September 24, 2012

Remarks from Terry Hernandez's Women of Influence Acceptance

According to Webster, INFLUENCE means power, persuasion, inspiration, affecting change.
I believe that this is the basis for all we are in this world. It's about relationships. And it's about sharing “me” and all the mysterious, odd, frustrating, delightful things that make me me.

I guess it took me 40 to 50 years to unlearn what I thought I knew about me
·          as a girl growing up, I knew how to cover up pimples, how to avoid folding the clothes or cleaning my room, how to be “cool” –
·          as a woman, I knew how to shade my long nose with blush, hide cellulite, keep my mouth shut and know my place –

how many women can you think of that, like me, knew they would never be president; knew they would never make as much money or have as much “clout” as a man; knew they would never be as thin, pretty, tall, or glamorous as they’d hope; knew how to feel guilty about choosing to raise a family instead of running a company…

I am so fortunate to do the work of Chrysalis, which is all about influence – it is about inspiring and encouraging – it’s about helping girls and women unlearn what they may know:
·          to teach girls to be themselves instead of worrying about what the media – or their peers – say they should be…
·          to teach young women to reject the notion that to be liked and accepted, they have to look and act like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga or (in my day) Madonna…
·          to help other women understand they are not objects and will not be treated as such…
·          to help girls and women celebrate their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.

I’ve found in our work that the more limited the financial resources, the more abundant and creative the human resources are.

We say the work of Chrysalis is to “inspire to aspire” – it’s all about influence, and it’s been on our radar for decades. It continues to lead each of us to influence – to make change. And change is certainly not difficult if you are open to it.

So, here are my suggestions to you to continue to be a person of influence: treat people kindly, pay attention, respect others, offer assistance, ask for help, do good deeds, practice solid values, be a good friend, listen-listen-listen, volunteer in the community, and mentor the next generation.

Don’t just follow the rules.  Follow your heart.

I'm grateful to continue this important work and appreciate the passion we all share.

September 17, 2012

The Rest of the Story...

During her visit, Dr. Trent shared many stories about the extreme challenges she faced to achieve her goal of completing an education.  Since there was so much to be told, I want to share with you more of the remarkable story of her life, as blogged by NY Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Nicholas Kristof.  As they say, here is “the rest of the story:”

November 15, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Triumph of a Dreamer

Any time anyone tells you that a dream is impossible, any time you’re discouraged by impossible challenges, just mutter this mantra: Tererai Trent.

Of all the people earning university degrees this year, perhaps the most remarkable story belongs to Tererai (pronounced TEH-reh-rye), a middle-aged woman who is one of my heroes. She is celebrating a personal triumph, but she’s also a monument to the aid organizations and individuals who helped her. When you hear that foreign-aid groups just squander money or build dependency, remember that by all odds Tererai should be an illiterate, battered cattle-herd in Zimbabwe and instead — ah, but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Tererai was born in a village in rural Zimbabwe, probably sometime in 1965, and attended elementary school for less than one year. Her father married her off when she was about 11 to a man who beat her regularly. She seemed destined to be one more squandered African asset.
A dozen years passed. Jo Luck, the head of an aid group called Heifer International, passed through the village and told the women there that they should stand up, nurture dreams, change their lives.

Inspired, Tererai scribbled down four absurd goals based on accomplishments she had vaguely heard of among famous Africans. She wrote that she wanted to study abroad, and to earn a B.A., a master’s and a doctorate.

Tererai began to work for Heifer and several Christian organizations as a community organizer. She used the income to take correspondence courses, while saving every penny she could.

In 1998 she was accepted to Oklahoma State University, but she insisted on taking all five of her children with her rather than leave them with her husband. “I couldn’t abandon my kids,” she recalled. “I knew that they might end up getting married off.”

Tererai’s husband eventually agreed that she could take the children to America — as long as he went too. Heifer helped with the plane tickets, Tererai’s mother sold a cow, and neighbors sold goats to help raise money. With $4,000 in cash wrapped in a stocking and tied around her waist, Tererai set off for Oklahoma.
An impossible dream had come true, but it soon looked like a nightmare. Tererai and her family had little money and lived in a ramshackle trailer, shivering and hungry. Her husband refused to do any housework — he was a man! — and coped by beating her.

“There was very little food,” she said. “The kids would come home from school, and they would be hungry.” Tererai found herself eating from trash cans, and she thought about quitting — but felt that doing so would let down other African women.

“I knew that I was getting an opportunity that other women were dying to get,” she recalled. So she struggled on, holding several jobs, taking every class she could, washing and scrubbing, enduring beatings, barely sleeping.

At one point the university tried to expel Tererai for falling behind on tuition payments. A university official, Ron Beer, intervened on her behalf and rallied the faculty and community behind her with donations and support.

“I saw that she had enormous talent,” Dr. Beer said. His church helped with food, Habitat for Humanity provided housing, and a friend at Wal-Mart carefully put expired fruits and vegetables in boxes beside the Dumpster and tipped her off.

Soon afterward, Tererai had her husband deported back to Zimbabwe for beating her, and she earned her B.A. — and started on her M.A. Then her husband returned, now frail and sick with a disease that turned out to be AIDS. Tererai tested negative for H.I.V., and then — feeling sorry for her husband — she took in her former tormentor and nursed him as he grew sicker and eventually died.

