Return to Transcripts main page
COVID Surging; Interview With Graca Machel. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 03, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Could 2022 mark the beginning of the end of the COVID crisis? The latest with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant and, from the
WHO, Dr. Ayoade Alakija.
Then: The world bid farewell this weekend to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa's great civil rights leader. I discuss his legacy in an
exclusive interview with his friend Graca Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela.
ANDREA ELLIOTT, AUTHOR, "INVISIBLE CHILD": The poor, the deeply poor, I found, were always working. They were always working. It's just not the
kind of work that we recognize.
AMANPOUR: The story of one family trying to get ahead against the odds. "The New York Times" reporter and author Andrea Elliott tells their story
to Hari Sreenivasan.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone.
I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
This is the first day back at work of this new year. And we want to kick off 2022 by asking whether the COVID virus that has so dominated our lives
for almost two years will become something we can learn to live with.
This might sound strange now, especially given the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant and record case numbers in Europe and the United States
threatening to overwhelm health services. But important studies from South Africa, where it was first detected, as well as the U.K., point to this
variant being somewhat less severe.
South Africa says that it has passed its peak of infections with no major surge in deaths. And, this weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that he hopes
the United States will follow a similar pattern of rapid surge, dramatic falloff, and fewer serious cases.
So, joining me to discuss this is the epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant, whose work with the World Health Organization helped eradicate smallpox.
Also with us is Dr. Ayoade Alakija, a special envoy for the WHO and co- chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance.
Doctors, welcome to both of you.
So I'm not trying to be provocative and I don't think that we're going to be living in a COVID-free world, but do either of you believe that we are
anywhere near seeing the beginning of the end or the end of the tunnel.
From your perspective. Dr. Alakija?
DR. AYOADE ALAKIJA, CO-CHAIR, AFRICA VACCINE DELIVERY ALLIANCE: Well, thank you very much, Christiane. And, firstly, happy new year to you and to
all of your viewers.
I would say that there's cautious optimism, but it would entirely depend on where in the world you're sitting and where in the world you live. So, yes,
there is potentially optimism for those who are triple-vaxxed, to getting booster doses in the U.S. and the U.K., the E.U. and other parts of the
world. And maybe those people can call it a mild illness.
But for those of us in Africa, for those of us in the low-income countries of the world, it absolutely is not the beginning of the end. It is more
like the end of the phase one and the beginning of phase two, I would say.
AMANPOUR: So, look, I hear you about that. And this shocking discrepancy on vaccinations from the developed -- in the developing world, as you have
just laid out, is just truly unbelievable after all this time.
And yet South Africa, this New Year's Eve, restricted -- or reduced its isolation periods and its curfew rolls. And, as I said, officials say they
have passed the peak. And, before I turn to Dr. Brilliant, let me just play now what Anthony Fauci has said this very weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: One of the things that we hope for, George, is that this thing will peak after a
period of a few weeks and turn around. We have seen that happen in South Africa, where they had a major surge.
But, as quickly as the surge went up, it turned around. We can help that a lot by the things we talk about all along, vaccinations. If you're
vaccinated get boosted, careful and prudent, wearing masks in indoor settings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, again, he's saying what you all say, which is vaccines, vaccines, vaccines. That is the only way out of this.
But, Dr. Brilliant, when you hear what Dr. Fauci says, what do you think? And can one actually draw, I don't know, comparisons or lessons or some
kind of trend from South Africa?
DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CEO, PANDEFENSE ADVISORY: Happy new year, Christiane. Nice to see you.
Good to be on with Dr. Alakija, with whom I agree.
Let me say that South Africa has done a phenomenal job of being heroic in the way that they have been totally transparent. They have really taught us
a great deal. But it is not a case study that represents the same issues in the United States or in most of Africa, for that matter, with a 25 percent
vaccination coverage, but almost everyone who's had a prior infection, and with less than 6 percent of the population over 60.
It doesn't have the same demographics that we have here. So I think that we need to look at the U.K., Germany. And, unfortunately, we will also have a
chance to look at the East Coast very quickly.
If I could, Christiane, I think we really are at a crossroads. It is possible that we could go down the left side or the right side of the
crossroads, and, in fact, wind up with Omicron becoming a virus like a cold. In fact, it has already in its mutations acquired a small snippet of
genetic material from a cold presumably that was in the same human being that was incubating COVID that led to Omicron.
