Hey there, we’re women. Hear us roar. See us move mountains. Read about the women who’ve inspired us.
What are we talking about? Today is International Women’s Day! We thought it would be a fitting day to talk about some of the women that have inspired us.
Of course, we’re so thankful for the examples of the strong, creative, industrious women in our family and community growing up (thanks mom! and flossie-mom!), but today we wanted to talk about some of the women that struck a cord within us and perhaps changed the trajectory of what we thought was possible, encouraging us to pursue our passions with even more vigor.
Katie here :
If you knew me as a kid, you might remember my love of The Parent Trap. I still have a deep admiration for Hayley Mills. How could she seamlessly play the twins in the parent trap so perfectly?! I watched that movie every weekend. Until I discovered Gorillas in the Mist.
The movie is based on the autobiography of the same name by Dian Fossey, who spent 18 years in the jungles of Africa studying mountain gorillas and establishing the Karisoke Research Center, where nearly 1/4 of the remaining mountain gorillas currently live. Once I watched that movie, I was smitten with everything about Dian Fossey. Making her home in the wild. Being a scientist; all of those years spent studying a single, albeit complex, subject. Living in a foreign country, navigating the weekend markets, communicating in an unknown language. Having an unending passion for her research and the struggle of trying to continue amidst civil wars. Photographing her subject as an aid to keep track of the gorillas using their unique nose prints. Making a change in the world as she worked tirelessly to protect the mountain gorillas from poaching.
Everything about her life seemed so exciting to me, but also so recognizable.
I’ve always been passionate about science. Wanting to know how things work, whether the thing is an organism, chemical reaction, or physical principle. And her fierce passion for the subject is also something that I can understand, although for me it almost presents itself as an anxiety – it’s so hard for me to walk away from the computer and leave work in the middle of a project! Living alone, in the woods, working on a never-ending project? It’s an alternate path I could always see myself living, but now I’d never give up Calder and the boys, so they’ll just have to come along. The adventure of travel and life in another country? I still have that itch, and am always bugging C to go somewhere new. As is the nature of technology, my work/research happens on the computer, not in the wild, but I still have this unsatiated need to observe and photograph the natural environment. Nothing makes me happier than taking my camera along on a hike. And by extension, I’m so interested in preserving native, open spaces, both for our enjoyment, but also for the health of the ecosystems.
Seeing Gorillas in the Mist and learning about Dian Fossey while still young left such a strong impression on me. Knowing that this wasn’t just Hollywood, there was an actual woman who lived in the jungle with the gorillas, who dedicated her life to her research, and who was open to traveling to foreign lands, provided an example that wasn’t immediately available in my hometown. Her story provided encouragement when I was about to go off to the Arctic and live in a tent for 30 days of research, it provided reassurance when I was struggling to either figure out to do next (is it really smart to get an undergrad degree in environmental science? what kind of job does an environmental scientist get?), and it provided comfort when I was in the middle of my PhD unsure about whether I would ever finish (Dian didn’t even have a PhD, and look at what she did!).
Don’t get me wrong, she’s still human and struggled with many relationships within her life. She didn’t have the luxury of growing up with the support of a loving family. She never had the
joy exhaustion of having children. She may have been a bit too abrasive to both her employees and local citizens in an effort to protect the gorillas, ultimately leading to her murder.
What I appreciated is the example she provided of a passionate independent female scientist. It’s fundamental to my core, and having Dian Fossey as an example, made me question myself less and follow my gut.
Sarah here :
While there are dozens of women who inspire me from all over the planet, of all races and ethnicities, struggling to do great and meaningful work in all spheres of life, I landed on a young woman who made one small choice to change a few kids’ lives back in 2006. Her name is Maggie Doyne, she’s 29 now, and she runs the nonprofit Blink Now which supports an orphanage, school, and women’s center in Nepal.
Why does Maggie impress the socks off me? Her entire journey, all that she’s created and built started with sending a couple Nepali kids to school. Something that costs about $10-15 per kid. Nothing crazy, but she did it and realized she could do so much more than that. Once she sent a few little ones to school, she returned home to New Jersey, worked her ass off (skipping out on college BTW) to raise more money to go back to Nepal and make a bigger difference in the small community she became attached to. She raised $60,000 in five months, mind you this is before Kick Starter, Go Fund Me and Indie Go Go. The drive and determination of that alone is no small feat. Once she returned to Nepal she built an orphanage, then she built a school, and now there’s a health center mostly staffed by Nepalis from the community. Over the past decade Maggie has gained recognition and received prize money and funding to further her projects and now she’s the adopted mom of 51 kids!
I think what really strikes me about this whole story is how someone realized they could make a small difference and so they did. There was no questioning it. Just a step in the right direction. Instead of being overwhelmed by the bigger picture of ‘what difference will this make?’ A small difference was made and built upon over and over until we’re here at the present day marveling at what an amazing impact one young lady has on an entire community. I’m always struggling with not knowing what to do. I’m often overwhelmed and overcome by this idea that I will never figure out what the fuck I want to do with my life. Somedays I think it doesn’t matter, just do anything! Who cares? What difference does it make? While other days I tell myself, you have to do something amazing that helps thousands of people so choose wisely. The beauty of Maggie’s situation is that she kind of just picked something, realized it mattered to those people and kept trudging forward. She didn’t question it. She was 19! She didn’t know what would happen and yet she knew enough that she was doing something important for someone.
I can’t tell you how many ideas rattle around in my brain all partially formed from the things I’ve seen while teaching and traveling in other countries. I’m always picturing alternative schools, helpful foundations, new learning techniques, and nurturing after school programs, but what good do those ideas bring if they’re all just in my head? Maggie’s story is a reminder to make a move. Just do it. You don’t always have to have a full vision of what you’re building as long as you know it’s something worth putting your energy towards. The momentum of the movement will lead you on a path to greatness.
Hearing stories like Maggie’s, of a seemingly ‘normal’ girl from Jersey opening an orphanage, school, and health center in an impoverished area and impacting generations to come gives me incredible hope that human suffering will come to an end someday. She is actually shaping an entire population’s trajectory. Hundreds if not thousands of lives are already altered by her work and she started it on her own, with her own teenage life savings and a summer of hard work.
Researching her story actually makes me want to facepalm myself. How am I not doing this already?! Please don’t misread this as me thinking it’s easy, I’m just saying it’s doable and from where I’m siting, in the U.S.A. with money that is stronger than most other countries, it is extremely doable. I’m not concerned with creating a legacy for myself. I could care less if my memories or money live on after I’m dead, but I do want to make life a little easier for the less fortunate. It’s easy to get bogged down by the overwhelming magnitude of the world’s misery, but sometimes you also need to wake up and realize a tidal waves start as a single ripple in the ocean. Wake up Sarah!
Images : mountain gorilla, Dian Fossey with gorillas comes from National Geographic, but we do not have a direct link to the source. Maggie Doyne with her children. All other images are from Sarah’s work with Nepali kids.