Remarkable Women 2011: Worldly Women
As our world grows smaller and more interdependent, global events reverberate even here in the secluded shire of the Granite State. Never before has the cry for global understanding, outreach and activism been more passionate.
As our world grows smaller and more interdependent, global events reverberate even here in the secluded shire of the Granite State. Never before has the cry for global understanding, outreach and activism been more passionate. Never before has a woman’s role in world affairs been more critical. Meet some New Hampshire Women of the World who are already heeding the call.
This year's women:
Eleanor Briggs travels the world capturing wild animals with her Canon camera.
Eleanor Briggs Phoenix Studio
"Part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson" - that’s how one writer describes Sy Montgomery and the description surely is apt. In her travels around the world she’s had many experiences worthy of Hollywood - working in a pit filled with snakes in Manitoba, swimming with piranhas in the Amazon, being hunted by a tiger in India and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica - and then she’s returned to her home in Hancock, N.H., to write award-winning books about it all.
But the author/explorer designation doesn’t make clear the frame of her life and her work - her deep love of animals and her concern for the environment. "By the time I began to read newspapers," she says, "they were full of new words that terrified me - pollution, deforestation, overpopulation and species extinction."
She decided to devote her energies to making people understand "the thrill of being in the presence" of animals so they would want to protect them. To say she takes risks to do her work is an understatement, but she says it’s not scary, it’s thrilling: "The only thing I fear is not being good enough to tell this great story. That’s what I fear."
Gretchen Steidle Wallace says her life is inseparable from her work. "Global Grassroots is my creation and my calling," Wallace says of the nonprofit organization of which she is the founder and president. Whether making phone calls to Rwanda or spending time on site halfway across the world, Wallace is always focused on implementing what she refers to as "conscious social change" for underprivileged women.
Wallace prepared herself for starting Global Grassroots as a student, learning about international project finance and helping to start Tuck’s Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship at Dartmouth College. She worked with her brother, former Marine Captain Brian Steidle, to expose the genocide in Darfur through his book "The Devil Came on Horseback" and an award-winning documentary by the same name.
Because of their instability, developing countries are the most prone to such hideous developments as genocide, but they are also places where small movements have a chance to reap greater benefits than in well-entrenched social systems. "Global Grassroots works in areas where we try to find the most under-served women who have ideas for change," Wallace says. Providing leadership training with women who want to combat sexual violence and other gender-based injustices in their communities has produced encouraging results, and an estimated 3,000 people have come into contact with Global Grassroots programs since its establishment in 2004.
Driving through the "sparse arid beauty" of the deserts of Niger, the 4X4 kept coming upon people - people walking, driving animals and watering them by hand. "It was like turning a page upon a Bible scene," recalls Bess Palmisciano. "We just couldn’t imagine how they lived." Palmisciano has since learned a lot about the strengths and the needs of people who somehow thrive in the world’s poorest country. They are Muslim, but practice what she calls "a mellow Islam." Women have more freedom than in many Third World countries and the culture is "matrilineal," i.e. people trace their heritage through their mothers and women own the family home and have other property rights.
Rain for Sahel and Sahara
As a successful entrepreneur, Jackie Eastwood knows the secret of leadership: "You build it up and then get out of the way," she says. That’s why she retired from Salient Surgical Technologies, a company she founded and served as CEO until a couple of years ago.
Her latest entrepreneurial effort has led her to the urban depths of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she entices savvy street kids out of the alleys and gutters with an opportunity to attend school. Her organization, The Global Child, pays kids a dollar a day to attend classes and learn their lessons in both English and the local Khmer language. Part of the lesson plan is how to manage their stipend for home expenses and savings, so children are equipped to become citizens and leaders in the country’s fast-growing (though still impoverished) economy.
They did so well attracting students (one walked 15 miles from a dump where she was living) that it was soon apparent they would have to provide boarding as well. And in a city that is the center of the international sex trade, a house full of children is a dangerous lure. "We literally had to put up a sign that read ‘No pedophiles,’" says Eastwood.
The school has since relocated to the more tourist-oriented areas near the Angkor Wat temples, where they can even run a coffee shop and a boutique. Ultimately, Eastwood aspires to retire from the Global Child as well: "I’d like to see it run completely by the Cambodian people."
Senator Jeanne Shaheen is the first woman elected as N.H. governor and the first woman to be elected as both a state governor and a U.S. Senator, but her focus is now on global horizons. As the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, Shaheen has been involved with issues that have taken her to places as far flung as Afghanistan, Iraq, Brussels, Germany, Saudi Arabia, England and the Balkans. But she says her deep ties and experiences here in New Hampshire keep her grounded and provide perspective.
"Whether meeting with New Hampshire companies that export their goods abroad or visiting with our brave troops serving overseas, I am constantly reminded how important international relations are," says Shaheen. Her past experience in breaking a political "glass ceiling" does come into play in a global future. "We know that when women are full participants in society, nations have stronger economies and greater stability," she says. "In these turbulent times, promoting women’s rights is essential to building a safer world and a brighter future for our children."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Students looking to attend Plymouth State University receive some interesting advice from President Sara Jayne Steen: "Bring a laptop and a passport."
Under Steen’s leadership the university has expanded far beyond the borders of the Granite State. Numerous international programs that range from research to internships have forged an impressive array of global connections. PSU now has ties with China, India, the Czech Republic, Ireland, England, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Japan, France, Romania and many more.
Steen, who is a world traveler herself, believes that international education — whether that means working on an MBA in Shanghai or studying environmental science in New Zealand — will help students excel in a world that is increasingly connected.
It’s not just the students who have access to international opportunities — faculty members are just as involved both abroad and at home as teachers and researchers. "I’m very proud of the way the campus has embraced the importance of globalization," says Steen.
Though encouraged to travel, students are exposed to the world right at PSU as well. Thanks to the newly established English Language Services Center, the campus itself is home to 78 students from 17 different countries.
Plymouth State University