Category Archives: Inspiration

Waris Dirie


Waris Dirie was about five years old when she was left in a makeshift shelter under a tree for several days to recover from her “operation”, like all the girls in her community, she had undergone female circumcision, more accurately known as female genital mutilation (FGM).(1) Her mother held her down when she was cut without anesthesia by a gypsy woman. Dirie’s vaginal opening was stitched closed with thorns. The pain was horrific. “Can you imagine anything worse than hearing the screams of pain of your own child?” she asks.

Dirie says she lay there, talking to God, saying “make me stay alive. You owe me this now.”

“It’s impossible to describe the pain,” she continues. One of Dirie’s older sisters bled to death after the procedure, while a six-year-old cousin perished from a resulting infection. In her book, Dirie makes it clear that FGM is blatant butchering, writing, “It’s like someone is slicing through the meat of your thigh or cutting off your arm, except this is the most sensitive part of your body.” In many African communities, she goes on to explain, “the prevailing wisdom is that there are bad things between a girl’s legs.”

At around 13, her father sold her to a much older man to be his next wife. The plan was that he would cut open her stitched vagina with a knife or break it open by penetrating her. So she ran away. She ran barefoot. She was alone in the desert for days — no water, no food. “I knew that as long as I was alive, I could make it,” she says. “I had nothing to lose but my freedom.” Once, she woke up to find a lion staring at her. She believes he did not gobble her up because she was too skinny. “I wasn’t worth eating,” she says.(2)

She reached relatives in Mogadishu. From there, she managed to make it to London – an aunt was married to Somalia’s ambassador to Britain – and she worked as their maid for several years. When they returned to Somalia, she stayed on, learned English and got a job at McDonald’s, eventually being spotted by the late fashion photographer Terence Donovan. He ended up shooting her for the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar. By the 1990s, Dirie had become a supermodel, fronting Chanel campaigns and appeared in the James Bond film The Living Daylights.(1)

My mother named me after a miracle of nature: Waris means desert flower. The desert flower blooms in barren environment where few living things can survive“(5)

Weary of being labeled “the nomad gypsy model,” Dirie quit modeling at the height of her career and broke her silence about FGM in 1997. “It’s about empowerment,” Dirie says. She knew her high profile image would help get her message out, but she says, “Being famous is not the reason I went public. When I lay down at night and could not sleep, I would hear the screams of all the girls out there who still have to suffer through it. I just knew this was my mission. Even as a little girl, I knew that I would fight against this crime. I didn’t know how, where, or when, but I knew I would do it.”(2)

The World Health Organization estimates there are about 140 million women in the world who have had FGM, from removal of the clitoral hood to the whole excision of external genitalia before the vagina is sewn up, with only a small hole left for urine and menstrual blood. It usually happens before the age of 15, and in some cases is performed on babies, in the belief that the girl will grow up “clean”, her “honour” intact along with her virginity as a way of preparing her for marriage; this happens to 3 million girls every year. Aside from the intense pain and risk of infection at the time, it carries lasting consequences: difficulty urinating, sex is painful and pleasure-free, and childbirth can be fatal both to the baby and the mother. Botched FGM can leave women doubly incontinent and ostracized by their communities.

Anything to do with females is considered less important,” says Dirie. The other argument sheWaris Dirie quote hears is that it is a “cultural” practice – tolerated on one side by people who don’t want to be seen as racist if they interfere; ignored on the other side by people who are not interested because it doesn’t affect them.

It isn’t only something that happens in rural communities in Africa or Asia. Figures are difficult to come by, but one study estimates there are 66,000 women in England and Wales living with FGM, and 20,000 girls are at risk.(1)

According to experts at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an estimated 228,000 women in the U.S. have undergone the procedure or are at risk. “Violence against woman does not know borders,” notes Dirie. “There are an estimated 40,000 FGM victims in New York City alone.”(2)

In 1997, the same year as Waris quit modeling, she was appointed the UN Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. In 2002, she founded the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna, Austria, an organization aimed at raising awareness regarding the dangers surrounding FGM. Waris followed that in January 2009 with the establishment of the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, an organization she founded along with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her native Somalia, and supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation.(3)

Waris has received many prizes and awards for her humanitarian work and books including:

  • Woman of the Year Award (2000) by Glamour magazine.
  • Corine Award (2002) of the umbrella association of the German bookselling trade.
  • Women’s World Award (2004) from former President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • Bishop Óscar Romero Award (2005) by the Catholic Church.
  • Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (2007) from former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
  • Prix des Générations (2007) by the World Demographic Association.
  • Martin Buber Gold Medal from the Euriade Foundation (2008), founded by Werner Janssen in 1981.
  • Gold medal of the President of the Republic of Italy (2010) for her achievements as a human rights activist.

In 1998, Waris authored her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography that went on to become an international bestseller.

In 2009, a feature-length film based on Waris’ book Desert Flower was released, with the Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede playing her.(3)

Waris Dirie has walked the runways of all important fashion houses in New York, London, Waris DirieMilan and Paris. She has appeared in advertisements for Chanel, and L’Oreal and has been featured in Vogue, Elle and Harpers Bazaar — to name but a few. Most importantly, she was the first black model to be used by Oil of Olay — Waris Dirie began her legacy by proving that beauty did not exclusively require white skin. From the beginning of her career, she has stood as a figure of powerful moral rectitude, questioning and confronting the vain and the superficial so rife in her world.(4)

When I go back to Somalia and talk to women about FGM,” Dirie says, “they always ask me, ‘You mean you left your camels to go live in white man’s world?’

