Today’s Dame of the Day is Tu Youyou (December 30, 1930-). During the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh charged Chinese scientists with the mission of discovering a cure for malaria. At the time, this seemed like a daunting task: researchers had already tested over 200,000 compounds without success. In spite of these odds, Youyou drew on her extensive knowledge of ancient Chinese medicine and discovered a cure for malaria; she published her findings anonymously in 1977. Her work later earned her a Nobel Price in Physiology or Medicine, making her the first Chinese Nobel laureate in either physiology or medicine.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Svetlana Alexievich (May 31, 1948-). Following school, Alexievich worked at numerous Belarusian newspapers and, after college, became a correspondent at a literary magazine. Her projects interviewed survivors of World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2015, Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
How did you mark your last birthday? Drinks with friends? Dinner with family? With a card, a cake, or maybe a gift or two? Birthdays are a great time to celebrate and reflect on where we’ve come from, where we’re at, and where we’re headed. On Sunday, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai turned 18 years old. How did she celebrate? She launched a school. Dissatisfied with the educational options available to female Syrian refugees, Malala used her self-titled non-profit to fund a school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Situated close to the Syrian border, the school aims to help 200 Syrian girls obtain baccalaureate or vocational degrees.
Image courtesy of NPR
If you’re not aware of Syria’s civil war, read up. After peaceful protests erupted during 2011’s Arab Spring, President Bashar al-Assad and his army responded with a wave of kidnapping, murder, rape, and torture. Over time, civilians began to fire back and the fighting escalated to a full-blown civil war. But it’s more complicated than that; due to Syria’s position within the Middle East, the country witnessed both an influx volunteers eager to free Syria from al-Assad and jihadists aiming to dismantle Syria’s secular government. But with an arsenal of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, Assad continues to hold his ground.
Image courtesy of Ahmad Fatemi and Maria Rohaly
During this four year period, Syria’s economy crashed and conditions deteriorated as the government blocked foreign aid from entering the country. To date, 4.25 million Syrians have escaped to neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon. With no end to the fighting in sight, temporary camps now serve as permanent homes for the population. Acknowledging this reality, Turkish educator Enver Yucel recently pledged $10 million of his own money to set up schools in the country’s refugee camps. Yucel’s efforts are hotly contested in Turkey, where Syrians are viewed as competition for jobs and resources. But, as Yucel argues, there are far more consequences for allowing a generation of Syrians to languish without skills.
Image courtesy of NPR
Malala’s campaign follows in the same vein but places additional focus on educating young women and girls. In a recent blog post, she coined the hashtag #booksnotbullets and argued that if the world’s nations ceased military spending for 8 days, the leftover $39 billion dollars could fund 12 years of free education for every child. Granted, not everyone has a book deal, a non-profit, or a far-reaching network like Malala. And it shouldn’t be assumed that a birthday celebration can’t be about you. But her actions provide some interesting food for thought for the coming year. What are you passionate about? What change do you want to make in the world? How can a birthday be a celebration of life as well as a way to contribute to something bigger than yourself? With my big 3-0 only six months away, I’ve got some thinking to do.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Wisława Szymborska (July 2, 1923-February 1, 2012). During the Second World War, Szymborska attended underground classes, refusing to let the war interrupt her education. Even when poor financial circumstances preventing her from completing her degree, she continued writing. Dubbed the “Mozart of poetry,” Szymborska is widely considered one of Poland’s greatest writers. In 1996, she received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Maria Goeppert-Mayer (June 28, 1906-February 20, 1972). While her husband, chemist Joseph Edward Mayer, received a professorship at Johns Hopkins University, rules barring nepotism prevented the institution from hiring Goeppert-Mayer, a theoretical physicist. Instead, she took an unpaid assistantship at Columbia University. After publishing a critical paper on double beta decay, the university invited her to work on the Manhattan Project. Her discovery of the atom’s nuclear shell earned her the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Leymah Gbowee (February 1, 1972-). Partnering with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gbowee helped end Liberia’s civil war in 2003. As part of the Trauma Healing Project, Gbowee shared her own experiences to gain the trust of other participants and galvanize women across the country. Gbowee received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize alongside President Sirleaf.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (October 29, 1938-). In 2006, Liberia elected Sirleaf president, making her the first African woman elected as head of state. Prior to her election, Sirleaf spent her career championing women’s rights and peace building; in 2011, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Ada Yonath (June 22, 1939-). This Israeli crystallographer cracked open the function of and structure behind the ribosome. Her research earned her the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, making her the first Israeli woman and the first woman from the Middle East to win the award.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Rita Levi-Montalcini (April 22, 1909-December 30, 2012). As a developmental neurobiologist, Levi-Montalcini and her partner, Stanley Cohen, discovered nerve growth factor, a protein responsible for the growth and maintenance of neurons. For this discovery, Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Following her illustrious scientific career, she served in the Italian Senate as Senator-For-Life. Before her death in 2012, Levi-Montalcini was the first Nobel laureate to reach her 100th birthday, making her the longest living laureate to date.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Aung San Suu Kyi (June 19, 1945-). As a leader of the National League for Democracy, she fights for democratization and political reform for Myanmar. Although her party won the majority of the votes in the 1990 election, Suu Kyi was vilified by the ruling military junta, attacked by hired henchmen and confined to house arrest for 15 years. She has received numerous awards for her efforts, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Currently, she plans to run for president in 2015.