Little by Little One Walks Far*


UNFPA is the United Nations agency that deals with providing much needed family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world.  In 2002, the American government decided not to give a promised 34 million dollars to UNFPA.

In different parts of the country and without ever having met, two ordinary American women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, asked the women of America to send $1 dollar each to UNFPA.

Nobody – not even UNFPA – thought it would work. But it did.  Soon a deluge of envelopes with single dollar bills began arriving at the UNFPA offices from women – and men – all over the United States.

From this an organisation called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA (www.34millionfriends.org) was formed and millions of dollars were raised to help families all over the world.

In 2009, the U.S. administration restored the funding to UNFPA but 34 Million Friends still continues to work to support this vital service.

And all from the efforts of two ordinary women – a social action butterfly effect if ever there was one.

(*Peruvian Proverb)

The Most Natural Thing In the World?


As the daughter of a nurse I had some vague idea of what a fistula might be (my mother always liked to tell us the ‘real’ name for everything.)  A fistula is a hole – usually a tear – between organs.  To be honest, I can’t say that I was all that aware of obstetric fistulas.

An obstetric fistula is a tear that develops between the rectum and/or bladder and vagina as a result of prolonged or severe childbirth.  The physical result of this tear is that woman – many of them teenagers too young to be physically capable of giving birth without medical intervention – leak urine and feces all the time.  The social result of this is that they are usually divorced and ostracised. Because they smell bad, they are forced to live in huts at the edge of their villages where they starve or die of infection.

“The woman with a fistula is the modern day leper,” as a healthcare worker describes the situation.(1)

Obstetric fistulas were not unknown in Europe and America – for example, the present day site of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, was once the site of the Women’s Hospital of New York, which specialised in fistula repair until it closed in 1928. (2)

Since the early twentieth century in the Western world, the condition of obstetric fistula has been relegated to obscurity by the availability of medical intervention in childbirth. Obscure enough that this nurse’s daughter was never warned about them by her mother.

This is not the case for thousands of other women around the world (regardless of who their mothers may be).  They know exactly what an obstetric fistula is and all about the devastation it wreaks on a life.

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(1) Half the Sky, Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 109

(2) http://www.hipmama.com/node/25230

Why You Need Education for Girls (even if you’re a boy)


If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation). (Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey)

Of the many millions of children who don’t go to school – the majority are girls. This has serious repercussions for everyone of us – not just little girls.

Not only are girls who go to school less likely to die in childbirth when they grow up, they have fewer – and healthier – babies. Their sons – as well as their daughters – are more likely to be educated and less likely to contract diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Outside of the home, these girls can find work more easily when they grow up, which not only contributes to the well-being of their family but also helps develop their economies.

So, if you want to live in a safer, healthier world with access to the potential of 100% of the population – educate the girls (as well as the boys).

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*Photograph – Unicef Photography – Somalia, 2007: Children attend a UNICEF-assisted school in Mogadishu.  http://www.unicef.org/photography/photo_2008.php#UNI46407

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