Through all this blur of pressures, Tererai excelled at school, pursuing a Ph.D. at Western Michigan University and writing a dissertation on AIDS prevention in Africa even as she began working for Heifer as a program evaluator. On top of all that, she was remarried, to Mark Trent, a plant pathologist she had met at Oklahoma State.

Tererai is a reminder of the adage that talent is universal, while opportunity is not. There are still 75 million children who are not attending primary school around the world. We could educate them all for far less than the cost of the proposed military “surge” in Afghanistan.

Each time Tererai accomplished one of those goals that she had written long ago, she checked it off on that old, worn paper. Last month, she ticked off the very last goal, after successfully defending her dissertation. She’ll receive her Ph.D. next month, and so a one-time impoverished cattle-herd from Zimbabwe with less than a year of elementary school education will don academic robes and become Dr. Tererai Trent.

I am so proud to work with Chrysalis, and with leaders like each of you, as you share Dr. Trent’s belief in the power of girls and women.  Thank you for all you do.

September 10, 2012

Academics and Girls Achievement

The academic year is now in full swing, and we begin again to hear about the challenges of producing well-educated students.  Often there is reference to the location of the school site – low-income areas are typically called “schools at risk” based on educational achievement of the student population.

But a new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that the school location may not as often be the challenge, and that high-achieving students come from all types of schools in both affluent and at-risk communities.  Using data from the American Mathematics Competition (an annual contest involving more than 100,000 high school students), researchers counted numbers of high scoring student from over 2,000 public, co-ed, non-magnet, and private high schools and noted significant variations even among schools with similar demographics.

What they found was remarkable – a small number of public schools (4%) had rates of high-scoring students 3 times the average for all schools, and sometimes as high as 10%.  The difference was even greater for girls, with many affluent schools reported to be “extremely unlikely” to produce top-achieving females in math while a small group of public schools were “off the charts” with their high female scores.

Why the variation?  What the study shows, say researchers, is that the school’s expectations and environment make the difference, even for students with every advantage.  If the school focuses only on basic competence, the achievement levels are much lower than the schools that encourage high achievement.

“So much of the education debate is around bringing up the struggling students,” notes Glenn Ellison, an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of the study.  “But high-achieving students are important when we talk about success in scientific and technical fields…these are future medical researchers and leading business people – these students matter to our economy.”  Nurturing students who are, or have the potential to become high achievers – wherever they attend school – is vital, he concludes.

In addition, the communities created around learning in the school make a tremendous difference.  Match and science clubs taking place outside the classroom provide an important opportunity for students to excel – especially for girls.  While boys scoring highly in math competitions came from a broader ranges of schools, the majority of high-achieving girls in the mathematics competition came from only about 20 schools.  Support and encouragement in these 20 schools played a significant role in the female students’ success, research notes, as girls continue to push against stereotypes.

The researchers conclude:

The fact that the highest achieving girls in the U.S. are concentrated in a very small set of schools indicates “that almost all girls with the ability to reach high math achievement levels are not doing so.  Our results suggest that the high-achieving math students we see today in U.S. high schools may be just a small fraction of the number of students who have the potential to reach such levels.”

Over the past few years, Chrysalis After-School programs have incorporated research-based models for expanded education in areas including science, math, health, and nutrition.  What we’re finding is that for many girls, learning in this environment – with hands-on experience and in the presence of other girls – has steered them toward interest areas including medicine, environment, and technology.  They have the potential and the aptitude for higher educational achievement in these area and are much more likely to improve school performance and, potentially, explore these careers.

This year, Chrysalis After-School programs operate in 30 school sites (grades 5 through 8) and involve over 600 girls and 70 women.  That’s a lot of impact.

September 4, 2012

Women's Equality Day

Did you know that last Sunday, August 26 was a historic day for women?  Ninety-two years ago, U.S. women won the right to vote after many years of painstaking struggle and hard work by courageous suffragists.  This historic moment is commemorated each year on Women’s Equality Day, August 26.

As you know, much of the work to ensure equality for women remains unfinished.  Among the many factors that have attempted to move the needle on equality for women and girls is CEDAW, an international agreement affirming principles of human rights and equality for women and girls around the world.  Adopted by the United Nations in 1979, 185 countries have ratified CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), creating standards in the treatment and rights of women.

The United States is among 6 countries across the globe that has not yet ratified CEDAW: The Treaty for the Rights of Women, the most complete international agreement on basic human rights for women.  (Among the other countries yet to ratify are Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.)

In countries that have ratified CEDAW, women have partnered with their governments to improve the status of women and girls, and as a result have changed laws and policies to create greater safety and opportunity for women and their families. CEDAW can make a difference for women and girls, specifically to:
×          reduce sex trafficking & domestic violence
×          provide access to education & vocational training
×          ensure the right to vote
×          end forced marriage & child marriage & ensure inheritance rights
×          help mothers and families by providing access to maternal health care
×          ensure the right to work & own a business without discrimination

Because of CEDAW, millions of girls around the world receive primary education; countries have taken measures against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women and girls; women’s health care services have focused on saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women now have the opportunity to secure loans and the right to own and inherit property.  To learn more:

All the more important for the work of Chrysalis to be strategic, meaningful, and results-oriented.