Saturday, January 28, 2012

133: The Self-Empowered Woman: AFCECO

Dear Followers,

Today's post is not about an individual woman, but about a movement designed to allow us to help Afghanistan's girls. Last week, I attended a luncheon with my friend, Sonia Cooper (pictured above wearing the bright pink scarf), which was designed to introduce people to AFCECO (Afghan Child Education and Care Organization)

This organization is designed to house and educate Afghan children in need, and to prepare them to become a more enlightened generation to (as their handbook states) "...lift our country out of the decades-long morass...." As part of this goal Ian Pounds ( from Vermount has moved to Kabul and devoted his future to teaching and caring for these children. In the photo on the left, I am pictured with Maria Fahim of Kabul, who in the past three years has learned how to speak excellent English; her dream is to become an engineer.

Girls of an earlier generation (i.e., before AFCECO), couldn't have dared to have such a goal.
Coincidentally, this weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal (I used to be one of their book reviewers), has a front-page story about education in Afghanistan, where only the small area around Kabul has a literacy rate for females of over 20%. For men, on the other hand, there are (out of 34 total) only four provinces in the entire country with numbers that low.

The reason I was even able to be lucky enough to meet Maria is that Ian has been chosen to travel around the United States with these children in order to a) introduce young Afghanis to he United States, b) inform audiences about what is being accomplished thanks to this remarkable organization and its orphanages, and c) raise money to fund this program and - possibly - find sponsors for the children in need. Here are a few of the statistics I learned while I sat and enjoyed lunch with Maria. In Afghanistan today:

  • Over 1 million children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome

  • 70% of school-age girls do not attend school

  • Over 400,000 children have been maimed by land mines

  • In the past two years, the number of orphans has risen from 1 million to 1.6 million

  • Over 600,000 children sleep on the streets

  • 35% of the country's children have lost one parent

  • Approximately 2,500 girls and women have attempted suicide by self-immolation

  • At least 8,000 "enemy combatants" are boys aged 14 or younger

There were six children from Afghanistan on the tour, and several of them bravely spoke about how the Taliban had adversely affected their lives and their families. And then, with Ian playing the guitar, they sang "Blowing in the Wind." How amazing it must be for these youngsters to escape the conflict at home and experience a completely new way of life. From Florida they were traveling in their motor home to New Orleans, Texas and California; The Big Apple will be their last stop before returning to Kabul.

Learning about this organization and meeting girls who otherwise would have never learned literacy, computer skills, or the benefits of a "world view," really convinced me that each of us can make a big difference by donating just a few dollars to

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

132: The Self-Empowered Woman: Frederica Sagor Maas

Dear Followers,

There are so many amazing women today who are accomplishing great things that - if I had a magic wand - I could easily post a blog a day. But in the midst of all the exciting events of today's world, every now and then it's nice to take a look backwards and salute a true pioneer.

Two weeks ago, Frederica Sagor Maas died at the age of 111 years and 183 days. She was known as one of the rare supercentenarians, which means a person over the age of 100 who is known for reasons other then mere longevity.

Frederica was born on July 6th, 1900 in a cold-water, railroad flat on 101st Street near Madison Avenue in Manhattan, N.Y. Her parents, Agnessa and Arnold Zagorsky had emigrated from Moscow, and Americanized their name. Agnessa supported the family (there were four daughters) by working as a midwife (2: No Paternal Net). As a child Frederica wanted to become a doctor, but later decided to study journalism at Columbia University. She had a summer job as an errand girl at The New York Globe, dropped out of college in 1918 (11: Risk Addiction), and took a job at Universal Pictures, New York office for $100 per week.

One of the ways she learned about the movies was to carefully watch the ones she liked numerous times, and then study them critically frame by frame (10: The Critic Within). By 1923, she was story editor for Univeral and (practically unheard of for a woman of that time) head of the department. But a year later, she became dissatisfied with her job, resigned, and moved to Hollywood (14: Selective Disassociation).

She got a job writing scripts for Preferred Pictures, where she was successful, and then she moved to MGM. She quickly learned that others would take credit for her ideas, as well as her scripts, but when she complained she was labeled a troublemaker and her contract was not renewed (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

In 1927, she married Ernest Maas, a producer at Fox Studios, and they wrote several movies for stars like Louise Brooks and Clara Bow. Her contribution to the 1927 hit movie "Rolled Stockings" was so pivotal that her name appeared on the screen credits, as well as on the movie posters. This was unusual, especially for a "woman screenwriter" (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

The couple's lives began a grim, downward spiral when they lost $10,000 in the 1929 stock market crash and many of their scripts were rejected. During most of the 30's they lived in New York and reviewed Broadway plays for the Hollywood Reporter. When they returned to L.A., she tried to work as an agent and continued to try to sell scripts, but they literraly lived hand-to-mouth.

