Before you read a word, please watch the film above. It features one of the more exciting projects I have heard about in years.
Okay? Watched it? If you did, you saw the future—empowered women from around the world reaching out through the internet to tell their stories. We are talking women living in ghastly poverty, enslaved women, castrated women, refugees, prisoners, women who have had their breasts crushed by their own mothers under the mis-guided assumption that those deformed glands will make their child less likely to be raped. Women who are rarely seen, and never heard.
Jensine Larsen started World Pulse in 2004 so that everyone could hear these stories. But simply hearing was not good enough. In 2007, Jensine started Pulsewire - an interactive web site which links women and their stories to one another. For the first time ever, women from around the world have a way to be heard. Ordinary women have become citizen journalists, sitting in internet cafe's and reporting on their lives and realities. They are not stories you hear from the mouths of the well coiffed cuties on FOX/CNN. This is real, pure and empowering truth, and through it women have been able to find real, pure and empowering solutions. Jensine Larsen was just one of the remarkable women I had the honor to meet and listen to at the Muse Conference in Bend, Oregon yesterday.
The conference was the brainchild of Bend resident Amanda Stuermer, a yoga teacher and social activist who was so energized after attending the Women in the World Summit in New York City last year, that she came home and motivated her friends to create their own conference.
After Jensine, the woman Oprah Winfrey says is her, "favorite all time guest," took the stage. As a female child, Dr. Tererai Trent, a native of Zimbabwe, had the audacity to want an education—to simply sit at a desk, raise her hand and ask a question was her dream. But girls were not educated in her village. Why would they be? They would just be married off and leave the community. There was nothing to be gained for those left behind. And that is just what happened to Tererai. At age 11 she was married to an older, abusive man. By age 18 she had given birth to three children. An impossible situation to escape. Yet, Tererai does. She and her family end up in the United States where she raises her children in a trailer without electricity or running water. She works three jobs, and she earns her Bachelors, her Masters and her PhD in Interdisciplinary Evaluation. She is one of those women whose voice sounds like tumbling water, and as is flowed over me I felt cleansed of any notion of can't or shouldn't. Excuses, I understood, are cowardly things.
It was more than just an honor to be a keynote presenter among these women. It felt like I had been invited into a world where hope and vision are true flames, warming the cold air of apathy and indifference.
After the conference, the speakers attended a dinner. There, Tererai leaned into me and said the key to her achieving her dream was to refuse to be a victim. Instead, she said, "I swam to the other side of the river and became a 'conqueror'."
Today, through Oprah Winfrey and Tererai's work, a new school stands where the old "boys" school once stood. There are more teachers, and equipment, and most pleasing to Tererai, girls are sitting at those desks and asking questions. Many of them may one day be writing reports on Pulsewire, reaching out, finding community, defining answers. This is the future. And they, like all the women I met yesterday, are conquerors.