Today’s Dame of the Day is Rawya Saud Al Busaidi. After earning a PhD in education from Oxford University, Al Busaidi worked her way up through Oman’s Department of Education. In 2004, she was appointed Minister of Higher Education and became the first Omani woman ever to be appointed to the country’s ministerial cabinet. In addition to her political position, Al Busaidi also chairs the council of Sultan Qaboos University.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Fawzia Koofi (1976-). As a child, Koofi’s parents were not pleased to have a daughter; she fought for the right to go to school and became the only girl in her family to obtain an education. Koofi attended college in her native Afghanistan, studied political science and worked closely with UNICEF. After the fall of the Taliban, Koofi became the first woman to be elected Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament. In spite of numerous assassination attempts, she continues her fight for women’s rights.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Rosemary Nyirumbe. While a video condemning Ugandan dictator Joseph Kony went viral in 2012, Sister Nyirumbe has spent her life dedicated to the victims left in his wake. As Director of the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Centre, Nyirumbe provides a safe space for girls to recover and teaches them tailoring skills so they can support themselves. To date, Nyirumbe’s program and sister program have helped 2,000 girls work through past traumas and lay the groundwork for more promising futures.
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 Kira Orange Jones. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Jones rolled up her sleeves to rebuild it. As executive director of the city’s Teach for America program, Jones recruited strong teachers to the area and consulted with veteran educators, community members, and reformers to eliminate the distinctions between charter and public schools. Over time, graduation rates increased from 50% to 75% and more students attend college after high school.
This past Sunday, the New York Times ran a great article about Keila Merino, a fourth grade teacher who also runs ultramarathons. While she clocked great times in high school and ran her first marathon in college, Merino hit her stride (quite literally) when she started smashing longer distances. While she dropped out of her first 100 mile race at mile 8, she returned with a vengeance the following year and won the Great New York 100 in 21 hours. (The 2015 running of this race just happened last weekend.)
Photo credit: Joseph Vigar. Image courtesy of Keila Merino
This summer, Merino’s gunning for a bigger challenge: she’s running across the United States. Starting July 2, she’ll clock miles from Los Angeles, California, back home to the Bronx, New York. But in addition to simply achieving this goal, she’s got records to break. In 1978, South African ultramarathoner Mavis Hutchinson set the trans-American running record with a time of 69 days, 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Image courtesy of Keila Merino
In addition to her impressive goal, Merino’s also running for a worthy cause. As she logs miles, she’ll also raise money for Back on My Feet NYC, a non-profit organization that promotes self-sufficiency through running for the city’s homeless population. Anne Mahlum founded the organization in 2007, but it has since expanded from its flagship Philadelphia chapter to 11 cities across the United States. Merino wants to to establish a women’s shelter with the money she collects.
As she treks across the States, show Keila some love! Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to track her progress and send some inspiration. If you’re able, make a donation to Back on My Feet and help support her dream of bringing a new women’s shelter to NYC.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Charon Asetoyer (March 24, 1951-). As a young Comanche teen growing up in San Jose, Asetoyer moved to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and worked at the Urban Indian Health Center. Her later work with the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center focused on domestic violence, AIDS prevention, nutrition, reproductive health and the treatment of alcoholism. In addition to these health initiatives, the organization also promotes learning of language and culture, environmental awareness and action, and Native rights advocacy.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924-January 1, 2005). After earning her Master’s in Education from Columbia University, Chisholm taught in a nursery school and ran a daycare center. In 1968, she became the first black woman to be elected to Congress and served seven terms in office. Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the nomination.
For today’s Schoolin’ Life, we check in with teacher and new mom Marie McGill. (Editor’s note: if you need someone to spearhead a cheering section at any event, call Marie. As a member of North Brooklyn Runners, she has been known to show up with an arsenal of musical instruments and body paint. What a boss!)
Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?
A native New Yorker, I was born in The Bronx and grew up on Long Island. For the past 10 years, I’ve lived in Brooklyn. I’m a first grade special ed teacher in a public school in Ridgewood, Queens. My interests include traveling, running, music, dancing, the fine arts, and being silly. My husband and I welcomed our baby girl, Julia, into the world this past December and I’m on Cloud Nine with this precious little darling. In all honestly, my 30’s have been the best years of my life so far and I truly believe that is because of what I’ve learned from the challenges and struggles that I had while in my 20’s, so here goes!
