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Going The Extra Mile

Save the Children’s Carolyn Miles on protecting the young and vulnerable, here and around the world

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Carolyn Miles is a serious person with a serious voice, but she laughs so easily, too, which must help a lot when your life is devoted to the desperate. One of the things you never quite get used to when you run Save the Children is when your desk blotter is the whole wide world. And it needs you.

How are you for lunch? Today in Jordan we’re doing a modest little spread for 85,000. No loaves and fishes today, thank you. Your seating will be in a field not far from the Syrian border, where you and nearly 2.6 million refugees are on the run from a madman. Half of your number are children, with nowhere to turn, so a group of aid people assigned by Save the Children will work alongside young volunteers from Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, in fashioning today’s repast. While feeding 85,000 people doesn’t begin to cover it, it is an essential part of the bigger fight.

This is Carolyn’s fight. Every day.

It’s easy to see why the Save the Children organization lifted its former COO to full chairman and president status in 2011. She not only knows where every thumbtack and canceled check is in the place, she also has been impressing people with her can-do manner for quite a while. A slender, active blonde with an engaging glint in her eye, she has the air of a tennis pro who’s likely to rush the net on you. “I used to be a competitive swimmer,” she corrects, “but now I just run, very slowly, and go to exercise class, when I am home, at the Sportsplex. Newest thing is The Bar Method classes in Fairfield.”

She has much on her mind, and she’s always on the move. Even her home office is in flux. The organization’s headquarters is being removed from the sunny shores of the Saugatuck River to a new place in Fairfield. But meanwhile, you know, Nepal is calling.

It’s been a good healthy leap for a woman who once imagined herself in a corporate power suit. When she was getting her MBA at the University of Virginia, did she know she would one day be kneeling in the mud in remote villages? Her laughter is swift: “Did. Not. Know!” she says. “I thought I’d be having a nice, quiet life working at American Express.”

She was, in fact, working for AmEx in 1991, just a few years out of school, when her life changed. She and her husband, Brendan, were stationed in Hong Kong, and took their two young children on a trip to the Philippines. Driving in from the airport, she saw the poverty pressing in from all sides and instinctively clutched her six-month-old son sitting on her lap.

“There were beggars at every stoplight,” she recalls. “A woman came up to the window with a baby that was about the same age as my son but wasn’t nearly as healthy. That’s when it struck me that it’s all about who your parents are. That really dictates what your life is like. My son was going to do what he wanted, and her baby was not going to have those opportunities. It was just not going to happen.

“That’s when I began thinking that there must be some way I can take this experience and do something else with it. I started volunteering in Hong Kong with the Vietnamese war refugees that were still there.”

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