And I always say, ‘Yes, I did that. A camel girl did that. I did it with my wish and my wheel and my way.”(2)

She is hopeful. “The world is changing, especially with technology, [people have access to] any information. I don’t want little girls to be like me, to travel the world to find out that this doesn’t happen [to all women] and what has happened is wrong.”(1)



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Asmaa Mahfouz


Egypt’s revolution that started a half-decade ago will continue for years to come. In the time, headlines about Egypt have been laden with insta-emotion: awe at an uprising against one of the Middle East’s longest reigning and best-armed dictators, joy at its success, confusion in its aftermath, sadness that the young protesters were seemingly defeated in the end, that elections were overturned, and that autocrats rose once again. At times, far from being a political inspiration, events in Egypt have felt like a textbook example of why mass protest is doomed to failure; a study in how “business as usual” always wins out in the end. This narrative is profoundly misleading. The revolution, and counterrevolution, has never been just about Mubarak, or his successors, or elections. It is not merely a civil war between Islamists and secularists, nor a fight between oriental backwardness and western liberal modernity, nor an “event” that can be fixed and constrained in place or time. In reality, the revolution is about marginalized citizens muscling their way on to the political stage and practicing collective sovereignty over domains that were previously closed to them. The national presidency is one such domain, but there are many others: factories, fields and urban streets, the mineral resources that lie under the desert and beneath the seabed, the houses people live in, the food they eat and the water they drink.(1)

Asmaa Mahfouz

A small, young Egyptian woman broke through the fear barrier that had kept a dictator in power for 30 years.

Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, had ruled for nearly three decades. During those years, his power as president increased and a long history of police abuse and corruption followed. Individual freedoms were eliminated under the “emergency law” that allowed the police forces to arrest and detain political figures and activists without charges. Decades of corruption led to a growing income inequality between the rich and the poor and a weakening of vital social services.

In January of 2011, Asmaa and her network of friends would be inspired to seek change for their nation. The bordering citizens of the Tunisian Republic, through a series of street demonstrations and civil resistance, ousted their 23 year dictator. Since both nations shared similar problems, many people across Egypt began to hope that somehow they could topple the authoritarian regime. However, in a nation where an estimated 18,000 activists had been imprisoned and where it was illegal to gather in groups larger than five people without government approval, the Egyptians had a major hurdle. Their major hurdle was fear.

Fear of the government, fear of kidnapping, fear of harassment and abuse. These fears had kept the regime in power for three decades. These fears caused Asmaa’s parents to disagree with her efforts to provoke change. These fears also kept many activists out of the public realm. As a result, they often used anonymous names on websites to avoid being identified and captured.

This all changed on January 18th, 2011 when Asmaa Mahfouz decided to face her fears and ask others to join her in protest. She posted a video of herself online speaking to the camera, boldly identifying herself and calling on others to join her at a protest in Tahrir Square on January 25.

I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner.” “I wrote that whoever is worried about this country should come with me, and that anyone who is worried about me or thinks that I am mentally ill should come in order to protect me.”(2)

If you think yourself a man, come with me on 25 January. Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on 25 January. Whoever says it is not worth it because there will only be a handful of people, I want to tell him, ‘You are the reason behind this, and you are a traitor, just like the president or any security cop who beats us in the streets“(4) – Asmaa Mahfouz

She was not alone in her efforts, but did take the big step of going public with her identity and plan. Asmaa knew the danger she could have brought upon herself. Only a few days earlier Asmaa and a small group of protesters had been arrested by the police for speaking out against the government.

Shared virally on Facebook, blogs and cell phones, her message boldness and her call to action quickly inspired others across the nation. Asmaa and the others began distributing leaflets, making more videos and encouraging others to turn out on the 25th.Tahrir_square_25_January_revolution

The Youth Movement was only expecting a turnout of a few thousand, but over a million Egyptians showed up.

The military was inspired by the movement and pledged to not attack or remove the protesters despite their orders. The riot police used every method available to stop the demonstrations but were overwhelmed by the large masses. Overall, the protesters remained committed to non-violence despite abuse from the police, the cutting of internet access and the enactment of strict emergency curfews.

All Egyptians, not only the protestors, have broken through the fear barrier, therefore I expect only one outcome – protests will continue until Mubarak steps down from power.” – Asmaa Mahfouz

By February 11th, President Mubarak finally resigned and negotiations for a new government began.(2)


Within 4 years, Ms. Mahfouz and other revolutionaries were marginalized and often depicted in the Egyptian media as enemies of the state. From behind closed doors, Ms. Mahfouz says, “the situation is far worse than during the three decades of Mubarak rule. When we protested then, we were beaten in the streets, sometimes tortured. But now people are being killed in the most brutal way.”

Many say, only the president changed here, not the regime.

Asmaa Mahfouz says Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution. As the mother of an infant daughter, she is looking ahead with fear.

I am trying to remain calm, I am trying to be optimistic for her,” she says. “But if we continue like this, we are heading towards darkness. They are trying to kill our dreams.”(3)

Despite many setbacks, there is no denying that the Egyptian revolutionaries have achieved fundamental disruption of relationship between Egypt’s citizenry and the state, connecting the dots of political and economic injustice and demanding meaningful democratic agency over the things that affect their lives. They have done so at a time when rampant inequality has compelled many others around the world to do the same.

