- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

Quentin Joe, an 11-year-old Navajo boy, lives with his mom and four siblings in a one room dwelling in Chinle, Arizona, with no running water and few amenities — not even a TV set. He has never seen “American Idol,” but this week, more than 30 million Idol viewers will meet Quentin on prime-time Fox television.

While Quentin lacks many material things, he shares a quality with all “Idol” contestants: guts. When his family’s trailer home caught fire in January, Quentin ran into the burning trailer, not once, but twice, to find and save his baby sister. When asked why he did it, Quentin explains, “She’s family.”

As “Idol” viewers will discover this week, Quentin’s courage is matched with a strong sense of responsibility, commonplace among youngsters forced to become caregivers at an early age. Quentin hauls water, chops wood and plays a big role in helping his mom manage his family while attending school every day. Quentin has begun to realize doing well in school represents his single best chance of escaping the poverty that entraps hundreds of millions of children worldwide.

The fact “American Idol” and its partner, the new Charity Projects Entertainment Fund, spend any time at all this week considering the Quentins of this world is remarkable enough. But they are doing much more. They are pulling out all stops to raise millions of dollars to assist children in need in both the U.S. and Africa in what could become a milestone in both philanthropy and prime-time television.

This week, when “Idol” viewers vote to make the dreams of their favorite contestant a reality, they will also be voting to give children like Quentin a chance to succeed. Each vote will be matched by a donation to charities to assist poor children in Africa and the United States. One of several beneficiaries will be Save the Children, for whom I work.

“Idol” viewers, and society as a whole, already have the means to give poor children better health care and greater educational opportunities. In both Africa and the United States, experts have long recognized that it is public commitment and political will — not science or expertise — that stand in the way of giving children greater opportunities.

In Africa, for example, we could reduce the number of children under age 5 who die each day by more than 60 percent if we made low-cost solutions like immunizations, oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea and trained attendants at birth more accessible to children and their families. In the United States, by far the richest nation in world history, 1 in 6 children live in poverty — appalling, considering our resources.

Can “American Idol” help change any of this? We will have to wait and see, but one thing remains certain: We will never create real change for children unless we all work harder to do more. Bono and the ONE Campaign have already set the bar high for the rest of the entertainment industry. Simon, Paula and Randy have the opportunity to raise that bar even higher this week.

My hope is that Thursday morning, when “American Idol” viewers return to school or work after the programs air this week, they will talk with their friends not just about their vote for a contestant, but also about their vote for change in children’s lives.

“American Idol” is all about making dreams come true. Quentin’s dream: He wants to build houses when he grows up. My dream: to make it happen — not just for Quentin, but for every child in need.

Charles MacCormack is president and chief executive officer of Save the Children in Westport, Conn.

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