When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
I spent a great portion of my 20’s in an existential meltdown. My only goals were to figure myself out and discover what I wanted out of life. I got my bachelor’s degree in my early 20’s, but I really didn’t want to do anything with it. I was really into music and acting. I loved to sing and play guitar. I went to my fair share of auditions. Every now and then I’d perform in plays or do some film work. I feared that having a 9-5 job would get in the way of my creative pursuits. Boy, was I wrong! I spent so much time trying to make ends meet while waiting tables that eventually I didn’t have the time or energy for anything else. I did achieve my goal of figuring myself out and discovering what I wanted out of life. I emerged from my 20’s much more grounded and with a better sense of direction. Now I still sing, play guitar, and act. It’s just that my audience has changed. It consists of my first graders, and they make a terrific audience with whom I don’t mind sharing the spotlight.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
I was never one to really adhere to societal expectations. I’ve always been a late bloomer, so I learned very early in life to respect my own timetable, even if it wasn’t the same pace as the ideal timetable (whatever that is). Although there are many things that I liked about Long Island, I did feel that it was very cookie cutter and I didn’t quite fit into the mold. My tribe consisted of fellow theater geeks and quirky artists. I guess societal expectations had a reverse effect on me. They caused me to create and respect my own expectations for myself and to be at peace with not fitting into everyone else’s expectations.
What was your first job like?
I was a waitress at Friday’s. It was during the days of the red and white striped shirts and the flair frenzy. Before every shift, the managers would count your flair and if you had less than seven pieces, you were not allowed to serve any tables until you fixed the situation. On more than one occasion, I had to beg other wait staff members to share their flair. It was rough. If you’ve seen Office Space or Waiting, every bit of restaurant satire in those movies is on point.
What was your first apartment like?
My first apartment was the entire top floor of a house. It was out on Long Island near where I grew up. Our landlord lived on the bottom floor. She was a hoarder who kept her Christmas decorations up all year because she had nowhere to store them. People would come to visit me in the summertime and I would say, “My place is easy to find. Just look for the great big Santa on the front lawn.” There’s always one house on the block that can’t let go of Christmas. We were that house! I kind of loved it.
I had one roommate at the time. She and I were both waitresses at the same Italian restaurant. We’d go home after our shifts and stay up until all hours drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and talking about life while listening to The Doors. To this day, I’m transported to that era anytime I hear something by The Doors.
Did you experience any big life changes?
Moving to Brooklyn brought about a huge transformation for me. Even though I only grew up about an hour and a half away, those 62 exits on the Long Island Expressway bring you to a completely different world. In many ways, I felt that it was easy for me to be complacent while I was still living on Long Island. Brooklyn, and all of NYC for that matter, has a way of demanding that you get your act together. It screams, “Shape up or pack up and go home.” I wasn’t about to pack up and go home, so I rose to the occasion and began my career, went for my Master’s Degree, and created this enjoyable and stable life for myself.
In what ways did your friendships change?
I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain close friendships that have lasted 10+ years, some since childhood. The core aspects of those friendships such as loyalty, trust, and honesty remain. I guess what’s changed is how often my friends and I are able to get together. But I’ve found that in close friendships, when you do see each other, it’s as if no time has gone by and I love that feeling.
What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I’ve learned enough to fill an entire interview just by answering this one question! But I would say that the major lesson that stands out the most is that it’s a waste of time to try to change someone who does not want to change. I spent a few years in a relationship that was based on potential. It was exhausting for me on every level. If the here and now of a relationship is highly problematic, then it’s very likely that the future will be problematic too.
How did your relationships with your family change?
My relationships with each family member have definitely changed as a result of time and geographic distance. I’d say that the most drastic relationship changes have been with my father and my younger brother, Eddie. In 2006, I found out that my dad had cancer. It was stage 4 and too advanced for chemo to make a difference. I went from being his little girl to establishing more of an adult friendship. We’d sit in pubs together and have some very deep conversations about life, people, regrets, and our beliefs about the afterlife. When he died that year, I was grateful to have spent such quality time with him. Eddie and I were always close, but our father’s death really brought us together. I still can’t imagine having gone through it without us being there for each other. Eddie has become one of my best friends.
How do you feel society viewed you?
I’ve always “colored outside of the lines” and never really cared much about fitting in. On Long Island, that’s called being a “weirdo,” but in NYC it’s called just being yourself because nobody is looking and frankly, nobody cares anyway. So I believe that society’s perception of me has varied according to where I call home. I’ve always found that there’s freedom in not caring about how society views me. As long as I’m happy and not hurting anybody, I believe that society has no reason to view me in a negative way.
How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I’m in a really good place when it comes to emotions. When I was in my 20’s, I used to let my emotions get the best of me. I had anxiety issues and was very emotionally reactive when faced with challenges. At this point in my life, I still allow myself to experience my emotions but my decisions and well-being are mainly based on logic and thoughtfulness. I believe that emotions can be helpful or destructive. It depends on how much control you have over them.
How did you change intellectually?
I am far more open-minded than I used to be. In my 20’s I began to challenge ideas that I had as a teenager that I thought I’d have forever. This opened me up to intellectual growth. To this day, I love to learn, have my ideas challenged, and either build new perceptions or further secure my existing ones.
