International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’ve been told to post a photo of a woman who inspires me.

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I met Miguelina in Ascension, a small village for Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. The other women warned me about her. “Li gen ambisyon,” they told me. At first I thought I was translating wrong – being ambitious was a bad thing here?

As I spent more time there, I realized what they meant. Their status as illegal immigrants and the enormous discrimination they faced as Haitians meant they didn’t feel safe about going into town and couldn’t find jobs or send their kids to school. With so few opportunities to build a better life for themselves, it made sense to just accept the situation, instead of being “ambitious” and trying to change it.

I avoided Miguelina for a long time. When in Rome, after all. But one day I somehow ended up having to stop by her house, and I stumbled upon her teaching her kids a rhyme. I discovered she could recite dozens of poems by heart. I was amazed. I’d spent weeks trying to get our students interested in having fun with words through poetry, and here Miguelina had been, all along.

We often talk about how nobly people in the developing world endure the hardships of their daily lives and how much we have to learn from that considering how privileged we are. Miguelina was no stoic – the other women were right when they complained that she complained a lot. But as I got to know her better, I realized she wasn’t so much lamenting the conditions as her inability to change them. I’ll never forget one thing she told me: “The greatest tragedy in my life is boredom.” Her family lacked quality housing and sanitation, and her children often went hungry and got sick, but according to her those things weren’t as bad as having no source of entertainment, employment, or education.

That’s what drives me to keep doing something, anything, to improve access to information and technology – just to give people like Miguelina and her kids something to do with their time, their minds, their hearts, and their ambition.

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