So it is possible, because there's already four other coronaviruses who have retired into the retirement home for coronaviruses, and it is likely
that they too created a pandemic and went around the world and then gradually more mutations became more mild. That would be ideal.
However, there is an other path that probably is equally likely. And that is that, while Omicron might infect five, six, seven billion of us, when it
did, that would mean that those many people harboring hundreds of millions or billions of viruses all replicating, 3 or 4 percent of the time having a
mutation, those mutations leading to a variant.
And, unfortunately, because, as Dr. Alakija said, less than 8 percent of the population in the low-income countries have protection, then, indeed,
we might wind up with super variants that come back to us all over the rest of the world.
Just remember, Omicron came from South Africa, and Delta came from India. Where the next variants will come from and whether they, in fact, will be
able to infect people who've already had Omicron, these are things we don't know, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So I want to quickly pick up on that, because South Africa -- and I thought that the jury was out, that it doesn't necessarily come from
South Africa, that they actually were the first to detect it.
I can see you nodding there, Dr. Alakija. So I assume you agree with that.
And I guess what I want to ask you as well is, given the facts that you have both laid out, and I put the graph up now -- WHO figures say the fully
vaccinated against COVID-19, in the Americas 60 percent, Europe 56 percent, in South East Asia 39 percent, and, in Africa, only 7 percent.
Do you think -- I guess I want to know your opinion as to why South Africa states that is past its peak with a much less surge in deaths that it had
under the previous variant? And can there be any lessons drawn from that? Is that -- is that solid, good news, or is it yet to be really peer-
ALAKIJA: I think -- no, I wouldn't -- I would agree with Dr. Brilliant in saying that what we what we do know about Omicron and all the variants to
come is that we don't know.
I think it would be very presumptuous of us as a global health community to say that, well, we know that this disease is mild. Mild in whom? We have
only had it, identified, as you rightly said -- well, actually, first of all, in Botswana, and then taken back to South Africa for confirmation.
Our information from Botswana is that the first people who were infected were actually diplomats who came from a country yet to be determined so
far. So, where did this thing start? It was identified in South Africa.
Is it mild? Well, perhaps it is mild until it chooses not to be. Is it less severe? Has it got different receptors binding to different places in
people? For instance, we're seeing more and more children infected.
So the question I would say, Christiane, is not whether we can follow what South Africa has demonstrated as a peak in their sort of current surge of
the pandemic or the epidemic in that country. But what we would need to begin to look at is the individual circumstances. And epidemiologists --
excuse me -- epidemiologists all over the world are looking crazily at, at the moment and saying, what are the circumstances in South Africa?
South Africa is in summer. People have gone to their summer homes. They have gone on holiday. Offices are closed. There have been public health
And I also want to stress this, Christiane, that it is not just vaccines. We have spoken about vaccines, but also there are specific public health
measures that they put in place very, very quickly indeed.
I do not share the optimism of the world that Omicron is mild. I think people are tired and sick and tired of COVID. And they want it to be over.
But COVID is clearly not sick and tired of us. And so I agree when my colleague says just now that we could be breeding super variants,
particularly in parts of the world where you talked about 7 percent vaccination.
But, in reality, Christiane, the definition of fully vaccinated has now shifted from two doses to three doses. So, Africa has actually rolled back
the gains, and now we are less than 1 percent fully vaccinated, because there are very, very few people across Africa who have three doses.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And now we can see in some developed countries -- Israel's leading the way on -- they're even talking about a fourth dose.
I can imagine what you're going to say about that. But I do want to pick up on what you just said about children and ask you, Dr. Brilliant, what do
you think is the explanation for why -- and I will just quickly read the stats -- the week ending -- and this is in the United States, according to
the CDC -- the week ending December 28, there was a 66 percent jump over one week in the number of children admitted to hospitals every day with
More children now admitted to hospitals with COVID than during the Delta variant surge at the beginning of this past school year. What is your
explanation for that? And how are we going to protect children?
BRILLIANT: Well, I can, Christiane, go off on the word mild, and I will come back to children. Maybe I can link them together.
I think mild is a clinical expression.
AMANPOUR: Notice s we haven't used the word mild. I know you guys are being very, very diligent. But, on this program, we have not used the word
I'm really just asking you whether it's of a severity -- and the cases show that the hospitalizations are less. I'm trying to figure out what we can as
a global community do to live with this in the future, if indeed we can, so just to state that.
BRILLIANT: Well, I think that when you have a huge number of cases -- Omicron will infect many times more people than Delta did. So even if it
had a low virulence -- that's the term, actually, I think that we should use.
