A family-planning advocate and U.N. supporter answers questions
What work do you do?
I’m a 62-year-old retired French teacher and tennis coach who has been spending six to eight hours a day for the last 20 months trying to get 34 million Americans to donate at least one dollar to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). I do this because the Bush administration refused to release the $34 million Congress had approved. The organization is 34 Million Friends of UNFPA and my job title might be “Totally Dedicated Grassroot.”
What would constitute “mission accomplished” for your organization?
The short-term goal would be a list of 34 million Americans on the website who have reached out to the world’s women with a small gift. The long-term goal would be for me to play a part in encouraging a worldwide constituency of people who, by small gifts to UNFPA every year, announce to their governments and to the world that equality for women and girls, reproductive health in its myriad connotations, and choices about family size should be the world’s very first priority. Nothing else will save more human beings and help sustain the planet.
What is UNFPA?
It is an agency of the United Nations that receives allocations from member countries to assure safe childbirth and family planning to the poorest, most vulnerable women in the world — and their families. It does its work in more than 144 countries. It is part of UNAIDS and educates people against early marriage and female genital mutilation. It emphasizes the needs of the 1.2 billion adolescents on the planet for informed choices. You should read about its Fistula Initiative.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I try to communicate with as many groups, individuals, and organizations as possible. I am currently traveling extensively around the country talking about 34 Million Friends. I write op-eds and letters to editors. I have written a poem about 34 Million Friends which has been turned into a song and recorded by Odetta. It will be out soon and I think it will sweep the world.
What organizations do you belong to?
More than I did 20 months ago, that’s for sure! In order to ask, it’s better to be a member. So, I’m a member of the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority, NOW, League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, Population Connection, Population Institute, Population Coalition, and on and on. I’ve belonged for years to several, but a few are fairly new.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
My life, like many other women’s lives, has been one of a time for this and a time for that. I was a ranked junior tennis player when young, an M.A. in French at 23, and married at 24. I taught French and played tennis until adopting a boy at age 33 and experiencing a “surprise” pregnancy at age 35, resulting in a baby girl. I did lots of part-time work until my kids were in high school, and then I taught and coached in high school from 1990 to 1998. Population, international reproductive health, and family planning were the areas I wanted to devote myself to in retirement. I never dreamed this would happen, though.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
I probably get close to 25 emails a day, excluding spam. This effort would be impossible without the Internet. The most interesting are PlanetWire clips (about five per day), articles in newspapers and transcripts of TV and radio news programs concerning population, reproductive health, and reproductive health politics. 34 Million Friends is a fairly frequent subject of these clips. Based on these clips I write letters to editors. I also have a daily exchange of emails with the two people in Boulder, Colo., who work for the U.N. Foundation and the U.S. Committee for UNFPA, coordinating this idealistic effort. It got way too big for Lois Abraham and me to do it all. Lois Abraham, by the way, is the “other woman” who had this same “brilliant” idea. We are partners in this all the way.
What have been the highlights of your campaign?
That’s easy. One was my trip to Senegal and Mali in February 2003 to see UNFPA work on site. How would you like to give birth with nothing but a sterile plastic sheet, a bar of soap, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord, and string to tie it off? Well, this is the “Safe Birth Kit” that UNFPA distributes in remote areas of poor countries. It saves lives by the ton every year. Another highlight of this trip was finding a children’s writing booklet at an elementary school funded by the Ministry of Education of Senegal and the UNFPA. It says on the front, “Little girls deserve as much food, education, and health care as little boys.” Another highlight was our trip to Brussels in May of 2003 to launch 34 Million Friends in the E.U.
Every week I write about 10 thank-you notes to grassroots people who send their dollar — last week to a grandfather who sends $5 a month for his five grandchildren, and to a 16-year-old girl who sent a dollar after reading about 34 Million Friends in Glamour magazine. Two women organized a Bark for Women Dog Walk in Central Park, too. What fun!
Who are your environmental heroes?
People who would understand the link between population, the environment, consumption, peace and stability, and women’s health and choices. They are all inextricably linked.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
Ralph (Ego-Trip) Nader.
How do you get around?
A ’95 Eagle Vision (similar to a Dodge Intrepid), which has gone 148,000 miles but runs well. Our next car will be a hybrid — next year perhaps.
Who’s the biggest pain in your tookus?
Our president. With his “pro-life” policies, which deprive women of contraception and reproductive health services, he has caused enormous misery, countless abortions, and maternal and infant deaths.
What are you reading right now?
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. A great book.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in San Diego, Calif., in 1941 and since 1964 have lived in Redlands, Calif., with about four years spent in France at various times.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
That’s easy too. Send your dollar and spread the word. This can only work if you all use your imagination and intelligence to get the word out. It is a marvelous message to send to the world from the American people. Contribute on the web or send a tax-deductible dollar to: U.S. Committee for UNFPA, 3800 Arapahoe Ave., Suite 210, Boulder, CO 80303. Thanks to outside support for administrative costs, the money does go directly to UNFPA’s humanitarian programs. Let’s make 34 Million Friends a national undertaking. It is definitely doable! We hope to hear from you!