Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Celebrating Women on International Women's Day

At the wedding in a small village in Adasarlapadu, we foreigners were embraced like we were their own. I sprinkled rice, along with the family, which meant to scatter blessings on the newly married couple. I wafted smoke from candles to give them light. Women who are secure and strong allow others to participate and learn about their village; they are inclusive. The woman in the purple and green is my friend's mother, the president of the village (about 3,000 people). Here is the  blog about the Indian village

I am thinking of the countless women I have met in my travels all over the world since today is International Women's Day. I am buoyed by women, both collectively and individually, in every stage and age: their examples instill powerful stirrings in me to do better. Many women of this world have given me courage to try and launch a little higher. Their vigilance and tenacity to combat disease, give voice to the voiceless, lift minds with education, and to trudge forward when their hearts are broken unfailingly inspire me. Whether women have traveled widely or have stayed in their own village, they almost always choose to lift those around them. I believe women are the warm blankets of this world; they innately want to cover and comfort those around them.

Everywhere I travel, I am humbled by women. To observe their struggles, sometimes amidst poverty and suppression, has caused me great angst and reflection. As a 22-year-old young woman, I worked under the auspices of the United Nations in refugee camps in the Philippines and Thailand. It is estimated that 90% of the Vietnamese female refugees in those refugee camps were sexually abused after they escaped. I remember one Vietnamese family who was my friend coming to me in tears. They were inconsolable because they did not know how to find their young 15-year-old niece who had been taken by Thai pirates on the choppy waves in the South China Sea. This was in the 1980s, and we still have a long way to go before women are safe in this world. Women still are vulnerable. We must all work together to give women education, protection from sexual trafficking, and help alleviate poverty. We must do all we can to prevent the sabotaging of women.

Wherever women reside, whether it be in small villages or large cities, women make magic happen. When they gather together to serve, nurture, and work together, communities are transformed. Abigail Adams (Marmee), the mother of the beloved American author, Louisa M. Alcott, instructed her daughters, "Educate yourself up to your senses. Be something in yourself.  Let the world know you are alive. Push boldly off.  Have heads full of new and larger ideas. And proceed to the great work of humanity." Wherever we reside in the world, we as women must decide to be the spark that elevates--in education, health, culture, and yes, in laughter too. And we must lift one another, each and every one, wherever we live in this world.

In ancient Greece, the Olympics began with a race called the Lampadedromia, a relay where runners ran on foot, day and night, to bring a lit torch to the gods--to announce the beginning of the Olympics. The bright, emblazoning flame on the torch needed to remain if the relay was to signify the start of the Olympics; it did not count if the flame had been extinguished. Each runner in the chain was considered a winner, even victorious, when the lit-up torch was presented at the end.

Just as in ancient Greece, we can all run together with a lit torch, wherever we are in the world, as fast and urgently as we can--to do good, to contribute, and change barriers that block progress. We are all winners; the race will never be a solo marathon. Everyone, man and woman alike, must unite to bring back a lit torch to the finish. We must gather all the light we can along the way. Ancient Greeks believed that the successful delivery of the lit-up torch was akin to giving a gift to the next generation. I pledge in my own sphere of possibilities to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

In Alexandria, Egypt, a young woman is in a mime theatre training program. She is preforming in front of the new, modern Library of Alexandria. It is exhilarating when women excavate and find their talents. 
Last June we celebrated Le Fete des Voisins in Le Tronquay, France, a small village. The mayor, Patricia Gady Duquesne, believes in building strong villages and neighborhoods. It is remarkable to be around a woman who has vision, passion, and desire to make her community better. She can work miracles. Blog about Celebrating a Village Picnic
Dr. Maie, an Egyptian pediatrician, became a special education teacher when her son was born with special needs. Her generous expertise and love have blessed my son with autism. Blog about Meet My Mother Teresa

A woman in Egypt who supports her family by making bread.

Sister Alice Eugene Tighe, a Catholic nun, died at age 97. Sister Alice received a Ph.D. in musical therapy from the University of Michigan. She helped to bring several students to Julliard on scholarship who would not have had the chance otherwise. For seven decades of her life, she taught music to the lucky students who were able to sit next to her on the piano bench. Several of my children received lessons from her, forever changing their lives. My daughter, Sarah, would receive several free piano lessons from her as she prepared for piano competitions. Sister Alice then would jump into our family van to attend piano competitions in other states. She gave several generations of children a love of music, never tiring of sharing her love for it. My children were her children. When I asked her to take the money for the lessons, she just replied, "Give any money you would give to me for autism research"--since my son had just been diagnosed with autism. Although I am not of her faith, she always was praying for me. When my grandmothers died, she became my grandma. 
My own mother, Paula Haymond Myres, with one of her 54 grandchildren. I am the oldest of nine children, but my mother has loved hundreds and hundreds of children. I am grateful for the constant love she shares with everyone around her. She brings gentle patience, a quick laugh, and kind encouragement to every exchange and encounter. Everyone needs to be the recipient of such love in their lives. We, women, have the power to do that--to fill in the gaps for others when their mothers are not there.

A woman in Istanbul making bread. I always love to see women proud of what they are doing...

A young Egyptian girl with Down's Syndrome lives in Cairo. Isn't she beautiful? Women with special needs must be given dignity, education, and jobs. We must remember the women who do not have a voice.