If it had a low morbidity and created fewer deaths per capita, the experience of an individual depends on that individual's age, vaccination,
immunity status, all of those things. But as a society, Omicron will create havoc.
You just mentioned one of the ways. The reason we have so many children in hospital is we have so many children infected. And that's because, when we
talk about this as being an epidemic or a pandemic of the unvaccinated, where is the largest group of unvaccinated people to be found? And, sadly,
AMANPOUR: So you think it's as -- I'm not going to say as simple as, but you think it's as direct as that?
If all the children could be vaccinated, they too might show the kind of symptoms that a lot of vaccinated adults in the developed world are
BRILLIANT: Well, a great deal of that could be mitigated or alleviated by the vaccination of children, but, more importantly, by excluding the virus
from the places where children congregate, schools.
If we have adequate protection, we will be able to stop the kids from getting the disease and then from getting hospitalized.
AMANPOUR: OK, so now let me read you both from Bill Gates' New Year's letter, in which he expresses some optimism.
And he says the following. As we know, Bill Gates has put a huge amount of money over the years into vaccine development: "I'm still hopeful that at
some point next year, COVID-19 will become an endemic disease, an endemic disease in most places. In a couple years, my hope is that the only time
you will really have to think about the virus is when you get your joint COVID and flu vaccine every fall."
So how long until we get to that, do you think? And, surely, that is less medical and more public policy leadership and trying to persuade the
current continued hesitant spots to get vaccinated and to bring vaccinations to places that, for instance, Dr. Alakija is worried about and
BRILLIANT: I think that's an entirely plausible scenario. I think I'm praying earnestly for that scenario to be true. That's what I meant by the
virus becoming a cold virus.
I think it's likely. It certainly is not 100 percent or 50 percent likely, because the other arm of that crossroad is that we have never seen this
virus -- a virus like this infect so many people so quickly. And we don't know what that's going to produce.
We don't yet know if someone who has Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, whatever the next variant is, is able to overinfect people who've had Omicron. Until we know
that, we're not going to know which of these two scenarios are more likely.
AMANPOUR: So, very quickly, Dr. Brilliant, are the variants not getting less severe as they multiply? I mean, our evidence, whether it was you
know, let's say, Delta -- I know we have had this discussion now.
But given the vaccinated, and, as Dr. Fauci said, maybe we have to start measuring by hospitalizations, rather than caseload. Do you not see the
trend going down? Or you disagree with that?
BRILLIANT: I do. I do. I do. Absolutely, I do.
And I see that, instead of the three-month up-and-down that we have with Delta, this is going to be more like a two-month up-and-down. But the
question that you're asking is a little bit more complicated.
To say that this disease is less of an impact on the population, I don't think I could say that. I think that we're going to see major disruptions
in travel and schools and going back to business. And we need to be more respectful. We have been wrong every single time with this virus.
We don't yet know what -- which of these two possible scenarios are more likely.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, Dr. Alakija, I asked Dr. Brilliant about how you persuade hesitants to actually get the vaccine. That's a rich world's
In your part of the world, they can't even get the vaccine because it is not available. How do you see public health developing over this next year
in terms of making it more available?
ALAKIJA: Well, Christiane, what we saw in the past two years of the pandemic was the fact that the global health infrastructure had failed us
And I think you and I have had this conversation once before, and not just the low-income countries of the world, but the high-income countries of the
world. And we're seeing that even now in places like the United States, United Kingdom, where people are struggling to find test kits and rapid
tests and to be able to know whether, as Dr. Brilliant said, they can go to school or they can go to work or travel or whatever they need to be doing
to continue their economic activity.
Look, I believe it was Sir Winston Churchill, paraphrasing George Santayana, who said that the -- that those who fail to learn from history
are doomed to repeat it.
And I think that is what we're doing right in this moment. We are holding on to slim threads, little tiny threads of hope, because we want this thing
to be over. But it is not over. It is not over because we have not vaccinated the world. It is not over because people in Africa, Latin
America, parts of Asia do not have tests, so they're unable to test and unable to stay home when they're unwell because there's no economic
It is not over because a life in Washington, D.C., at the moment is worth far more than a life in Abuja or life in Sao Paulo is worth less than a
life in Brussels. It is not over because we have gross inequity all over the world in vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.
And, also, you mentioned very key -- a key word earlier about leadership. Christiane, who will stand up? Who is going to take the wheel at this
critical moment in global history?
