Hinsdale Magazine

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Making a Difference

By: Mike Ellis | Photography by Jim Prisching 

Over roughly the past year, the Hinsdale Junior Woman’s Club’s (HJWC) international affairs committee has been educating its members and others on the need of billions of people all over the world— especially women, who continue to be treated as contemptible, second-class citizens in many foreign countries. Members of the committee—just wrapping up its first year—and club at large have been reading Half the Sky, a book authored by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that tackles global women’s issues while educating readers as to how they can make a difference for women suffering under the manacles of prostitution and poverty.

Kate Marnell of Hinsdale, who co- chairs the international affairs committee with fellow Hinsdale residents Stephanie Brzozowski and Julie Sutton, said her aunt introduced her to the book, and it left an impression on her.

“Women just don’t have the rights that we do here, and it’s really upsetting,” Marnell said. “You think as a community, after reading this book, how lucky we are as women to live in this community; and we’ve all been given so much. ... It’s, I think, our job to help, internationally, all of these women and children.”

Marnell said Half the Sky has “definitely inspired” the members who have read it, and it has shed light on the fact that while the stature of women in American society has been steadily increasing, in poorer, less formally educated parts of the world like inland Africa and India, many women are subjected to horrific treatment.

“After reading Half the Sky, I think you realize potentially all of these international women’s issues exist— crazy things like bride burnings, sex trafficking, lack of education, health care for women and children,” she said.

One particular issue the book expounds upon is human (or sex) trafficking, which Kristof and WuDunn liken to the institution of slavery that existed in America until sees that it’s covered with starfish that have washed the conclusion of the Civil War. The authors describe harrowing cases of girls sold into prostitution as teenagers, but also explain that even if the girls escape or are delivered from bondage, they oftentimes return to their holders, having become addicted to drugs during their captivity.

“They prey on young girls below poverty level that are desperate,” Brzozowski said.

Other global issues are more financial in nature. During our interview, Marnell cited several statistics for Hinsdale Magazine, including the facts that more than 1.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, and that an estimated 2.2 billion people live on $2 per day or less.

The starfish

One of the challenges when assessing international issues like the above- mentioned is that it is readily apparent that they are of such a magnitude and oftentimes rooted in deep-seated cultural traditions and prejudices, that it is impossible for one person or group of people to swiftly solve even a single issue.

Marnell said that while she and her fellow HJWC members understand that they aren’t producing solutions to worldwide poverty or human trafficking, they have resolved to try to make whatever difference they can for women internationally—even if that means helping just one woman or child. Marnell explained that the international committee has adopted a starfish as its logo, and recited a Hawaiian parable that explained the significance of the starfish.

“Even if we can help one person, it’s one person’s life that’s completely changed,” Marnell said.

Bowties, Bangles & Bubbly

Later this month, on June 13, the HJWC international affairs committee will host “Bowties, Bangles & Bubbly” with the goal of supporting women and children abroad who are in need.

The event will feature silent auction items such as a White Sox batboy experience, a stay in Michigan and a tennis party, as well as a raffle for a one- week stay in Maui.

Proceeds from the event will be divided between two causes: a school in the east African nation of Tanzania and a micro-lending site.

Founded by Hinsdale resident Kelly O’Brien in 2006, the O’Brien School for the Maasai is dedicated to educating children academically and morally in an impoverished, undereducated region to prepare them to lead and succeed in their society and abroad.

Sutton said O’Brien and her daughter took a mission trip to Tanzania through Christ Church of Oak Brook, and being inspired by what they saw, tried to figure out a way to help. She said they encountered a Maasai tribal leader who was hoping to develop a school.

“[The tribe was] so excited at the possibility that someone was there to help them start a school,” Sutton said.

What started as a three-room schoolhouse has blossomed into a school of 370 students, 18 teachers and several other staff members.

“[O’Brien is] really meticulous about how the funds are used and where they go, and vetting everybody that they choose to work with to ensure that all this money that she spends her days and years raising goes to reliable people,” Sutton said.

Sutton said the school requires $12,000 per month to operate, and that its graduates are among the top ten percent in Tanzania.

This is right up our alley of what we should be supporting,” Marnell said. “It’s a local woman who started this amazing school.” 

Brzozowski said 80 to 90 percent of the money raised will go towards the O’Brien School, while the remainder will be directed to Kiva, a micro-lending site that provides needed funds for people in underprivileged countries to start businesses. The loans are later paid back, thereby allowing the HJWC to use recycled funds in future years.

Following the “starfish” mantra, Marnell said even a small contribution can make a significant impact.

“Donating $50 or $100 is going to make such a huge difference in someone’s life.” n

“Bowties, Bangles & Bubbly” will be held at 720 S. County Line Road on June 13, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person and are limited. The recommended attire is “preppy.” For more information about the Hinsdale Junior Woman’s Club, visit www.hjwc.us.

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