By 1941, they were earning money writing for political campaigns, but did sell one script ("Miss Pilgrim's Progress") that wouldn't be made into a movie for another six years. During this tough time, they were even interrogated by the F.B.I. because they subscribed to two rumored Communist publications. They had struggled financially for so many years, seen both their careers evaporate, and then watched as the Pilgrim script was sold for a pittance and turned into a hit Betty Grable movie. Discouraged and depressed, they decided to commit suicide in their car in 1950, but cried together and turned off the iginition.

Ms. Maas foud work as a typist in an insurance agency, but had to lie about her age (she said she was 40 rather than 50). In 1999, when she was 99 years old, she published her tell-all autobiography (The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood), which is considered essential reading for history about the movie industry. Her book is full of stories about Joan Crawford, Louis B. Mayer, Ben Schulberg, Darryl F. Zanuck, and other Hollywood royalty. At the time of her death, she wa the 44th oldest verified person on the planet and the third oldest living person in California.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

131: The Self-Empowered Woman: Naama Margolese

Dear Followers,

Sadly, gender extremism seems to exist everywhere, and lately it has reared its ugly head in Israel. The picture above is of an eight year old little girl (Naama Margolese, who is the daughter of American immigrants), and lives in Beit Shemesh, a city that was established in 1950, and is located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Naama is an innocent second grader at a local elementary school, but - unfortunately - she is now afraid to walk to school.

Why? Because she has been spat on and called names (including a "prostitute") by a group of Ultra-Orthodox men and boys who felt that her modest clothes were simply not modest enough. Women and girls are expected to wear buttoned up, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts, and are forced to cross the street (and not linger) outside of the synagogue.

The extremists in this part of Israel are called Sicarii (daggermen - named after the violent faction of Jews who tried to expel the Romans around 70 A.D.), and Israel's Ultra-Orthodox community is estimated to be ten percent of Israel's population. The number of Ultra-Orthodox Israelis is booming because of their high birth rate.

Even though Naama's parents are Orthodox, the gender separation has become a touchy political issue for the entire country. Recently, an 18 year old female soldier (Doron Matalon) was accosted on a bus in Tel Aviv because she (much like Rosa Parks) refused to move to the back of the bus where women are expected to sit so that they are out of sight. Israel's public buses began operating in Jerusalem 14 years ago, but in certain neighborhoods there are men-only sidewalks and waiting rooms. In the name of female "honor and modesty," women are not allowed to be seen on billboard advertisements in certain areas.

Last week, riots broke out in Beit Shemesh when men and boys (who were dressed all in black) poured out of a seminary and synagogue with signs that called for the exclusion of women. Most of the public benches from the neighborhood (where mothers could sit outside with their children) were removed. Obviously, as several experts have noticed, Israel's biggest domestic challenge will be retaining cultural values without destroying the democratic rights of all its citizens.

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

130: The Self-Empowered Woman: How To Help Others

Dear Followers,

One of my favorite holiday greetings was a reminder about the importance of gratitude. And all of us, no matter what challenges we face here at home, are remarkably fortunate in comparison to many of our sisters around the globe. This is the time of year (in America) when many of us decide to spend that extra Christmas cash on department store sales or other bargain "finds." But in the spirit of honoring remarkable Self-Empowered Women, I'd like to propose that we revisit some of the amazing women we've met on this blog, and donate a few shopping dollars towards helping them in their quest to help others. Geographically, I've found women who inspired me in a wide variety of countries - below is a thumbnail sketch of a few of the women whom I feel deserve our support:

Tererai Trent – ZIMBABWE ( This blog ( was about a woman who lived in rural Zimbabwe, was forced to marry at age 11, and by 18 was the mother of three children. When a Heifer International representative visited her village, she encouraged Tererai to write her dreams on a piece of paper, bury it, and then dig it up once her dreams come true. She moved to Oklahoma with her husband when he came to America to go to college, and in 2009, Tererai received her own PhD, and decided to return to Zimbabwe to inspire others.

Ana Gonzales – CHILE ( This gray-haired grandmother, in her mid eighties, worked tirelessly to make the government of Chile acknowledge the crimes of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Her quiet, persistent efforts on behalf of families who lost loved ones ("The Disappeared") captured the world's attention and admiration. (

Mu Sochua - CAMBODIA ( This amazing woman was sent to California in 1972, because her parents were worried that the Khmer Rouge's genocide would put her teenaged life in danger. After she enrolled at San Francisco State University, she never heard from her parents - who were murdered in Cambodia - again. She returned to Cambodia in 1989, and has bravely worked to eliminate sex trafficking and domestic violence in Cambodia. (

Zainib Salbi IRAQ ( The founder of Women for Women International, who grew up in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad, has made it her life's mission to help women war survivors around the world. She has distributed close to $50 million in micro loans and aid in countries from Bosnia to the Congo.(

Xinran CHINA ( This gifted author has written books and lectured on the radio to make as many people as possible aware of China's harmful "one-child policy," which was started in 1979 in an effort to control over population. Since many families choose to have only a son, countless baby girls are given away (or worse), especially among the poor. (

Looking forward to your comments...