The key players in this drama are not political leaders such as Mubarak Tantawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s short‑lived president Mohamed Morsi or the army general who overthrew him, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – members of the elites and counter-elites jockeying for supremacy amid the chaos – but rather the ordinary Egyptians fighting for autonomy and attempting to dismantle the constellation of power that enables such supremacy in the first place. They are the farmers revolting against the privatization of their land; the DJs creating illicit new music in backstreet garages; the ceramics plant employees kidnapping their boss and seizing control of their workplace; the Bedouins storming a government nuclear site to reclaim stolen territory; the schoolchildren who spend their lunch breaks playing games of revolution. Their stories rarely make it into the international media. But within them lies the revolution’s threat, and its living, giddying possibilities.(1)

Revolutions take Conviction, Commitment, Persistence; Change needs Time!




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Fighting ISIS – Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ)


According to terror research group TRAC, as much as 35 percent of Kurdish troops in Syria’s north are women.(1)

660x390cbaba52bd0f4000799250b82a6e47e93f1bb1e74The Islamic stage of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh) militants launched a siege of Kobani on 13 September 2014, in order to capture the Kobanî Canton and its main city of Kobanî (also known as Kobanê or Ayn al-Arab) in northern Syria, in the de facto autonomous region of Rojava. On 26 January 2015, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Peshmerga reinforcements and the continued US-led airstrikes, began to retake the city, driving ISIL into a steady retreat. The city of Kobanî was recaptured on 27 January.(2)

Defending the Kobani borders, one in three of Kurdish fighters are female, fighting underBzsYddCCEAAl3yd the banner of Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ), and the entire defense force is being co-commanded by a woman, Mayssa Abdo, known by the non-de-guerre of Narin Afrin.

In Abdo’s words as translated in the New York Times article:

Kobani’s resistance has mobilized our entire society, and many of its leaders, including myself, are women. Those of us on the front lines are well aware of the Islamic State’s treatment of women. We expect women around the world to help us, because we are fighting for the rights of women everywhere. We do not expect them to come to join our fight here (though we would be proud if any did). But we do ask women to promote our case and to raise awareness of our situation in their own countries, and to pressure their governments to help us.

We have proved ourselves to be one of the only effective forces battling the Islamic State in Syria. Whenever we meet them on equal terms, they are always defeated. If we had more weapons and could be joined by more of our fighters from elsewhere in Syria, we would be in a position to strike a deadly blow against the Islamic State, one that we believe would ultimately lead to its dissolution across the region as a whole.”(3)

Abdo is known as a beautiful, ‘cultivated, intelligent and phlegmatic’ woman who ‘cares for the mental state of the fighters and takes interest in their problems.’ While it may be surprising to some that a woman is leading the Kurdish fighters in a Muslim country, by law women receive the same treatment as male fighters; and there are actually hundreds of Kurdish women fighting against ISIS. They have been trained with SWAT teams and the special forces, and are proud to be fighting against ISIS.(4)

ISIS is scared of the female fighters, says a young YPJ fighter from the frontlines:

It is true ISIS is scared of female fighters. In fact, it tries to avoid attacking positions with women in them.

Some explain this by saying: “If they are killed by women then they won’t be allowed entry into heaven,” but I think this has more to do with the fact that they have never come across women as determined and as courageous as us.

ISIS see women as sex objects. And yes, this does motivate me when I fight against them. This is why I know ISIS is scared of us women in the YPJ. They know how they treat women, and they know we are aware of what they do and can feel our resentment and hatred of them.

This is what makes us such big enemies, our approaches to women. We have made the liberation of women a central idea to our struggle, whereas it has made rape central to its way of life.

The success of women in Kurdistan is the success of all women against the patriarchal system in the world and this makes me very happy. In this sense, I am proud of all women. We even have female fighters from other countries.

Even now, there are women from across the Middle East who have asked to be trained in order to defend themselves and their countries. We do tell people that this cannot only be achieved through the use of arms.

There are social, political and ideological factors in this struggle. We will never refrain from supporting the women of our region. But not only our region, who can deny that our struggle has not had an impact on all the women of the world?

Organizations such as ISIS are the embodiment of the climax of the patriarchal system we live in. ISIS go about subordinating women by capturing, raping and enslaving them. But we do know that women suffer in even the most “developed” of countries.

ISIS’s treatment of women doesn’t overshadow what women suffer in other parts of the world; rather, I believe, it uncovers it.

The last words of many of our fallen comrades have been “this story must be told”. I cannot forget these words. The spirits of these people must be transferred to future generations.”(5)

54823cc703334_-_4-ypjportraits-hr-trieb-9We have to be free from the Syrian government,” says YPJ member, Evin Ahmed, 26. She continues, “We need to control the area ourselves without depending on them. They can’t protect us from [ISIS], we have to protect us [and] we defend everyone…no matter what race or religion they are.”

For now, the YPJ has no backing from western nations, relying mainly on their community to provide funding and supplies. Nonetheless, the women remain committed to the YPJ and its mission and are dedicated to protecting their people. The YPJ exists on a volunteer basis, many of the women are also unpaid. The YPJ operates in two-week rotations on the front lines. Some live in abandoned Iraqi army buildings, which, as one might imagine, are run down and lack any luxuries. Often, ISIS snipers are just 500 feet away, ready to shoot.