The U.S. administration, President Biden has been trying to take some moral global leadership in this, but there aren't enough people crowding around.
This is a global event of historical proportions that is going to define many of our lives for a long time to come.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Indeed.
ALAKIJA: And public health, plus public -- global solidarity is the only way that we're going to get out of it. We need to act. We need to act with
urgency. We need to act together and we need to act now.
AMANPOUR: We hear you loud and clear.
Dr. Alakija, Dr. Brilliant, thank you both so much for joining us on this first Monday back at work.
Now, talking about leadership, of course, South Africa began this year laying one of its great anti-apartheid heroes to rest. The state funeral
for Archbishop Desmond Tutu took place in Cape Town on New Year's Day. He was known all over the world for his particular brand of transitional
justice that can underpin democracy, even after the most brutal horrors.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and fellow activist praised Tutu's towering role alongside Nelson Mandela.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: While our beloved Madiba was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the spiritual father
of our new nation.
He saw our country as the rainbow nation emerging from the shadow of apartheid, united in its diversity, with freedom and equal rights for all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And, indeed, it was Tutu who coined the term rainbow nation.
One of his good friends was Graca Machel, Mandela's widow. Two days after attending the funeral, she joins me now for her first and exclusive
interview to talk about Tutu, her friend, and the legacy that he leaves behind.
Graca Machel, welcome back to our program.
And we offer you deep condolences.
I noticed that, in one of your very eloquent statements, you lamented the passing of Desmond Tutu, saying he was one of the last of the generation of
great leaders that Africa birthed and gave to the world.
Tell me about that leadership and what it meant.
GRACA MACHEL, HUMANITARIAN AND WIDOW OF NELSON MANDELA: Thank you, Christiane, for having me tonight.
I must say, I'm still shaken. And I'm not sure whether I will be able to express my feelings and my thoughts adequately.
But we, as South Africans, Africans, we were really, really blessed to have this outstanding, extraordinary, outstanding leadership which Mandela,
Tutu, and, if I can go beyond South Africa, with Kofi Annan, and we have leaders who were for the world, not only for us, really the light
throughout the 20th century.
So, the passing of Arch for me, it was particularly painful, because it is the closing of that chapter. And, as the days go by, I begin to think,
well, nature had to take its course. He lived a long and very, very fulfilling life.
So now we just have to look around and say, what is -- the next generation is going to do to take up the baton? And that's what we have been thinking.
But your question is what this leadership has meant. You will remember that, at a certain point, Desmond Tutu was the representation of South
He was the face and the voice from inside the country. While Oliver Tambo was in exile, Mandela was in prison, but he was really the voice which
reminded the world that South African people are fighting against this evil of apathy, but at the same time mobilizing every single day people of South
Africa to say, we will be free, as he would always say, we will be free, building up on confidence and courage and making sure that the fire will
So, now, the question you are asking is, I felt personally that there was a void.
MACHEL: ... a void.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I hear you loud and clear.
And we have been talking about leadership at the beginning of this program when it comes to even things like mobilizing against something like a
global pandemic of COVID. But I think what I'd like to ask you is a bit more personal, because what Archbishop Tutu did, as well as your late
husband, Nelson Mandela, was seek not revenge after the horrors of apartheid, but reconciliation, restorative justice.
And I want to play this sound bite from Archbishop Tutu way before -- actually, this is what he said in 1998 about good and evil. I'm just going
to play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, NOBEL LAUREATE: We are saying we recognize that there is a lot of evil, but we also recognize that there is a lot of good.
And we have no doubt at all that, ultimately, because God is in charge, good will come out of evil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Graca Machel, how do you think he was able to find that good when it came to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when it came to
building South Africa's democracy with your late husband, based on justice and forgiveness?
How could he -- how do you think, since you know him so well, that he was able to find that good in the evil of white supremacy?
MACHEL: You know, Arch was -- is someone who taught me that, in every single human being, there is a great deal of goodness.
And, in fact, many times, he would remind us that there is no someone who is totally evil. There is still inside anyone the ability to be good and to
And I think when he was asked to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he really relied on the belief and conviction that every single
person, even those who have been perpetrators, at last minute, they will bring some kind of goodness to recognize what they have done, and to look
into the faces of the victims, and to ask for forgiveness.
And he always insisted that those who are victims, they should forgive, and that those who have been perpetrators, they should ask for forgiveness, and
that this was for -- to amplify, as he mentioned many times, the space of goodness within South African society, so that both sides, those who have
been victims, those who have been perpetrators, they will find themselves in the middle, and that there will be that space of goodness.
