“D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution” Nicholas Kristof Covers Women Activists

by Larissa Dzegar

No wonder Nicholas D. Kristof is a Man We Love. As a New York Times Op-ed columnist and, along with wife Sheryl WuDunn, author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, he prioritizes writing about extraordinary women and sheds much-needed light on their notable causes. His recent article in the Times, “D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution”, is an eye-opening account of women who have taken it upon themselves to aid women and girls in need around the world. In measures significant enough to change and better the lives of hundreds of people, these women started off pretty much alone. In his inspiring account, Kristof focuses on three women in particular; Elizabeth Scharpf, Lisa Shannon, and Maggie Doyne.

Upon discovering that women and girls in Mozambique, where she was interning at the World Bank, were missing work and school because they were on their periods and could not afford sanitary pads, Elizabeth Scharpf started wondering how common this problem was. As it turns out, the problem was common and global enough to inspire Scharpf to start researching materials to make inexpensive pads with. She came across banana-tree fibers, which were cheap, sustainable, and in abundance in places like Rwanda, where she hoped to start local manufacturing. She now has an organization, Sustainable Health Enterprises (or SHE), and will begin production of the pads in a tiny factory in Rwanda next year.

Sharpf had the help of a grant from Echoing Green as well as a social-entrepreneurship fellowship from Harvard Business School, but Maggie Doyne started her revolutionary aids with her baby-sitting savings when she was 19. When she visited a small village in Nepal that had been ravaged by war, she saw children who had been orphaned and left to go through garbages looking for food. She started off providing them with the most basic of needs: food, clothing, and a place to sleep. Now, at age 23, she has a shelter, the Kopila Valley Children’s Home, and has built a school attended by 220 children.

Lisa Shannon, also immediately touched by learning the devastating conditions of women around the world, founded Run For Congo Women. Her fund-raising runs across America and the world are aimed at helping survivors of rape in Congo. She has also confronted electronics companies about using minerals from Congo in their products, which are sold by Congo’s warlords.

Kristof acknowledges these women’s efforts as crucial, but is realistic of their global impact. “Well-meaning individuals like Doyne help at the edges but don’t fundamentally change the nature of the challenge; indeed, charitable construction of schools and hospitals may sometimes free up governments in poor countries to use their money to buy weapons instead,” he states. Still, their work has changed the lives of individual women and children who unquestionably needed their help and, as Kristoff recognizes, “it’s equally true that if you happen to be that drop in the bucket, Doyne is transforming your life.”

That these women’s stories are worthy of coverage is indisputable, and we are grateful to Kristof for empowering them with his article. In his blog, he also lists ways in which anyone can help if they want to. He includes links to organizations that make huge efforts and accept donations, and advises readers to, “keep an eye out for a cause and organization that particularly speaks to you, that exhilarates you. Then dive in and focus your efforts on that organization. You’ll be more engaged if you concentrate your time and resources rather than spread them thin.”


To read Kristof’s inspiring article and see more pictures, click here.


PHOTO CREDITS: Alessandra Petlin, COURTESY OF nytimes.com



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