Yet even under such intense conditions, the YPJ are always staged and ready for conflict. They are fearless though they might not say they are. They consider fear and then they go forward anyway.(6)





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Amazons of Asia – Haenyeo


haenyeo-08-690By the 17th century, as men went to sea to fish or row warships and never returned, diving became exclusively women’s work,” said Kang Kwon-yong, curator of the government-run Haenyeo Museum.(1) Haenyeo, literally meaning “sea women”, are female divers in the Korean province of Jeju. They are representative of the matriarchal family structure of Jeju.(2)

An 18th-century document recorded that officials flogged the women, and even their parents or husbands, when they failed to pay steep taxes in dried abalone, a prized delicacy among Korea’s elite, forcing women to dive in cold water even when pregnant.

The work has always been perilous. The women work long hours in icy water as deep as 40 feet. Old haenyeo ballads speaktumblr_nf7mipCaoR1rtrhcoo1_1280 of “diving with a coffin on the head” or “toiling in the netherworld so our family can live in this one.” For ages, the sea women of Jeju, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, have braved the treacherous waters of the Korea Strait, even during the frigid winters. Using only flippers and goggles — no breathing equipment — they scour the sea bottom for abalone, conch and octopus. They duck under water more than 100 times a day, grabbing sea creatures barehanded or sometimes with a spear. Resurfacing a minute later, making a plaintive whistle as they exhale, they deposit their catch into a net sack tied to a float.(1)

Haenyeo were Korea’s first working moms,” said Koh Mi, an editor at the Jeju newspaper Jemin Ilbo and a participant in a nine-year research project on the sea women. “They were a symbol of female independence and strength in Korea.”
On Mara Island, where sea products accounted for almost all sources of revenue before it became increasingly attractive as a tourist site, gender roles were entirely reversed. Often men would look after the children and go shopping while the women would bring in money for the family.

Diving was the lifeline for the entire family,” said Ku Young-bae, 63, one of 270 sea women from Hado-ri, a cluster of villages on Jeju’s eastern shore, before swimming into the waves recently. “Men are lazy,” she said. “They can’t dive. They are weak under the sea, where it’s really life or death.

This reversal of traditional gender roles, with women being the chief breadwinners, made the island an outlier in Korea’s patriarchal society and the evolution clashed with Korea’s Confucian culture, in which women have traditionally been treated as inferior. As a result, administrators from Seoul (unsuccessfully) tried to bar the women from diving, ostensibly because they exposed bare skin while at sea.(2)

Despite their essential role, the divers were held in low esteem by a society that frowned on women traveling outside their untitledvillages and revealing bare skin. Until full-body wet suits became available in the 1970s, they wore homemade cotton suits that showed the thigh and often shoulders.

Jeju children did not like to admit that their mother was a haenyeo,” said Lee Sun-hwa, a female member of the Jeju Provincial Council, whose mother and grandmother were sea women. “The women always elected their men as chiefs of their villages.”(1)

But Jeju female divers enjoyed more freedom, independence, and self-respect than other women. They usually worked in groups, and during breaks, they built a fire on the beach, dried their clothes, shared some food, and chatted. Diving was also a relatively good source of income. They were not only skilled in gathering seafood, but also had great interest in various cultural and social issues. During the colonial period, they led the anti-Japanese campaign and also established cooperatives to preserve marine resources. They also worked to preserve the haenyeo culture. Haenyeos were awarded medals for their contribution during the anti-Japanese campaign, and saw the creation of a monument and a commemorative park in their honor, located in Hado-ri, Jeju-do.(3)

While it is not known when the first female divers appeared in Jeju, they are believed to predate the Common Era. Ancient shrines honoring fishermen and female divers indicate that they have been around since humans began gathering food from the sea. And divers have long been a part of Jeju Island. When the number of divers reached the market limits, some moved in search of areas with more abundant shellfish.

During the Japanese occupation, they even went as far as China, Russia, and Japan to make a living.(3)

Today, haenyeo culture is disappearing, from 26,000 sea women in the 1960s to fewer than 5,000. About 80% to 90% of the haenyeo are over the age of 60 with only seven haenyeo in their thirties. The economy on the beautiful volcanic island, which now receives millions of visitors each year, is dominated by tourism, not seafood harvesting. Recently, the UNESCO organization, which manages World Heritage Sites, declared haenyeo culture a candidate for the list of “intangible” cultural 3041285103_508f1a9f86_bassets. A listing could help mobilize support to preserve the dwindling numbers of haenyeo, and give added prestige to the profession.(4)

To help keep the tradition alive in today’s times, the Jeju government pays for their wet suits and subsidizes their medical and accident insurance. Their government-financed shelters are now equipped with heated floors and hot-water showers.(1)

But Ms. Kim, 80, who raised five children and paid her husband’s college tuition by diving, says she will be the last haenyeo in her family.

My only daughter doesn’t even know how to swim,” she said.(1)



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Lou Xiaoying


It all started in 1972 when she found the first little girl left to die in the trash. Lying there with no hope to survive, she took her home and raised her as one of her own. slide_241682_1300695_free

Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realized I had a real love of caring for children,” said Xiaoying.(1)

Lou Xiaoying is a Chinese woman living in the rural countryside in Eastern Zhejiang province. Her home is a humble hovel, its small yard littered with debris and recyclables. A little boy of 7 plays in the yard. Lou lived in that home with her husband Lin until he passed away 20 years ago.