And in many instances, he reminded us of this necessity for us to build on what is good for all of us.
AMANPOUR: Graca Machel, there are many people, particularly the younger generation, who, as you have said, were not in the streets fighting that
struggle decades ago with Mandela -- rather, with Tutu and all the others.
But some people have expressed frustration that it didn't cure everything that needed to be cured in South Africa. And, indeed, Tutu himself, I
think, was disappointed, not just with some of the reticence of some of the white leaders, but, also, he would have liked, for instance, Winnie Mandela
to have come forth and apologized for the so-called violence -- the violence of the so-called football club, the hooliganism and the death of
And that never happened. And, later, he even called out corruption in the ANC under certainly Jacob Zuma, and also, before that, Thabo Mbeki. This is
after your husband gave up power.
I'm going to play this sound bite from Desmond Tutu, which I believe he made in 2011, about the Zuma government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUTU: This government, our government is worse than the apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Yikes, Graca.
That must have sent shockwaves. But it also showed that he was not just lobbying for his own side, so to speak. It was about holding all sides
MACHEL: First, let me say that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meant to begin a process of addressing the past in South Africa.
It could not finish the job, because it was simply to open the space in which we would confront that past and work together to heal. But healing,
Christiane, you will understand that you don't do it in two years for a long story of 300 years, which we had in South Africa of colonization, and
then, of course, of apartheid, much less.
This is one. The second one is, in that process, there were a lot of other things which should have followed the Truth and Reconciliation, which did
not follow. And one of them, for instance, is that, today, inequality in South Africa is so, so deep and high.
And that's why the frustration you are talking about amongst the youth. And if reconciliation had also expanded itself to address the economic things,
then possibly, by now, we would be having a society in which redistribution could be taking place, opportunities for millions of young people will be
taking -- would be finding an opportunity to take up their destiny.
And so we have unfinished business. This is one.
And then, the corruption they're talking about and the government (INAUDIBLE) you are mentioning, there is this inability of people, and
unfortunately, people who are in position of power and leadership to be unable to internalize and to absorb the new values of democracy, which was
good going to -- due to good for all, not only for a few.
So, we have still an open, I mean, agenda in reconciliation in South Africa, which partisan (ph) institutional. Second, it can be economic, it
can social, but it's also individual.
MACHEL: This one you see today for -- yes?
AMANPOUR: Sorry. I don't mean to interrupt you, but I want to ask you something that just struck me. I was speaking to the executive secretary,
the Truth in Reconciliation Commission, who pointed out something that Tutu himself did as well, that the sheer burden of listening and reporting to
the horror stories that came before the Truth in Reconciliation created deep mental health problems and physical problems.
A significant number of the commissioners developed cancer or were hospitalized. Some, the translators who had to, in their own voice,
translate what the black Africans were reporting about, the torture, lost hair, lost teeth, that it was -- that they had to have mental health
counselling every week. Tell me about what a burden it was and, of course, Tutu himself was diagnosed halfway through with pancreatic cancer.
MACHEL: You know, us -- told us, not even I, after that, listening to those stories has affected him in a way he felt was he was a different
person. He knew of the atrocities of apartheid but the new dimensions and depths of that which he learned through the Truth in Reconciliation. So, it
And I'm not trying to mean that he got cancer because of that as other people did, but it definitely -- it affected him not only mentally, but
also possibly physically. But because he was a man of deep spirituality, I think he went back to that, and this is what helped him to heal somehow and
to continue to exercise the leadership, which he did up to the end of his life.
At the end of the day, he managed to really have a long life. So, I --
AMANPOUR: Yes, he did.
MACHEL: He's deep spirituality helped him a great deal to deal with the pain and the burdens of what he learned through the Truth and
AMANPOUR: Helped South Africa so much as well to move forward rather than get stuck, particularly, your husband, Nelson Mandela, to get stuck in the
past, just be able to move forward while the TRC did its job. But I want to ask you -- I don't want to finish on a personal note. You have called him a
brother, a loyal friend, and you credit him with being, so-called, the guiding light in actually, you know, prodding you and Madiba, as you call
him, to actually formalize your union and get married. Tell us about it.
MACHEL: You know, Madiba and I were quite happy just to be together. And because we have very big and complex families, both of us, we thought it
would be extremely complicated to bring this families together to become one. So, we were not contemplating, really, to get married. And it is Tutu
who spoke to both of us separately.
