Tributes to Michelle

This website was given to Michelle as a surprise gift for her Birthday in September 2005

A Tribute from Ousman Cham, living in Sukuta, The Gambia:


While you are celebrating your birthday this year, I want you to recognise this occasion as a celebration for the whole of humanity. Your selfless sacrifice for the good of the less fortunate ones has not been lost to most of us who had the priviledge of knowing you for a couple of decades now.

Who could have forgotten someone born in a comfortable home like yours, to spend more than half a decade in the mosquito infested hot Gambia?

Who could have forgotten your days in Mali where the temperature could hit the forties? What were you doing in all these countries if not to make the world a better places for those children and their families who in one way or the other have their innocence and hope for a comfortable life cruelly taken away from them by the kind of world constructed by our so-called leaders? Who could have forgotten your commitment to make a positive difference in the lives of these people?

Our elders say "What you are sounds so loudly in our ears that we could not hear what you say." So, my Dear Michelle, you have been and still are the beacon of hope for the hopeless from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. This is why we adore you. It's not easy to be a whole person but, Michelle, thank God, you are a whole person with a large heart to serve Humanity. I do not want to talk about your intellectual powers, your excellent professionalism for there are others who are more qualified than me to comment on that; but I am a beneficiary of your excellent management coaching. Michelle I am what I am largely because of you!!!. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for all that you have done for me. I was never a giant but if I am now, it is only because you have offered me your shoulders to stand on!!!

On behalf of my family I want to thank you and say to you in Mandinka "I ning Barabake Michelle" Thanks and may God bless you abundantly.

May Allah the Almighty grant you many more fulfilling years to come.

From Ousman and Family.

Ousman is the West African Regional Director of the Christian Childrens' Fund.

A Tribute from Jane Edge, Asia Pacific Representative of the Christian Children's Fund

Michelle has been a wonderful supporter of significant shifts in programming in Asia. A supporter not only of all involved ... from children and families through to national office staff but a good friend who is always up for a chat about key issues and ready to offer practical help.

Michelle is one of my favourite travelling companions. She is tireless, has avid appreciation for all things cultural and always displays that wonderful sense of humour! We both made our first trip to Laos during our recent strategic review meeting in Thailand. Crossing the border into a country for the first time is special but it will be memorable because the experience was shared with Michelle who has an unquenchable curiosity for the new and challenging ... a new CCF cross border program in the making in Laos!

Of course, MJP is a real trouper and always participates in activities in communities. In the accompanying photos she joins women weaving in the north of Thailand, and of course, makes a point of trying the local cuisine. You can see she is really looking forward to sampling this wonderful Thai delicacy, fried grasshopper!


Have a wonderful birthday Michelle ... best wishes from all of us here in Asia Pacific!

A Tribute from Davidson Jonah, West African Regional Child Protection Officer

When I think of Michelle, I remember a meeting we had while she was visiting our Sierra Leone program during the civil war, when displaced families were desperately poor, tempers were frayed and people wondered if peace would ever return to our country.

There was a community meeting where the elders were displaying their anger and frustrations. They were demanding immediate assistance and blaming CCF program staff for the delays. They were wanting to return home, and blaming the international community for failing to produce peace. They were blaming the world and urging Michelle to provide what the rest of the world was unable to supply.

When the elders had finished speaking and their angry words were finished, Michelle smiled and said, "Thank you. I hear all that. Now, what about the children?"

Immediately the anger disappeared, the complaints vanished, and we began to discuss the real issues where CCF could actually help these unfortunate people. This symbolizes for me the way in which Michelle has managed to make CHILDREN the focus of CCF's work. Under Michelle's leadership we are moving away from a generalized approach, and becoming specific in what we are good in doing. This makes our teams succeed in creating spaces where children can be protected, even in places of war and violence where most agencies find it impossible to achieve anything at all.

A Tribute from Michael Wessells

I have long awaited an appropriate opportunity to pay tribute, Michelle Elcoat Poulton. Life is too short to allow it to slip past without taking the time to tell someone who is very special just how special they really are.

Insofar as life is a voyage, three ships are particularly important - leadership, mentorship, and friendship. When I take stock of how Michelle integrates these three, I come away deeply appreciative of her remarkable accomplishments, but more than that, of who she is and how she affects everyone around her.

