I got a chance while I’ve been here to get engaged with some of these girls and you watch a girl being a girl and you watch a child being a child and that’s universal. The thing is you watch a child being a child in Ethiopia and you think of a child being a child in America. And I say that in this sense, it’s easy to think that what surrounds you is your reality and that may be your reality it’s not somebody else’s. But there is a common thread. It’s been a huge learning experience for me. These girls smile and laugh and you realize very quickly it’s not that hard to help them. It’s not that hard to empathize with them. Just looking at this problem a little bit differently would be a huge inroad.”
You said this was something that you always wanted to do. So, can you tell us emotionally when you were one of the contestants what went through your mind when you watch Idol Gives Back?
DC: “I remember specifically on my season when we did Idol Gives Back we all snuck up to the balconey and got a chance to watch Annie Lennox’ performance. It was just her at the piano and in the background they were showing images of children and it just … it tore me apart. I think it was just that visual moment where everything kinda clicks and you realize that my reality is not their reality. And it really puts you in a position where you want to help. From that point on I was just chomping at the bit to get involved with Idol Gives Back and this couldn’t have come at a better time.”
(Here is a link to the performance Cook watched that night):