In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
For much of my 20’s, I wasn’t sure of my identity. I guess that I’d say I identified myself as a confused hot mess. But I do believe that it was important for me to be a confused hot mess. I was raised to think and act a certain way. When I was on my own at 23, I felt the freedom to abandon some of what was encouraged by my upbringing and to see and approach things differently. Such freedom can bring about an identity crisis, but it was the really productive kind of identity crisis that challenged me to ask myself some important questions and arrive at life changing conclusions. I’ve come to base my identity on character attributes and how they relate to the different roles that I play in life as a wife, mother, friend, teacher, etc.
How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
I’ve been fortunate enough to do my fair share of traveling. I love the adventure of going to new places, but I also feel that each place that I’ve visited has made a lasting impact on me. I’ve learned that cultures and mindsets can vary, but ultimately there are many aspects of the human experience that are universal and this fact can really bring us together if we let it.
What was the most embarrassing moment?
I was in a clothing store shopping for lingerie that was to be worn strictly for recreational purposes (if you know what I mean). Just as I pulled a red, lacey item from the clothing rack, I heard a tiny voice calling my name. When I turned around, I saw one of my first grade students running up to me and he was so happy to see his teacher. He then said, “Daddy look, my teacher is here.” The dad approached me and we engaged in small talk while I was holding a rather skimpy piece of lingerie. At some point, I tried to put it behind my back, which probably made things worse and even more awkward. After the conversation, I put the item back and darted out of the store.
What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?
My biggest disappointment was my parents’ divorce. They ended their marriage when I was 23. I knew for much of my childhood and teenage years that their marriage was a “stay together for the kids” sort of ordeal. I was the last of my siblings to move out and then the inevitable happened. They were both dedicated and loving parents, but they just couldn’t work out their differences. It was a very challenging time for me. I was on my own for the first time and also coping with my parents’ divorce. My mom moved to North Carolina and suddenly the family unit that I knew for all of my life up until then became so scattered. For much of my 20’s, I had a hard time believing in love and I pretty much swore off marriage. At some point I realized that my parents are just two human beings, subject to human errors and flaws just like the rest of us. They’re not superheroes, and I experienced a great deal of resolution and peace of mind when I stopped expecting them to be.
Who was your biggest influence and why?
My influences varied throughout different phases of my life. During my childhood, it was my grandma. Every moment with her felt magical. She taught me to love books and music and made me want to be a good person. During my teenage years it was my older brother, Michael. He was the one I went to for advice whenever it was needed. Every teenager needs an older mentor to whom they feel they could tell anything. For me, it was Michael. If I ever had any issues with bullies or boys, he’d either advise me well or take care of the situation himself. At this point in my life my friends are a great influence on me. I’ve been fortunate to befriend some confident, intelligent, funny, and interesting people who influence me on a regular basis. This includes my wonderful husband.
Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?
It’s hard to pinpoint one experience. When I think about defining the decade, a very special turning point comes to mind. I had mentioned before that I was feeling like a hamster on a wheel, waitressing and getting nowhere with my creative ambitions. I decided that I was done with that lifestyle and ready to leave waitressing and begin my career as a teacher. I finally realized that this didn’t mean that the creative side of me would have to die. That will be a part of me forever. Starting my career and going back to school was one of the best decisions that I ever made and that defined that decade for me.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I don’t have any major regrets. That’s not to say that I haven’t made my share of mistakes. I’ve always been willing to learn from my mistakes so really I do believe that mistakes are important. I guess if I regret anything, it’s the time and energy that I spent worrying about things that turned out to be just fine.
Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?
Well, I had mentioned my turning point from waitressing to teaching as one of the most significant and life changing decisions of my 20’s. I might as well share my waitressing swan song! It sums up the decade quite well. I was working at a very trendy restaurant in Manhattan. One night my manager told me that I would be working the VIP lounge and that there was a very high profile party that was to take place that evening. I always dreaded working the VIP lounge and was not looking forward to the evening. My sentiments changed when I found that our expected guests were the cast members of the movie Alexander, which was released around that time. In that moment, I decided that I wanted for this to be my last night of waitressing ever. Shortly after the party began, I overheard one of the guests talking about how badly she wanted cigarettes. I offered to run to the bodega and pick up cigarettes for anyone who wanted them. People were tipping me rather generously for making cigarette runs for them. This led to me being invited to join everyone for some shots. Before I knew it, I was partying with the cast and having a great time. My manager found me mingling all over the place while holding a bunch of crumbled $20 bills from my cigarette running tips. I was sent home. It was game over and definitely my most stylish exit ever! I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye to waitressing and hello to a new chapter in life.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Elouise P. Cobell, Yellow Bird Woman (November 5, 1945-October 16, 2011). As a Niitsítapi elder, Cobell took the U.S. government to court over mismanagement of Native American trust funds. In 2010, the government issued a $3.5 billion dollar settlement, the largest of any class action settlement against the federal government. The money was used to buy back land, compensate the 500,000 affected individuals and set up a $60 million scholarship fund for Native American students.