This is a picture of a Qatari woman I met soon after I moved to Qatar. An Icelandic friend is behind us. We are represented from all over the world, and guess what? We love each other. Blog about a Qatari Farm

At an international fair in Doha, Qatar where some Japanese mothers are sharing about their culture. I am always amazed at the women who grow up in a language and culture, and then leave their home countries for education, marriage, and other opportunities. Their courage to permanently leave their homelands shows so much pluck and resilience.

Women who love care about who came before them. Here is a picture of Helen, from Australia, when we were in Gallipoli. She desperately wanted to find her ancestors who fought in that battle and had been buried there. Strong women care about the past and want to transmit those strengths to the next generation. A Blog about Gallipoli

As I have traveled all over the world, I am always amazed that I can have so much fun with people who do not speak my language. This is a picture in Jerash, Jordan (some Roman ruins north of Amman). There were some bagpipers who were playing in the amphitheater, and we just spontaneously all started dancing together. The world is full of lively women with spunk and zest. 

I was so impressed with this family at the recent Paralympics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Pictured is Samantha Kinghorn, from Scotland. Her mum told me she lost her legs in an accident when she was 14. I will never forget the moment when she finished the bronze in the Women's 200-meter T-54. When life gives us thorny trials, we keep going, and our encouragement and support is immeasurable. Blog about Paralympics

A happy moment climbing Mt Esta, Iceland with my cousin, Karolina Gudmundsdottir. She is sharing a special moment with her triplets. Her happiness as we trekked in the beautiful nature around us, with her children in tow at 3 am,  (the time this picture was taken ) was infectious. Karolina could lead thousands up mountains, and everyone would be cheery and happy in the march.

A picture of my daughter in a recent trip we took to Hoi An, Vietnam. On Christmas Day, we played with and held orphans. Sometimes all you can do is to love, even if it is for a short time--especially for those who have no voice. It is women who often hold those who suffer most in this world.

Here is Meak Chy, an illiterate Cambodian woman in her 80s who I taught in the refugee camps. In a place of misery and fear, a refugee camp, she could routinely make 1,000 Cambodian refugees in a large pavilion explode with laughter. Her gift of laughter enlivened everyone around her. Blog post about Jidon, my Cambodian grandma

Here is a woman from Iraq who wanted to get a picture of me at a recent soccer game I attended in Qatar. Japan and Iraq were playing against one another. I am always struck by how geopolitical conflicts have no bearing on friendships. Why do we obstruct potential relationships because our countries, families, or faiths are different? We miss out on so much understanding and goodwill when we block our hearts and love. 

Nafi, my friend from Ghana. Her gift of creativity lights up my life. She is an architect, an artist, and writes children's stories about African folklore. When I am with her, she inspires me to be more creative. Here is her story about the Parable of the necklaces

On a recent trip to an Indian village in Adasarlapadu, India (in the district of Khammam),  I was touched by this woman's love for her mother at a wedding that we attended. Everyone was talking about this woman, this grandmother, neighbor, or loved one who had passed away. They missed her. Although she is anonymous and unknown to almost anyone outside of this village, she had a huge impact on the lives there. The pictures of loved ones, in the simplest of homes, were in the most prominent positions. No one can underestimate the ripples of love that one can share; they can last for generations.
While on a recent trip to Vietnam, I noticed how hard the women worked. Everywhere they carried their load. I saw women, many even in their 60s who were on road crews shoveling rocks and dirt. Often times they shared a warm smile as they carried their burdens. I was moved and impressed by their inner strength and resilience.
A quick laugh shared by some Relief Society friends, Betty from Nigeria, and Manu from New Zealand. One of my favorite parts of Relief Society is sharing lives with women from all over the world--of every stage and age. To see women gather, especially from various cultures, heartens my soul every time. If given the chance, women can do anything. That is why not one woman, young or old, should ever have their talents and gifts squelched. The world needs every single woman to lead, love, and laugh.
A picture of my husband's grandmother who went to New York City to become a nurse in 1916 from Utah. All of her life and she lived to be 103, she lived to heal other's wounds. As a woman who lived in a small Wyoming town for much of her life, she delivered hundreds of babies when the doctor was not available. She ran a clinic from her home, with payment of eggs and bread. She sewed on fingers, gave anesthesia, and helped with burns--volunteering during the bottom of the Depression. She befriended the local Indian tribe, sharing their ancient herbal remedies with others. No one can measure the education of a woman. It just keeps growing through generations, as evidenced by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We were captivated in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to see some women in a tuk-tuk. If you look very closely, you can see the woman is bringing her new baby home from the hospital. I loved this picture, with its joyous faces. 
These are my dear neighbors. I drove them to the airport when they were going to Mecca. On the way to the airport, my friend lovingly said to me, "You know, I always pray for you. What would you like for me to pray for you in Mecca?" I told her, "My children, my family,..." And then she said, "I will pray that we will always be eternal sisters." A Blog post called Unexpected Sisters


  1. Thank you Maryan's for the loving tributes and pictures of some of the great women that have nurtured you. I love you! You have a powerful way of loving all you meet as you are ever learning from each, Thank you my Sister, my friend.
    Mary Shumway Halsey

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