Sunday, May 30, 2010

64: The Self Empowered Woman: Dayniah Manderson

Dear Followers,

As the wonderful readers of this blog know, one of my objectives is to introduce them to a wide variety of amazing women. I'm always on the lookout for women from different backgrounds , with unique stories, and inspiring qualities.

2010 is my 20th year as a wheelchair-dependent person, so Dayniah Manderson's story affected me in a special way. I think you'll also be amazed by her story...
Dayniah, who is 30 years old, profoundly disabled, and dependent on home aides as well as her $35,000 motorized wheelchair, is a much-admired English teacher at the Urban Assembly Academy of Civic Engagement, a Bronx middle school. For most of her life she has been told that she couldn't do what she wanted to (13: More Than Meets the Eye), but that has never stopped her.

Dayniah was born in Jamaica, at the age of two was diagnosed by doctors at a Kingston clinic with Muscular Dystrophy. Her mother, Millie Williams, was told to "prepare a coffin," but instead chose to treat her daughter like any other little girl. When she was 15, a local doctor offered to treat her "evil spirits," and that's when Millie decided to bring her daughter to the United States.

Dayniah has Muscular Atrophy Type II. which occurs in one of every 6,000 children; they usually do not live beyond 30. Motor control diminishes, muscles weaken, movement is impaired, spines twist, and as the ribs become pressed breathing becomes ever more difficult. Fortunately, Dayniah and her mother met Doctor Roberta Shapiro at Jacobi Medical Center (4: Supportive Someone), who has become a confidant and a supporter.

Even though she was living in the projects as a disabled teenager in a wheelchair, Dayniah attended Theodore Roosevelt High School near the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and graduated sixth out of a class of 400 (10: The Critic Within). With the help of an overnight aide she lived in the dormitories at NYU, and even earned a Master's Degree.

Dayniah had been molested by a family member as a child in Jamaica, had an abortion when she was 16, and in 2004 married (now imprisoned) Ghandi Jackson, whom she'd met in Jamaica before his divorce (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

Against medical advice, Dayniah gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Akasha in November 2005, and three years later chose an extremely risky surgery with the hopes of extending her lifespan. Before the operation, she wrote a letter to her then two year old daughter: "I'm am going through this surgery only to have the opportunity to see you grow that you are here, it is a life worth preserving." (16: Intensive Motherhood).

Hope you are as inspired by Dayniah's story as I am.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

63: The Self-Empowered Woman: Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Dear Followers,

In an effort to continue the international flavor of this blog, today's Self-Empowered Woman is Isak Dinesen (born Karen Christenze Dinesen) the Danish author who brought us "Out of Africa," "Babette's Feast," and "Seven Gothic Tales." While some of Dinesen's work was published posthumously, she is considered the author of 17 notable works of literature. She was portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film "Out of Africa," which won the "Best Picture" Oscar in 1985.

Dinesen's father traveled to America in the 1870s, and lived among Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin before returning to Denmark. In 1895, when Karen was nine years old, he hanged himself after learning that he had syphilis (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

In 1913, after a failed love affair with his brother, she became engaged to her second cousin Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke. The marriage gave her the title of Baroness, and gave him much-needed money.

They moved to Kenya and began the area's first coffee plantation, which was financed with money from her family and farmed by members of the Kikuyu tribe (11: Risk Addiction).

Bror was an unfaithful husband, and by the couple's first anniversary Karen was diagnosed with syphilis; the disease left her in fragile health for the rest of her life. The couple separated in 1921, and four years later were divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

When he wasn't taking clients on Safari, big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, who had become her lover, encouraged Karen to think of herself as a storyteller (4: Supportive Someone). He and Karen lived together at her farmhouse from 1926 until 1931; he died that year when his biplane crashed, and at the same time her beloved plantation failed when world coffee prices plummeted (12: Hard Times).

Movie fans today may find it hard to think of Karen Blixen without recalling the epic romance portrayed on screen by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. But Isak Dinesen was a much-admired writer of her time, whose fans included Pearl Buck, Truman Capote, E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Miller and Orson Welles. Part of what made her writing style so unique was that she wrote in English first (which was not her native language, and then translated her books into Danish). Literary critics praised her "precise " English (10: The Critic Within).

Karen Blixon died in 1962, at the age of 77, and is buried at Rungstedlund, Denmark at the family estate that her father bought in 1879

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

62: The Self-Empowered Woman: Natalie Randolph

Dear Followers,

Here's a story about a young woman who is a real trailblazer. There are 15,675 public and private high school football coaches in America today, but Natalie Randolph, 30, is the only woman to hold that position (11: Risk Addiction).

Back in 1985, Wanda Oates was named head football coach at Washington D.C.'s Ballou High School, but she only lasted one day because opposing coaches refused to play against her. She filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the city's Board of Education, but it was dismissed. When Oates, who is 67, heard of Randolph's appointment she said "Football is the macho of all macho sports, and once we break that glass ceiling, there is no limit to what we can accomplish."