And you might know that I'm in my way with Desmond Tutu starts from 1993, '94. So, we knew each other very well. And so, he spoke to me, he spoke
Madiba and said, look, this is not going to be a good example, particularly to young people in the country because you are undermining an institution,
an institution which is marriage, an institution which is family, which is formally constituted. So, you need to give example. Of course, it can come
from you, both of you, to undermine that institution and this culturally way of constituting a family.
So, that's him really who convinced us and we realized, no, no, no. Our personal problems, with difficulties with our families were too little to
what was required to us as public figures to set that example to young generations. And, you know, he was the one to bless our union. Of course,
Madiba because he was -- he wanted to be very integrating. He brought also, I mean, the Hindus, he brought also the Muslims, he brought all
denominations to come, really, and bless. But the main, I mean, officer of our marriage, it was Desmond Tutu.
AMANPOUR: That's just a lovely story to end on. Graca Machel, thank you so much and our condolences to you and to your country.
And now, we move to New York. And the big apple gets a new mayor, did get a new mayor this weekend. Eric Adams will take charge now of a city in the
grips of another COVID surge, especially in its many homeless shelters.
Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Andrea Elliott, wrote a damning expose of New York's handling of its homeless, focusing on one girl named Dasani.
Eight years later, Elliott's out with a new book called "Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City." And here she is talking
about that with Hari Sreenivasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Andrea Elliott, thanks for joining us.
Now, some of our viewers might remember this series that you wrote back in 2013 or recorded in 2012 about a family that you found and what they were
going through, their struggles and hardships in New York back then. But what was a fascinating turn is you decide to embed with this family for the
next eight years to produce this book.
So first off, Dasani, tell us a little bit about her.
ANDREA ELLIOTT, AUTHOR, "INVISIBLE CHILD": The moment I saw Dasani, I wanted to follow her. I wanted to know her story. She just jumped out at
me. She was 11 years old and she had this kind of spark about her. And she was, by outward appearances, a kind of star, right? She was on the
honorable, she was this really fast sprinter. She was like brimming with optimism, and this was in her name, because she was named after the bottled
water that had just come to Brooklyn after she was born, and that symbolized for her family luxury. Something that they could never afford. A
different life. A better life.
And what wasn't clear when I first met her was how difficult her actual life was in the shelter. The shelter was off limits to the public. I
eventually snuck in with photographer from the "New York Times," Bret Franson (ph), through a fire escape in the back and ran past forces of
security guards. We were undercover at this point and just trying to expose the conditions.
And her room, which was one room, was shared by all 10 family members. They had a mop bucket that they used as a toilet. They were overrun by mice and
just really decrepit horrible difficult conditions. But even in that setting, this little girl would wake up every morning, go to the window and
look at the Empire State Building. So, there was just so much aspiration in her daily existence and that really moved me.
SREENIVASAN: You had a passage about the homeless shelter in there. Over the last decade, city and state inspectors have cited the Auburn shelter
for more than 400 violations. Among them, broken elevators, non-functioning bathrooms, faulty fire alarms, insufficient heat, spoiled food, sexual
misconduct by staff, inadequate child care and the presence of mice, roaches, mold, bedbugs, lead and asbestos.
And this was the refuge for a family that did not have a home. I mean, what were they escaping? What was life outside that shelter like? What was the
ELLIOTT: There was no alternative. This was what they got. I would argue that Dasani's true refuge was the public school system, which is probably
the most powerful antipoverty program that exists for children like her outside of keeping their family together, which was the other most
important thing that she had. Those two systems of survival were so central to her existence.
But, you know, the conditions of the shelter, I don't believe were the result of neglect so much as just a part of the punishing of reality that
cities tend to impose upon the poor, that you're punished for your condition. They did not want families to overstay their welcome. They
didn't want it to be too comfortable. And that's what I found to be probably most upsetting about this particular place, as if there were
hundreds of children living there, having to pay the price of this other broader system that didn't really think about their future because to grow
up poor is a marker. It changes fate for people.
And here, we have a city that is marked by wealth and yet, many families were forced to live in conditions like this not because they wanted to but
because it was impossible to -- increasingly hard to find affordable housing, and this is a problem across the country. Only about 3 percent of
Americans have access to federal affordable housing programs, such as Section 8 Public Housing. But it's a tiny percentage when you consider the
incredible cost of living.