To say that Michelle is a leader is truly an understatement. On nearly every issue concerning her passion - the children of the world - she projects a truly humane, insightful vision that is ahead of its time. In all her work overseeing programs across many countries and spanning several decades, she has been a pioneer who thinks deeply about children's well-being and how to relate it to family, community, and societal empowerment, well being, and transformation for peace. She has been a leader at every level in articulating the view that children in difficult situations are not passive victims but exhibit much resilience. Reflecting these ideas, the programs she oversees add real substance to the often mouthed ideas that children have rights, deserve to be heard, and are valuable resources for their own development and also the development of their societies. To see that this is no accident, one has only to compare CCF programs a decade ago, before she had applied her prodigious talents on behalf of CCF, to current CCF programs. Due to Michelle's leadership, CCF has made its programs much more empowerment focused and community driven, strengthened their holistic character, and constructed more than a few models that warrant emulation worldwide. It is due in no small part to Michelle¹s leadership that CCF has in that same period of time moved from being a well kept secret to being a recognized player known for high capacity, rapid action, and quality programming on child protection and development.

The way that Michelle accomplishes so much deserves as much comment as what she has accomplished. Michelle operates from a base of passion and intense commitment to helping all the world's children, including those who are refugees, trafficked, war-affected, impoverished, survivors of sexual violence, or led or forced into early marriage, dangerous labor, or soldiering. This passion makes her relentless in doing what is best for children rather than what is merely fashionable or most convenient in dealing with donors and governments. In fact, she is courageous in taking stands that defy the common wisdom but soon become common practice once others see the wisdom of her views.

Michelle's passion inspires everyone around her, leading her to assemble a stellar international team on which people are treated with respect and invited to use their creativity on behalf of supporting children and families. This team also operates from a base of passion and commitment to children that is rare among humanitarian agencies, even child focused ones. While it is true that Michelle is out front projecting a vision and forging a new path, she always does this in a team oriented manner that invites collective ownership of the vision, which team members active contribute to. She acts as "first among equals" rather than as a "boss," yet her steady, careful hand guides all that she oversees. Those of us who have the good fortune to work for her take great confidence knowing she stands behind us. And yet we also know she will challenge us. Without a hint of arrogance, she challenges those who are trapped in old habits or ways of thinking, in much the same way that she challenges herself. At the same time, she is an extraordinarily careful listener and integrates into the evolving vision of her team the best ideas that can do the greatest good on behalf of children. The combination of passion, teamwork, and creativity that she invites makes working for her a great pleasure and a highly enriching experience.

Never a bureaucrat or one to issue edicts, Michelle generates movement largely by mentoring people in a quiet yet highly engaging way on how to convert the team vision into reality. I myself am living testimony. On issues such as child protection and psychosocial support that I have sought to make more central to CCF's work, Michelle has created a significant amount of space in which to develop new ideas and programs, allowing creativity to take precedence over the issues of turf that limit many agencies. She also played a key role in enriching my approach, inviting me to think in more holistic, resilience oriented ways. Repeatedly, she has provided the mixture of good advice and well applied leverage within the agency to make it possible to integrate ideas about child protection and psychosocial support into CCF's work. What amazes me most is that she makes me feel as if this were my contribution, when in fact whatever influence these ideas enjoy within CCF owe immensely to her guiding efforts and support.

To top it off, Michelle is also an exceptional friend. I always know she cares about who I am, and she takes time to offer support whenever I need it. Her remarkable humor always graces her presence and illuminates our time together. And her humor can be so quiet as to escape notice. Once, on travel together to Northern Uganda, we sat at lunch with the local mayor eating local food, which for me included goat that turned out to be tougher than the sole of most leather shoes. As we talked, I did my best to carve up the goat, yet I had signally failed after thirty minutes of near savage carving and also some ineffective attempts to hold it in my hand and get one good bite. Throughout it all and wanting to show proper respect for the mayor and local food, Michelle never made a scene of it. However, it did not escape my eye that her discussion with the mayor was accompanied by the slightest smile, which could easily have passed as part of her agreeable demeanor and good spirits but which I knew in fact was in response to the goat having bested me. Later that same day, we enjoyed a good laugh over it. We also took a walk with local people as they led their animals, reenacting a timeless African activity that had new meaning in light of the ravages exacted by the war in Northern Uganda. For us, that walk was itself part of process of spiritual renewal and a testimony to human resilience. In countless ways, Michelle's friendship is to me, part of resilience in life. Together we laugh and enjoy life yet we also activate our spirits deeply in helping to support children and families under the most difficult conditions. Through it all, Michelle brings out the best in everyone around her‹I know she has done this in regard to me. I am forever grateful to have the honor to know Michelle, work with her, and count her as a friend.