Randolph's appointment is not only unique (8: Turning No Into Yes)because of her gender, but because she won the job over 15 other highly qualified applicants. They included two former NFL players, as well as a former Army Brigadier General, but none of the men who wanted job of head coach at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Washington D.C. exhibited the same concern for her students' academic well-being. "I hope that they know that I really don't care about winning football games, but I do care about school....Athletes are just not made to do academics enough, and that's nationwide. But I'm going to change that."

The 5'5", 130 lb. coach was a track star at prestigious Sidwell Friends School and at the University of Virginia (2: An Early Sense of Direction), and she played six seasons as a wide receiver with the D.C. Divas, a professional team in the Independent Women's Football League. Today, the science teacher wears short dreadlocks and a whistle around her neck even in the classroom.

After school, Randolph makes her players attend study hall for an hour (for SAT prep, tutoring, or homework), and each player must bring her a weekly progress report from his teachers. Failure to follow her directions results in extra running after football practice or exclusion from practices or games (5: Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, May 7, 2010

61: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mother's Day

Dear Followers,

Even though Julia Ward Howe (the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic) first made a "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870, the woman pictured above (Anna Jarvis) is considered to be the official founder of Mother's Day. Her own mother, Ann Marie Jarvis had been active in "Mother's Day Work Clubs," which had been established before the Civil War.

Born the ninth of eleven children on May 1st 1864, in West Virginia, Jarvis decided to make her own mother's wish come true. When Anna was only twelve years old (2: An Early Sense of Direction), she heard her mother say "I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial Mother's Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it."

When Anna's mother died, in 1905, Miss Jarvis vowed that " the grace of God, you shall have that Mother's Day." And from that point onwards, she worked tirelessly to persuade business and political leaders to recognize a national day of honor for Mothers (7: Magnificent Obsession).

On May 10th, 1908, John Wanamaker held a Mother's Day service at the 5,000 seat Wanamaker store auditorium in Philadelphia, but to every one's surprise 15,000 people tried to attend. In addition to Wanamaker, H. J. Heinz also worked to get Congress to acknowledge Mother's Day (4: Supportive Someone). In May 1914, The second Sunday of May was officially declared Mother's Day by both Houses of Congress and President Woodrow Wilson approved the measure.

Anna Jarvis never married (15: Forget About Prince Charming) or had children, but spent the rest of her life and much of her money campaigning to fulfill her mother's wish. Jarvis died on November 24, 1948 at the age of 84 and is buried next to her mother in Philadelphia.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

60: The Self-Empowered Woman: Qatar

Dear Followers,

Today's post is part of my never-ending quest to share stories about women's lives from all around the world. In the past 58 blogs, we've met amazing achievers from Cambodia, Chile, Cuba, England, Kenya, Nigeria, Yemen, and the U.S. among others.

The story of Hayat Khalil Hassan Nazar Heji is remarkable for a number of reasons. She is a 34 year old blind woman who lives in the conservative Muslim city of Doha, Qatar. Because of the woman pictured above (Sheikha Moza Bin Nasser Al-Mesnad, the wife of the ruler of Qatar), she has managed to change the way people in her country cope with (and treat) blindness.

Geography plays a major role in this story because in Qatar (a small Arab country in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate) marriage between very close relatives (heritage) is often the norm, especially first cousins. In most countries outside Africa and the Middle East this is considered a taboo, but not in Qatar. The result is that genetic disorders are often passed within families, many of whom have multiple blind children.

Dr. Heji suddenly lost her vision in the fifth grade. Her family sent her to London for surgery, but none of the three operations were successful. When she came home to Qatar (an oil and gas rich nation with the highest GDP per capita in the world with a population of around one million), she returned to a society that had no services for the blind.

Her father (unlike many other parents in Qatar) refused to keep his daughter separated from the rest of society (4: Supportive Someone). He and her sisters read books and lessons onto cassettes for her so she could do daily homework and study for exams. When she graduated from high school, she was ranked tenth nationally and enrolled at Qatar University in 1984.

Her father hired a special teacher to train her in Braille, and in two months she was able to read and write Braille in English, Arabic, Math and shorthand. When she graduated from college in 1998, she met Sheikha Moza Bin Nasser Al-Mesnad, who encouraged her to continue her education. It was the same year that the ruler's wife established the Al-Noor Institute for People with Visual Impairments. Dr. Heji worked there for two years and wrote the Arabic textbook for teaching Braille to young children and their parents.

In 2001, she moved to the U.S. and earned her Masters Degree from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and in 2007, received her doctorate in Education. Immediately afterwards she was named the director of the Al-Noor Institute. Her life has been dedicated to helping blind children overcome the challenges they face (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her school has developed a special tool to help teach Braille, as well as one to convey Math concepts. Vocational and independent living programs are part of the curriculum.

Dr. Heji's life is a perfect example of accomplishing far more than observers would have predicted (13: More Than Meets the Eye). While she was lucky to have the financial support of her country's government and emotional encouragement from her family, it was her own belief that problems "almost always have a solution" that helped her achieve her goals.

Thanks to Dr. Heji (who is single), 430 children - from preschool through sixth grade - are receiving an excellent education. In Qatar (where dogs, for cultural reasons, are not allowed in homes) Seeing Eye Dogs are impractical, but blind children are receiving Dr. Heji's best efforts to "instill independence."

Looking forward to your comments...