SREENIVASAN: Some of these structural things you see play out as you detail the life of Dasani's mother and the hurdles that she faces.
ELLIOTT: Dasani's mother, her name is Chanel. She was named after the luxury perfume that her mother spotted in a magazine. Because at that time
in Brooklyn, in the late '70s, a magazine ad was the closest that you could really get to this other life. And I think that at its heart, this is very
much a mother/daughter story. Dasani and Chanel really exist in relation to each other. They don't see themselves as separate.
She was her first daughter. Chanel wound up mothering eight children. Dasani was her right hand. And by the time I met Dasani, she was really a
third parent in that family. She served as an adultified child, and is what researchers like to call it, but I saw her simply as somebody who is
showing up for her life in a strong and hopeful and brave way as possible, this child, and just pressing forward and trying to help her mom in all
kinds of ways and at the same time, wanting to get away from her mom at times because her mother, going back to your question, Hari, I mean, Chanel
was born right as the crack epidemic was taking hold of inner-city America.
And I think it's important to know that it wasn't just that these communities found themselves taken up by addiction or derailed by the
addiction to this drug, it was that this drug created an alternate economy for a community that had lost jobs because of the industrialization that
industry had pulled out of the cities and left a lot of people out of work.
And s, Chanel was growing up in this fascinating and heartbreaking world where people were addicted, including her mother, but people were also
finding ways to survive through this drug. And she herself got caught up in that early on and she was a dealer and she was also somebody who fell to
the addiction. But she beat it for a while, got married, and had -- created a family. And Dasani was, in many ways, her right hand.
You know, they created this family as a part of a plan. It wasn't a plan that panned out as they wanted it to. You could argue they were very naive
in those early days to think they were going to beat a lot of the problems, including their own addiction, that had held them back. But the family
wasn't even really about them. The family was about their kids. It was about creating an army of siblings, that they themselves did not have
because both Chanel and Supreme had come from broken homes.
They didn't want the street to become their kids' family as it had for them. This is what they always said, the street became our family. Gangs.
People on the street who call you brother or sister but who aren't really your brother or sister. And so, this was about creating a system of
survival for Dasani and all of her siblings. And in that sense, they succeeded because there was nothing stronger in her life, more affirming
than that bond that she had with her siblings, and it's what got her through the day.
SREENIVASAN: So, give me an example of some ways Dasani was parentified or adultified. I mean, were there moments where there was tension between the
mother and the daughter because the daughter felt like well, I'm picking up some slack, I'm a parent too?
ELLIOTT: There was a lot of tension and a lot of love. Both things were true about their relationship and about this family. Dasani could change
diapers before she was in kindergarten. She was the kid in the family who went to fetch the bottle for the baby when she was in the fifth grade every
morning before the sun was up.
By the time she showed up for school, often late and usually having missed the curfew for breakfast, many other kids had slept that time, she had been
working for hours. So, she was a kid who was just constantly on. She had to work at home, work in school. She had very little rest. She didn't see it
that way. She just saw this as her life. It wasn't good or bad. It was just her reality.
She did start to feel, as she came of age, that certain opportunities should be hers and weren't because she was being kept home at times to do
child care instead of being in school. And this, ultimately, came to the attention of child protection and they monitored the family pretty closely
throughout the time that I was with this family. So, it wasn't a secret to anyone and this is typical among poor families that everyone sorts of
pitches in because just the act of survival requires so much work.
I think people have this perception that the poor don't want to work, especially those who are chronically unemployed. And what I found, one of
the many things I found that was fascinating about this family is how much their story kind of just flew in the face of those popular concepts. For
example. The poor, the deeply poor, I found were always working. They were always working. It's just not the kind of work that we recognize in the
formal labor market as work.
SREENIVASAN: Knowing that, there is a portion of the book where she gets a tremendous opportunity to go to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. And what
does that do to Dasani and what does that do to the family that's so close knit?
ELLIOTT: This was the most stunning event in Dasani's life, was this opportunity she got to go to the Hershey School, this boarding school that
paid for everything. And its entire purpose was to lift children out of poverty. So, the 2,000 children who are there from ages four to 18 and
beyond actually, are children who have left poor backgrounds and find themselves living in this almost utopic existence where they have a
suburban looking home and a real married couple as their house parents. And they get to have braces and learn to swim and they learn to drive and they
get a full wardrobe and tutoring and piano and ballet. All the things that middle class Americans enjoy became Dasani's reality.
