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Jessica Newman: "This is also a time for hope and generosity"

Tuesday, 12 May 2020
When at home


This week, JustWorld International Founder and President Jessica Newman is our guest blogger.



"I never imagined our entire world would change in a matter of days. I remember thinking back to early March… I was at the Palm Beach Masters CSIO Nations Cup with my good friend Mark Samuel and his daughter, when we heard the announcement that all equestrian events were to be shut down as of the following day. At first I thought that people were overreacting (especially when the toilet paper disappeared off the shelves in 24 hours and was totally out of stock). Our phones were buzzing nonstop with news updates about this Coronavirus, countries around the globe closing their boarders every few minutes, and events being cancelled one after another. Now a few months later, we find ourselves in a totally different world. A world where nearly 300,000 people have died, where borders are closed, where we can no longer travel or work, or even see our friends and families. Life has come to a grinding halt for the majority of people.

Having grown up as an international show jumping rider living between France and the USA and now with JustWorld, I have friends in almost every country. Although each of us might be in slightly different boats, we are all living this same storm of isolation and uncertainty. Uncertainty about the new world that we are experiencing…and the world that we are going to come back to.

I am all for change and reinventing ourselves, which I actually think is a good thing as the world, our planet, our 24/7 workaholic lifestyles with no “space” in our lives is simply unsustainable. 

About ten days into this isolation, a friend asked me if I ever thought something like this could happen? My response was that for several years I have felt that one day something was going to have to happen for the pendulum to swing back into balance as the pace of our lives had become unsustainable. However I hate to see those who feel like the world is closing in on them as their livelihoods have disappeared and they don’t know where to turn. It hurts me to see people suffer.

Personally, this isolation and uncertainty has affected me in several ways. One is that I am a social being and it is my nature to bring people together, to share, exchange, build new friendships and to work on projects together. Whether it was during my riding days when I organized get togethers in my tack room at horse shows at the end of the day or now with JustWorld, bringing the equestrian community together for a greater good, finding something that we can do together building even stronger bonds between us, has been important to me.

JustWorld is a big international family where the common love and passion for horses and the sport unites us all. Nothing brings me more joy than to see people who share a common passion, coming together for a larger purpose. It makes my heart smile. I think that is why I feel so much joy when a group of equestrians come on a trip to visit one of our projects and I can witness their “aha” moment, understanding why I gave up my equestrian career to found JustWorld, and the joy we get from working together to make it a better world and change the destinies of so many children. This is something I really miss.

Many people in our JustWorld family have become some of my closest friends. Now, not being able to see any of them as well as my many colleagues, partners and supporters, is really, really hard for me! Sometimes it feels like each of us is on an island. 

Most mornings I wake up and go for a run with my dog, reminding myself to stay present in the moment and positive, using this “space” in our current lives for reflection and inspiration. But I won’t deny there have been days when I have woken up and felt like I can’t take it anymore; wondering when we will see the light at the end of the tunnel! We have become so accustomed to a life where things move forward every day at a rapid pace, and right now it feels like we are treading water.

I have started a few different zoom and whatsapp groups with friends who all know each other, doing group calls every week to stay connected and just to see each other even if it’s just on a screen. Not easy trying to find a time that works for people on 4 different continents covering just about every time zone but we have made it work and we all look forward to it every week!

Zoom calls are not a substitute for when we are together in person, but it’s the best we can do for the moment. It allows us to share what is going on in each of our lives and respective countries and reminds us that we are all living through this, together. It also allows us to support each other, stay connected and inspire each other to keep going despite the fact we don’t really know where we are going at the moment!

If one thing this global crisis is teaching us, is how interdependent we are. We are seeing how breakdowns in the international supply chains have left us unable to get things we really need. When the shutdown first happened here in the USA, where I am at the moment, it was impossible to get face masks. The world seemed upside down to think that a good friend of mine in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world, (where JustWorld has a long-time project partner), had to send me a DHL package of masks because I could not get them in the US!

We are all connected in some way and the more we can help lift people up out of poverty, the stronger the world and all of us will be. We will have to change the way we think and see the world and realize that helping others is not just about creating good karma, but that it is necessary to make the world go around. 

I am of course sad that so many of our event partners have been cancelled, such as the Global Champions Tour in Miami, the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, the CSIO of La Baule in France, the CSIO of St. Gallen in Switzerland and the list goes on...

For JustWorld, this is very challenging because we had so many fundraisers planned at all these events, none of which are going to happen. Instead we are busy brainstorming alternative ways that we can raise funds for the powerful education and nutrition programs we provide to children living in the most impoverished conditions around the globe. We welcome YOUR thoughts and ideas! For many of the youth, the resources JustWorld provides is all they have. It is crushing to feel that we are letting them down…even though conditions are out of our control.

JustWorld serves communities where real poverty exists, and this poverty is so critical that people who don’t get out onto the street and work in some way will truly die of starvation. People everywhere go out and work in desperate conditions, just so they can try to feed themselves and their families. The pandemic has made this desperation worse. 

While we are complaining about lack of toilet paper, children at our projects are struggling to find food to fill their bellies so they don’t starve. Families have to worry about gangs stealing their supplies and leaving them with nothing. In Guatemala, a communal bucket of water with a bar of soap tied to a string serves as protection against the virus. One mother of a student said that if it weren’t for the food delivered by the teachers and the older students at the school, they would have nothing. These are their realities.

Over 90% of the world’s learners - 1.5 billion children and youth - have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. School closures widen education inequalities and have affected the vulnerable children and youth the most. Education systems are doing their best to adapt to new pressures which includes limited and diminishing resources as well as learning how to continue to provide support to their students. This is where JustWorld is directly helping to alleviate challenges facing teachers, students, caregivers and parents. With JustWorld funding, our project leaders and teachers are providing essential food for students and families who have little or no access as well as trying to use technology to continue teaching. The COVID-19 epidemic has magnified the crisis for these at-risk communities just as it has strained JustWorld’s ability to respond. A less than perfect storm. 

No doubt, this is a time of uncertainty for us all, but this is also a time for hope and generosity, and for the global community to rally around those who are well positioned, but struggling, to lift people out of poverty. We need to make sure no one is left behind. 

I am overwhelmed by the amount of people who have stepped forward during these dark times to be a light to those in need. I am thankful for the friendships that have given me connection, distraction and support just as I am hopeful for what we can all accomplish together, even in challenging times.




About JustWorld International:

*Since 2003, JustWorld has been able to impact thousands of children around the world through carefully-vetted programs that have proven models of success. JustWorld has worked with more than 18 partners from all around the world, including Senegal, Kenya, Brazil, and Colombia. In the last decade, close to 77,000 children have received the gift of education. Furthermore, to prevent health disparities for the vulnerable children JustWorld serves, hot, nutritious meals and snacks are provided to the students every day.  In the past five years alone – 1.8 million nutritious meals have been served.  For some of these children, it is the only sustenance they may receive. The most vulnerable children come from impoverished areas that lack access to clean water, sanitation services and basic preventative measures. JustWorld supports safe hygiene and sanitation practices, and public health education, as well as access to basic health services. 


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