I feel lucky. I’ve spent the last two electric days mesmerized by the likes of the most incredible women in the world at Daily Beast’s Women in the World conference in NYC at Lincoln Center. I listened to the Honorable Hillary Clinton motivate the audience to get out there and fight for women’s rights on a grassroots level, Meryl Streep salute her idol Irish feminist Inez McCormack, Angelina Jolie salute Malala who loved wearing a pink dress and said “All I want is an education and I am afraid of no one” and got shot by the Taliban in the head, Tom Hanks salute the beloved writer Nora Ephron and heard from so many amazing women from around the world talk about one thing: WOMEN. From the rape situation in India to the lack of STEM education for girls around the world, the summit covered everything and left no stones unturned. There was bad news (about the rise of sex trafficking and how bad things are for women in countries like Egpyt, Syria, India, Africa and Libya), there was good news (like listening to the story of the founder of Spanx’s career and hearing stories about young Mothers of Invention). It was motivating, inspiring, mouth dropping. I came home feeling complete, like I have a mission.
The Women in the World Summit is centered on vivid journalistic storytelling, featuring inspiring women and men from diverse cultures and backgrounds. From CEOs and world leaders to artists, activists and firebrand dissidents, Women in the World tells the stories of the courageous and intelligent women who are battling the status quo in their countries, picking up the pieces in the aftermath of war and shattering glass ceilings in every sector. Hosted by Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek & The Daily Beast, the Women in the World Summit brings together leaders and activists from around the globe every year to address the most urgent challenges facing women and girls. Summit participants also included Dr. Hawa Abdi, Christiane Amanpour, Humaira Bachal, Chelsea Clinton, Diane von Furstenberg and Oprah Winfrey.
I will write more about the summit in the days to come as I heard countless stories that need to be retold. Right now I want to write about one story in particular.
I was invited by one of the sponsors, Liberty Mutual, as part of their Responsibility Project (www.TheResponsibilityProject.com), created in 2008, a program which uses entertaining content to create a forum for people to discuss personal acts of responsibility. Through short films and online content, The Responsibility Project is a catalyst for examining the decisions that confront people trying to “do the right thing.”
This year their they hosted a session on International and Special Needs Adoption. The panel featured a conversation with 18-year-old Michaela DePrince, a soloist with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Born amidst the chaos of civil war in Sierra Leone, Michaela was orphaned at four years old and ostracized by the community because of her vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of the skin. Joined by her adoptive-mother, Elaine DePrince, who after losing three children to hemophilia, was inspired by one of her five sons to help children in war-torn areas of Africa. Elaine and her husband, Charles, went on to adopt six girls from the continent, including Michaela and her “sister”. They were not related, but were adopted from the same orphanage where she was mistreated for her skin condition. “They called me ‘the devil’s child.’ I would always get the last serving of food, the last choice of toys and clothes,” she said. Watch this video of Michaela speaking about her life here.
On their first night together, Elaine found Michaela going through her luggage and wondered what she was looking for. Ballet shoes, of course. “She thought all American women danced on their toes,” her mother said.
There was a genuine love between the two and Elaine emphasized the gift of being able to adopt. She said, “I don’t love my adopted children any less than my adopted children.” She said that the 3 ingredients of making a good adoptive parent are: Love, realism and encouragement. I’ll apply these three to my own parenting style.
We were blessed with a dance performance by Michaela. It was like watching an angel, particularly after hearing about what she’d been through.
Rounding out the panel discussion was Dr. Jane Aronson, founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans, a nonprofit organization that provides direct services to orphaned children globally. Worldwide Orphans has reached more than 35,000 orphans, vulnerable children and those who care for them through health and education programs. She kicked off the session telling us that there are 153 million orphans around the globe and that each year millions of girls don’t have a home. As my heart break, she launched into a short monologue about the problem:
Children lie languishing in their cribs. Never held. Spoken to as they are fed. No ability how to self-regulate. As they reach for crib bars, they are in prison. In dark rocking back and forth. So they are alive.
And we must help. the first step involves taking a census of kids who are on the street, involved in trafficking and living in refugee camps.Dr. Aronson said the best way to help advocate for adoptees is to volunteer or donate to help kids who are in agencies or institutions.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Liberty Mutual at the Summit but all opinions are my own.