All their working lives, Lou and her husband made a living scavenging the village trash for recyclables. It was a tough, backbreaking way of life trudging through the streets and sifting through other people’s often filthy and smelly discards.

Over the years, they picked up 30 abandoned babies from the trash heap. Of the 30 foundlings they saved, the couple kept 4 babies to raise themselves and the rest, they gave away to friends and relatives. They have one biological child, a woman, who is now past 50 years old. When Lou was 82 and already a widow, she saved one more baby from the trash.

She said, “Even though I was already getting old I could not simply ignore the baby and leave him to die in the trash. He looked so sweet and so needy. I had to take him home with me … My older children all help look after Zhang Qilin … I named him after the Chinese word for rare and precious.”(2)

Since 1978, the Chinese communist government has enforced, with few exceptions, its one-child policy in its draconian efforts to curb population growth and ease the strain on its resources. Families are prevented from having more than one child under pain of penalty. Those who abide by the rule are given bonuses and incentives. Boys are preferred in Chinese culture so couples who want a son feel compelled to throw away infant girls. It is claimed that the policy prevented the birth of 400 million babies.(2)

Certain rural parts of the country allow couples to have a second child if the first born is a girl but many parents feel pressured to produce an heir and end up abandoning the females. If the second child is also a girl, no more children are allowed. It is extremely rare to find a family that has two sons.(3)

Infanticide of ‘guilt children’ is still a problem in rural areas but it is rare in cities, where children are usually abandoned but not killed.(3)

“…I realized if we had strength enough to collect garbage how could we not recycle something as important as human lives?” says, Lou Xiaoying

One of Lou’s adopted daughters, 33-year-old Zhang Juju, said that despite her mother’s extreme poverty, she always tried to lou_kidney-failureprovide the best life possible for the children she rescued.(4)

I don’t have many days left [but] what I want to see most of all is for…[7-year-old Qiling] to go to school. That way, even after I am gone, there will be no regrets left in my life,” she told Xinhua (Chinese state-run news agency) from her hospital bed.(4) Lou is suffering from kidney failure. Despite pain and impending death, Lou looks beautiful in repose. Her eyes sparkle with joy. A calm peacefulness is etched in her face. She is now 91 years old and in her case, no news is good news.(2)

In the local community, she is well known and well respected for her work with the abandoned babies. She is a local hero. Someone said of her, “She is shaming to governments, schools and people who stand by and do nothing. She has no money or power but she saved children from death or worse.”(3)

An online fundraising effort has started to help offset Lou’s hospital bills, and an elementary school in Lou’s hometown has offered to take young Qiling in at subsidized rates. 568-lou-xiaoying

This is the last wish of [Lou] and we must help her achieve it,” Jinhua City Primary School’s principal Zhang Fangxiao, who said he was extremely moved by Lou’s story, told

Money goes a distance; a heart full of compassion and a will to act finds paths where there are none!



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Everyone can do it. It’s not just me. It’s not how much money you make that matters, but how you use your money,” she says.

Over the past two decades, Ms. Chen Shu-Chu has donated over 10 million Taiwanese Dollars ($350,000; £210,000) to building of a school library, a hospital wing, to a local Buddhist organization and orphanages. Ms. Chen does this by selling vegetables in the dark and damp Taitung Central market in Eastern Taiwan, 18 hours a day, six days a week. Wearing a thick support belt and hunched over thanks to back and leg problems, 63-year-old Ms. Chen says, “She hopes she can do this forever”.(1)

Born in 1950, Chen Shu-Chu lost her mother shortly after completing her primary school education. The older of her brothers she had to grow up before her time and help her father, at the vegetable stall, take care of the family. When she was 18, her brother got sick and the illness dragged on for several years, slowly depleting the family savings.(2) He died from the flu as the family was unable to raise enough money to pay for advanced medical care in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city.(1)

Instead of making her angry, the experience motivated her to help other poor people.

Ms Chen, who has never married, also never forgot the kindness of her brother’s teacher and classmates, who had tried to raise funds for him.

I feel I owe people a lot. I feel I have to make more money to help others,” she says.(1)

What’s so wonderful about Chen’s achievement is not its extraordinariness but that it is so simple and matter of fact in its generosity. “My wish is that I work till the day I collapse. Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it,” she told a newspaper.(3)

She wakes up at three in the morning and makes her way to the market where she remains until seven or eight in the evening. She is the first one to arrive and last one to leave, which convinced other stall owners to give her the title of “market manager”. Chen Shu-Chu’s donations have made many ask themselves how a mere vegetable seller who makes marginal profits can donate so much money? “Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” Chen says. She lives a very modest life, without any luxuries. She doesn’t have any desire for material gain and says work is her only form of enjoyment. She says all she needs is work and a place to sleep, everything else is a luxury.(2)   Chen_Shu-Chu

Named among the 2010 TIME 100 most influential people in the world in the “heroes” category, at first Ms. Chen did not want to participate in the banquet in the US hosted by the magazine. She said she was encouraged by Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou and Minister of Foreign Affairs to travel to New York and attend the Gala.(1)
Ms Chen dreads the media attention her fame has brought, and only agrees to be interviewed if she thinks the reports will motivate people to donate. She challenges the common belief that you have to be rich to help others in a big way.(4) “Life is very short; you never know when it will end. Therefore, I believe we should accumulate virtue, rather than wealth.”(1)