And it was an irresistible opportunity for her. She was 13 when she went to Hershey School. She felt that it was going to change her life. And it did,
but not in the way she or I could have ever guessed. One major way it changed her life, first and foremost, was that by leaving her family, they
found life without Dasani very difficult. And in her absence, things went wrong. Her mother struggled more. Her father struggled more. Her little
brother, Papa, ran away five days after she left because he had some kind of fantasy. He was seven years old at the time, that he would also be
rescued by a benefactor, and that one event then set into motion a child protection investigation that resulted 10 months later in the children
being removed from their parents.
And they were removed because of poverty-related problems. And so, in her absence, her siblings went into foster care, and that derailed Dasani. Up
until then, she was pretty much thriving. She took off at Hershey. She jumped forward two grade levels in math and she joined the track team and
she became cheerleader, but felt so torn when her siblings were suffering in foster care. She had tremendous survivor's guilt and she wound up
getting kicked out just to get back to them.
SREENIVASAN: You know, one statistic that leapt out at me from your writing is over half of all black children in America are subjected to at
least one child protection probe before turning 18. They're 2.4 times more likely than whites to be permanently separated from their parents entering
a foster care population of more than 427,000 children nationally.
That is just stunning to me that -- and you explore in great detail the amount of resources that, as a city, state, federal level, we are currently
spending on the foster care system versus preventing children from entering that system in the first place.
ELLIOTT: That's right. The federal government spends 10 times as much on programs that separate families, the vast majority of whom are families of
color than on programs that would keep them together. Dasani's family experienced both programs. At first, they were in a prevention program that
was supposed to prevent that from happening. And that program failed to help her stepfather who was desperately in need of basic things like
getting the electricity put back on, getting his food stamps reinstated because of a bureaucratic lapse. These were phone calls that he needed help
with and they didn't happen.
Then his kids and Chanel's kids, all eight of them, including Dasani, though she was at boarding school, were placed in the foster care system.
That's a system that wound up spending $33,000 a month on just this family, which is about $400,000 a year. So, they went from massive poverty with
very few supports in place to a system that spends so much money on them by separating them from their parents and putting them in these other homes.
And if you just took a fraction of that amount of money and put it towards keeping the family together, I do think you would see better outcomes for
her siblings. They suffered in ways that were irreversible, having gone into foster care. And I think that the message inherent in that is that
poverty is a crime. And these families are disproportionately families of color and they are disproportionately situations where they are facing
neglect accusations, not abuse accusations.
The year that Dasani's were removed, 2015, 7 percent of cases in New York City involved abuse charges, 7, 93 percent were neglect. And so -- and the
vast majority again were families of color. So, when you look at that, it's impossible to see this as a neutral system or as a system that -- it calls
itself a child protection or the child welfare system, but there's a growing movement now that wants to reframe the language around this system
as a family policing system, as a system that punishes parents of color and parents who are in poverty.
SREENIVASAN: So, I've got to ask, not as a spoiler for the book, but where are they now? Where's Dasani? Where is her mom?
ELLIOTT: They have been reunited after a long court battle. And they are living in a rental in the Bronx. And I would say they're on an upswing.
They are both working for UPS. And Dasani became the first person in her immediate family to graduate high school and she's not in community
college. She's studying to be a business person. And she's just feeling really hopeful about her life.
I think that her version of success is thriving in her own setting. And she wants to be the person who decides what success looks like and should feel
like not others. She wants to both stay close to her family while also hitting milestones that no one else has. And so far, she's doing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It really is a story of hope despite all those challenges. Andrea Elliott's book, "Invisible Child."
And finally, sometimes a very small gesture can save a life. At an ice hockey game in Seattle, fan and future medical student Nadja Popovichi
spotted something on the sidelines of the ring that she knew wasn't quite right. Holding up this message on her phone, she warn Vancouver Canucks'
staffer, Brian Hamilton, about a potentially cancerous on his neck. Her gut instinct was right and it may even have helped save Hamilton's life with
that early detection.
With the help of social media, he tracked down his guardian angel. And this weekend, the Vancouver Canucks and the Seattle Kraken surprised her with a
very big thank you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nadja, the Kraken and the Canucks cannot thank you enough. And together, we would like to give you $10,000 toward your college
tuition. We know your going to make a phenomenal doctor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You say Canuck, I say Canuck. That's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the
latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. You can find it at cnn.com/podcast and all major podcast platforms, just search for Amanpour.
Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.
HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Hala Gorani.
Tonight, a new year with a familiar challenge.