Mike Wessells

A Tribute from Daniel Wordsworth, Asia Representative of CCF.

Hmmm...I've thought long and hard about what to say about MJP!

Funnily enough, much of what comes to mind is visual. A favourite activity in International Program Group (the ship Michelle has been skippering for the past 6 years) is to impersonate Michelle's mannerisms and gestures. The way she prowls like a cat around your office, squeezing into the tightest places is just one or her moves. The way she frowns when concentrating but fidgets when unhappy is another. MJP has truly attained something of a cult status within CCF, her eccentricities, sense of humour, determination and overall "unstoppability" has made her a force to be reckoned with.

I would like to describe a few of the things about Michelle that have always stood out to me. Michelle truly lives in the moment, deriving immense pleasure from life. I have rarely met someone who is so curious and interested in the world. She remembers the weirdest details and is interested in the most obscure of things - like when women in Yemen got the vote! And nothing that goes into that brain ever leaks out!

She is so determined. She is a "force"! I have never seen her sick...if Michelle ever took a day off due to illness, CCF would wobble in shock. It's more than a physical thing: her tenacity, persistence and doggedness have been a real inspiration to me.

On one occasion - in a time of particular frustration - Michelle looked at me and said "don't worry Daniel, we will outlive them." I looked at her and knew it would be true...and years on she still prevails.

As a leader Michelle is a solid rock. With Michelle you always know, without ever doubting, that she is 100 percent behind you. A number of times I have felt as though I was out on the end of a long, thin plank...but every time I knew that Michelle was out there with me. Most of the time she was the one that got me out there on the end of the plank in the first place...she is nothing if not bold and daring!

Michelle is absolutely confident in herself, and she has that rare ability to manage strong personalities without feeling threatened while still constantly pushing them to do more and be better.

I look back on my time working with Michelle and Mike Raikovitz as a high point, I felt part of a team with a strong bond of respect and confidence. For many years Michelle has dedicated herself to the cause of children in some of the world's toughest places. She is a respected leader in her field whose contributions have touched communities in all four corners of the globe. She is a pleasure to work with, a genuinely funny person and one of life's characters!

To me Michelle has a little of the spirit of Don Quixote...there is something sparse about her in appearance, yet filled with energy and with a sparkle in the eyes. She seems ever ready to launch into battle and has an air of fragile invincibility about her. But her windmills have always been real and important. She has devoted her life to the world's poor children and has made a difference...but doing it very much in her own way."

Take care, Michelle and have a very happy birthday.
Daniel, Sandra and Isabella

A Tribute from Ghassan Rubeiz, Former Director of CCF office in Washington DC

Michelle and I started working for CCF about the same time in the early nineties In the Geneva office. We had a great time building a program for Eastern Europe, especially in the Baltic states and Belarus. In Estonia, we introduced foster care based children and other family substitute projects. In Latvia, CCF partnered with a hospital to develop a physical rehabilitation program for children. We helped Lithuania children's fund become a leading agency in the country. In Belarus, we facilitated in building an innovative NGO called the Belorussian Children's Fund.

An interesting Latvia episode stands out in my memory: a risky helicopter ride over Riga's red district filming a child prostitution environment. The episode illustrates the many adventures we had together on travel missions.

With Michelle, I had much fun in sharing new ideas, meeting interesting international people, learning about a new culture in transition and fund raising through Unicef and the European Union.

Michelle and I also moved to Richmond (about the same time) from CCF Geneva based Eastern Europe office. For about ten years, I enjoyed working in Michelle's CCF Program Division, where she was the chief of operations in different leading positions.

In retirement, now, I consider Michelle a mentor, a friend, a dedicated social reformer and a builder of services for children.

Dr Ghassan Rubeiz
Retired Director of CCF office in Washington DC
Formerly Mediator for Middle East Peace at the World Council of Churches

Catherine Leila Poulton, Michelle's daughter

No words are necessary for Catherine Leila's tribute, which is the greatest that any mother could have. You need only look at the choices that Leila has made in her young life, to see that she accepts her mother as a role model. Working in Chad with refugees from Darfur, and working inside Darfur as a Protection Officer trying to reduce violence, racism, genocide and the new weapon of gang rape, Leila is showing how the next generation is able and willing to stand up for a different and better way of doing business. Preferring peace to war, Leila is fighting - like her mother - the effects of poverty and violence created through evil, ruthless capitalist exploitation of post-colonial Africa.


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