The same year, Reader’s Digest named her ‘Asian of the Year’ and Forbes Asia selected her as one of their 48 heroes of philanthropy. In 2012, Ms Chen was also named one of six Ramon Magsaysay Award winners for helping the poor and given a $50,000 cash philippine-president-presents-the-ramon-magsaysay-award-to-chen-shu-jiu-from-taiwanprize. The President of Philippine, Noynoy Aquino honored the awards to all the nominees at the Philippine International Convention center in Manila.(4)

She promptly donated the entire prize amount to Taitung’s McKay Memorial Hospital, which inspired an outpouring of donations and enabled the hospital to build a new medical wing.(1)

“Chen, Shu-chu- Extraordinary Generosity”, is Ms. Chen’s biography by author Yung-yi Liu. Liu spent about half year interviewing Shu-chu closely. She donates all royalties from the book to charities.

From the book:

Too late to chase the dream” – When she was 20 years old, a fortune teller told her she will have 3 boys after marriage. After she had money and bought a house, she made 3 rooms and decorated them as boys’ rooms because having a sweet and warm family was her dream. She does not allow anyone to step in the rooms and says, “there are broken pieces of my dream.” But, she has long overcome and gotten over the feeling of loss. She finds herself a lot of joy and happiness when helping others, and she is fulfilled.(4)

I feel very happy after donating money. I feel like I’ve done something right. It’s a feeling that comes from the inside. It makes me so happy that I smile when I go to bed.”(1)

There’s a Hero in all of us. Why do we then let it get distracted by the trappings of life so easily?



5. Feature image –

Pham Thi Hue


I have lived with HIV/AIDs for 11 years”, unhesitatingly Ms Hue started her 30-mins speech on November 29, 2011 at the Liberty Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was an Australian Agency for International Development meeting.

In 2001, Ms. Hue learned that her husband, a drug addict, had infected her with HIV/AIDs. She spoke with a strong, clear 9f433b2f9abut emotional voice, telling the story of those dark days, the feelings of being humiliated, and her mental collapse. She gave birth to her first child, who is not infected with the virus, by cesarean section but she didn’t receive any care from the physicians or nurses. She was quarantined immediately and had to stay with her child in a separate corner of the room. Although being extremely weak and in pain, Ms. Hue had to clean her surgical wounds by herself. She recalled that people in those days still thought that HIV/AIDs virus had “wings” and was able to fly from person to person. On arriving back home from the hospital, her husband’s parents no longer allowed them to live there because of the disease. She, her husband and her child were told to move out and look for a place to rent. The sole support for her and her child was a small amount of food every day from her in-laws; both were always hungry and shunned by the family. After having moved into a new place for one or two months, they were always asked to leave at once due to their HIV/AIDs infection. This happened repeatedly since no one wanted to have people infected with HIV/AIDs in their residence.

Ms. Hue strongly emphasized, “People who have HIV/AIDs do not fear illness or physical pain. On the contrary, they fear being stigmatized and shunned. Many people infected with HIV/AIDs have died as a result of the stigma”.

She continued, “When our son turned three months of age, my husband and I intended to commit suicide due to the shame, isolation, and shunning. We actually bought poison and mixed it into a bowl of soup. We wanted that the three of us would die together. Suddenly my son burst out crying, which then awakened our spirit to fight for survival”.

Ms. Hue was one of the first to speak out publicly on television about the virus, the attached stigma and effects, “to show that we are people too”. She founded the Hoa Phuong Do group (Flamboyant Flower Group) made up of female members infected with HIV/AIDs, all of them having been infected by their drug addict husbands. The group disseminates information about HIV/AIDs and cares for HIV/AIDs patients, especially those who are shunned by their families to the extent that they are locked in the bathroom and given no care instead of caring for them in a sick-room in the house. The members of Hoa Phuong Do also assist with funerals for those who die of HIV/AIDS since nobody wants to help with this unpleasant, scary and difficult job.(1)

What the women rarely talk about, except when they are joking, is the near-certainty that in time they, too, will fall ill and that they will be feeding, bathing and consoling one another, and caring for one another’s children, as one by one they die.(2)

Ms. Hue represents nearly 300,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. She became a member of the United Nations 45218734-Ong-Clinton-va-Pham-Thi-HueVolunteers supporting a project entitled “Strengthening the Participation of People Living with HIV/AIDS”; she was also a delegate to The Global Young Leaders Conference in 2007.(1)

Pham Thi Hue was named an ‘Asian Hero’ by TIME Magazine in 2004. She is currently head of the PR office of the Community Health Assistance, and HIV/AIDS Combat and Prevention Center in Hai Phong. Her center is now working on a project which assists grandparents in properly taking care of their HIV-affected children. She gives several counseling sessions each day and makes her phone number public.

2014, Vietnam is a country teetering on the brink of a nationwide epidemic, with the large number of people infected with the virus that causes AIDS and with only 10 percent of those who fall ill receiving the treatment they need, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations agency. Experts say it is beginning to spread quickly into the broader population, and one of the chief barriers to prevention and treatment is the stigma that makes outcasts of those who carry the virus.(2)

HIV-related stigma and discrimination are found in all parts of the world, but their manifestation varies from place to place. They are not only obstacles to HIV prevention, care and treatment for people living with HIV, but are among the epidemic’s worst consequences.(UNAIDS)

Just being ignorant and stigmatizing the victim in fear of our lives will not eradicate the epidemic, it will only bring it to our doorstep! The virus doesn’t have ‘wings; our fear sure does!



