In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, many Americans have been shocked by reports that some Haitian parents permitted foreigners to take their children.
But Oprah Show field correspondent Lisa Ling doesn't find it all that strange.
"Every country I visit, especially in the Third World, what parents want for their children is an education," said Ling, in St. Petersburg Thursday to speak at the Florida Holocaust Museum's annual benefit. "There are villages where there aren't even telephones, and parents are so desperate to get their kids an education they'll send them off even though it's hard to vet where they're going."
In a television career that started at age 16, Ling has focused on women and children around the world, from Ghana where she found an 11-year-old boy who had been abducted by human traffickers, to Ethiopia, where she interviewed child brides who were "physically active" with their 30-year-old husbands but wanted nothing more than to go to school.
"I don't think our media does a good job at covering international affairs or even domestic social issues," said Ling, now 36. "The highest rated shows are guys yelling at each other."
Still, she said, Americans care about the global community, as shown by the high ratings for an Oprah segment on the thousands of women raped by soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The show also generated more than $2 million in contributions.
"The reason I love this kind of work," Ling said, "is that I experience the worst of humanity, but every time I bring one of these stories to light I experience the best of humanity."
Much closer to home, she recently spent the night in a Detroit-area Catholic convent for a story on the dramatic increase in the number of women becoming nuns.
"They said the economy was not a factor, they just wanted to free themselves of this insatiable culture of more, more, more that we've become. I don't agree with them on all issues, but there's something liberating about no makeup, basically one outfit."
Ling, who has also worked for CNN and the National Geographic Channel, was perhaps the better known of two siblings who both made their marks in TV at early ages. But in March, sister Laura, working for Current TV, and fellow journalist Euna Lee were detained in North Korea after they crossed the border from China without visas.
Sentenced to 12 years in a labor prison, the two were pardoned four months later and returned to the United States after an unannounced visit to North Korea by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Lisa Ling said her sister "is doing great" but has yet to return to work and "has kind of shifted her focus" to family. The entire clan was at the airport when the two journalists arrived home in August.
"It was the happiest day of my life," Ling said.
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com.