2. and Territories/Vietnam&_r=0
3. Feature image –

Maysoon Zayid


I am a Palestinian-Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy from New Jersey”(1), Maysoon Zayid introduces herself and that’s how I am going to introduce her as Maysoon’s disability and ethnicity is a proud part of her identity. She is a comedian and an activist. She co-founded the Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 (with fellow comedian Dean Obeidallah). Held annually each fall, the festival showcases the talents of Arab-American actors, comics, playwrights and filmmakers, and challenges as well as inspires fellow Arab-Americans to create outstanding works of comedy. Participants include actors, directors, writers and comedians.(2)

Zayid is USA’s first Muslim woman comedian and first female stand-up comic to perform in Jordan and Palestine. She spends four months a year in the Middle East, partly running a programme for children in Palestinian refugee camps, partly performing her comedy routine in English and Arabic.(3)

I spent my summers in a war zone because my parents were afraid that if we didn’t go back to Palestine every single summer, we’d grow up to be Madonna,” Zayid recalled in her TED Talk.(4)

Zayid was born with cerebral palsy — a condition that impairs control of movement due to damage to the developing brain.(3)

Born in New Jersey, USA in 1974; Maysoon dreamt of becoming an actress. Growing up in her small New Jersey town, Zayid says she was never made to feel different –- but when she moved to New York to pursue her acting career, she was suddenly exposed to the dark world of cyber bullying.(5)

After years of struggling to find auditions and endless rejections, Zayid got her break when she was asked to appear on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” as a television correspondent. She was absolutely thrilled. Zayid says, “So here I am, I’m finally on television. It’s everything I ever dreamed of,” Zayid says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is so fantastic — and then I got home and I Googled the clip and got the shock of my life.” Everyone was making fun of her appearance, disability and her ethnicity. They were saying things like, “I had Botox gone wrong. And there were these people that were saying I was disgusting. That I was distracting. That they couldn’t even watch me.“(5) This one person said, “Poor Gumby-mouth terrorist. We should pray for her”.(6)

The hateful comments about her disability stunned her, and Zayid struggled to find the courage to get back in the public eye. She began responding to the hateful trolls with humor and compassion and says, “Someone has to. Because if no one ever tells them, ‘Stop. Think about what you’re saying. Are you proud of this?’ then they will go after someone not as strong as me.” She has now made it her mission to tackle issues of hate and discrimination and change the way people with disabilities are represented in the media. She has gone on to be a regular contributor on ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ and her TED talk, ‘I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One’ has more than 6 million views.(5)

Palestinian American Maysoon Zayid doesn’t want your pity. The comedian only wants you to laugh — while listening to her message. “My theory is that positive image creates positive change and alleviates hate. One of the things that I address in my work is that people with disabilities are the most under-represented group of folks in the media and television,” says Zayid. “I think that if we have more positive images of people with disabilities out there that it would help others be less fearful, be less aggressive, and think it’s less acceptable to just shun these individuals.”(3)

If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won’t kill you.” says Zayid.  

7. Feature image –



I want to be part of my own country’s team, I don’t want to go abroad. I want to bring pride to Iran and show that Iranian women can do this sport too.” Says Shafiei then adds, “Outside, Iran is depicted differently. We want to change that view.

People ask if women are allowed to drive in Iran. Of course they are.”

With a bright orange and black biker suit and helmet, the motorcyclist looks just like any other, until the helmet comes off. The rider is a woman.

When people find that out, they stop and say damet-garm [Persian for ‘right on’],” Behnaz Shafiei told the Guardian. She feels welcome in an otherwise all-male motorcycling club, where she practices three times a week.

Shafiei, who was born and raised in Karaj, near Tehran, found her passion for motorcycling at the age of 15 while on holiday with her family in Zanjan province. With support from her family, especially her mother, Shafiei dabbled in motorcycling for a few years before pursuing the sport professionally. “I used to borrow my brother’s bike and ride in the city stealthily. It was such fun,” she said.(1)

The standard of living for women in Iran is only slightly higher than that in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. It remains illegal for women to ride motorcycles in public. Conservative clerics also denounce the idea of women attending men’s sporting events. Women can however, participate in other sports like martial arts to car rallies but are required to be appropriately dressed as per Islamic tradition.
(This reminds me of women in ancient Athens and the ban on them attending the all-male Olympics). Women’s rights for Iranian women and their legal status has continually changed through the different governments and historical eras.(2)

Shafiei and five other women worked hard to get official identifications from Iran’s Motorcycle and Automobile Federation to allow them to race on amateur tracks. They still don’t have access to Iran’s only standard motocross track at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran, so they often race on the capital’s outskirts without even ambulance service in the track. Shafiei says, “If someone got injured, things could get even worse by the time they reach a hospital.”(1)(3)

My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women,” she said. “Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women’s motorcycle racing.”

26-year old Behnaz has found her passion and no matter legal bans or limitations; she is driving her way through the barriers and is today, the one and only Iranian rider to have done professional road racing.

Things are slowing changing and this biker has caught the attention of national press. She was also interviewed by a local television channel. Behnaz hopes that laws will change soon too allowing her to race in the motocross track in Tehran.

Until then, crowds come out to cheer as the daredevil practices her stunts on amateur tracks. As the helmet comes off, mobile phones compete to catch a glimpse of this passionate Iranian who has found her freedom on a motorcycle.

Behnaz is already an inspiration to many and proving that barriers are only those that our mind creates!

Behnaz Shafiei from her Instagram page –




Claudette Colvin


Around 1828, Thomas “Daddy” Rice developed a routine in which he blacked his face, dressed in old clothes, and sang and danced in imitation of an old and decrepit black man. Rice published the words to the song, “Jump, Jim Crow,” in 1830. In the 1880s, the term “Jim Crow” (by now a derisive slang for a black man) saw wide usage as a reference to practices, laws or institutions that arise from or sanction, the physical separation of black people from white people.(1)

Jim Crow laws (1874-1975) were based on the theory of white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction. In the depression-racked 1890s, racism appealed to whites who feared losing their jobs to blacks or former slaves. Politicians abused blacks to win the votes of poor white “crackers.” Newspapers fed the bias of white readers by playing up (sometimes even making up) black crimes.(2)

The most important Jim Crow laws required that public schools, public facilities, e.g., water fountains, toilets, and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. These laws meant that black people were legally required to(1):

– attend separate schools and churches
– use public bathrooms marked “for colored only”
– eat in a separate section of a restaurant
– sit in the rear of a bus

The facilities and treatments were almost always inferior. Racism had assumed its full form.
The South blatantly racist while the North subtly so.

Why Jim Crow?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” – states the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence, 1776.(3)

The reference to ‘all men’ did not include the black community or slaves. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration himself owned more than 100 slaves.

More than one-in-four U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold and bred enslaved people for profit. Of the 12 presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House,” writes historian Clarence Lusane in his most recent article, “Missing from Presidents’ Day: The People They Enslaved.”(4)

United States Constitution drafted in 1787 barred the Congress from banning slavery till 1800 (which was later extended to 1808). The constitution also included a ‘fugitive clause’ stipulating that escaped slaves should be forced to return to their masters – in exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.

Disagreement on the inhumane practice of slavery between the Northern and Southern states finally led to the Civil war (1861-1865) paving the way for abolishing slavery. After the war, three amendments were made to the Constitution – The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to everyone born in the United States. It also banned states from limiting citizens’ rights, depriving them of due process of law, or denying “any person … the equal protection of the laws.” The 15th Amendment prohibited racial discrimination in voting. These amendments offered promises that African Americans would finally achieve equal treatment under the law.(2)

However, when has anyone given up their key resource while reaping profits? If hundreds of thousands of slaves are freed, who would till the land and produce rich economies. States with the maximum slaves kept opposing emancipation attempts in Congress. As the federal troops withdrew from the South 10 years after the three Constitutional amendments, the states returned to its local white rule. Was it ever easy for masters to think of their slaves as ‘equals’?

Over the next 20 years, blacks would lose almost all they had gained. Worse, denial of their rights and freedoms would be made legal by a series of racist statutes, the ‘Jim Crow’ laws.(5)

Though seemingly rigid and complete, Jim Crow laws did not account for all of the discrimination blacks suffered. Unwritten rules barred blacks from white jobs in New York and kept them out of white stores in Los Angeles. Humiliation was about the best treatment blacks who broke such rules could hope for. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which revived in 1915, used venom and violence to keep blacks “in their place.”(5)

Claudette Colvin

March 2, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama; Claudette took the bus home from high school. The bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white person and she refused, saying she had paid her fare and it was her constitutional right. Two police officers put her in handcuffs and arrested her. Her school books went flying off her lap.

“All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily,” Colvin says.     COLVIN540-1414ca3e9eb115af2f68e17c5e29afa1a7f685a1-s1400

It was Negro history month, and at her segregated school they had been studying black leaders like Harriet Tubman, the runaway slave who led more than 70 slaves to freedom through the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. They were also studying about Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Colvin says, “We couldn’t try on clothes. You had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot … and take it to the store. Can you imagine all of that in my mind? My head was just too full of black history, you know, the oppression that we went through. It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.

Reverend Johnson bailed me out. I was afraid that night. It would have been easy for the Klan to come up the hill in the night. Dad sat up all night long with his shotgun. We all stayed up. The neighbors facing the highway kept watch. Probably nobody on King Hill slept that night.

Reverend Johnson had said something to me I’ll never forget. His opinion meant a lot to me. “Claudette,” he said, “I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom. We’ve all been praying and praying. But you’re different—you want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

Colvin, all of 15 years, was the first to really challenge the law. She was also one of the four women plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama.(6)

Rosa Parks

Nine months after Colvin, black seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in the same city, on the same bus route and helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States. The same day, leaders of the local black Rosa_Parks_Bookingcommunity organized a bus boycott led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation.(6)

Parks became known through history as “the mother of the civil rights movement.” She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States bestows on a civilian. When she died at age 92 on October 24, 2005, she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.(7)

Although, Claudette Colvin was considered too young to be the face of the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks seemed more appropriate to lead the movement on and galvanize a nation, fact remains that Claudette, in her teens, was the first person to challenge the legally established racial segregation and stand up to society’s discrimination.

In the wake of the recent Charleston shooting and the many cases of Police brutality, this is even more important for society to understand and together celebrate human spirit – Race did not lead to Slavery but a history of Slavery could only sustain on the theory of race.

Racism was created to support the Politics of Economics!

Feature image is by Patrick Campbell. His inspiring story can be found here – Patrick Campbell