Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Life in a Jar

Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.

-Irena Sendler

For an aged woman of 91 at the time of her death, Irena Sendler had seen firsthand more despair, hatred and injustice than most of us can see in a lifetime. A polish woman growing up in Warsaw and the surrounding areas Irena was submerged in the anti-semitic culture of Europe during the Holocaust. Her life was normal from the outside looking in, and she seemed to be the average young polish woman who just wanted to pursue a nursing career so she could follow in her father’s footsteps by being part of the medical field… she was anything but that.

Her father not only passed along his love for medicine but also a deeply rooted belief that all person’s have dignity and that if you see a person drowning, “must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim.” Irena took that wisdom to heart and as the Holocaust raged more and more inhuman each day she decided she would no longer stand against justice by doing nothing.

Irena’s fight for the Jewish people started in 1939 when she and her tiny army of fighters created fake documents for many Jews living in Poland. Her fight did not end there though, by the end of 1942 Irena had successfully smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto either by traveling through the sewer systems or hiding the very young ones in her medical bag.

The life of this polish woman is not just a story about doing what is right or even about finding justice for others, it is a story that drips with a desire to see all of humanity live with dignity. She did not see the Jewish people as a lesser race, she did not find them distasteful or deserving of death- she saw people, in need of what she could offer.

Irena speaks about her experiences during World War II as if she were not a hero, many quotes you find from her talk about how she is just the opposite. A person who did not do something extraordinary, but one who did something that should be very ordinary.

How are we, as ordinary people, doing ordinary things… make an extraordinary difference? Irena saved the lives of thousand of children, careful to write down their names, their parents names and where they were going and then protected that information, she buried her jars of thin tissue paper under apple trees. This allows to look back on to see the impact… the lives of thousands and thousands of people are now changed forever… because someone did something ordinary.

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Life in a Jar

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Freedom from Fear

It would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear.

-Aung San Suu Kyi


It could be partly due to the fact that I’ve been to Burma, or that I have a deep connection to the fight against oppression that I consider Aung San Suu Kyi to be one of the most important and influential women to be recognized in the last century. But, I would say beyond my own personal bias there is a deep reverence and respect for this woman who has battled hardship and prejudice for most of her life simply because she has decided to fight for something she believes in.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San who founded the modern Burmese army and is responsible for liberating Burma from the British Empire when Suu Kyi was just 2 years old.  Following in her fathers footsteps she pursued politics after obtaining very reputable degrees and returned to Burma to fight for independence.

Burma is buddhist country that is still enveloped in the darkness of spirituality, political oppression and military rule. Their approach to socialism has been described as  ‘an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic’ by Newsweek. Overall the country has lived in severe poverty, unrest and a superstitious mentality that rules even their government.

Suu Kyi recognized the oppression that the government placed on its people and she decided that she did not have to remain silent about her desire for a democratic country, but instead speak out for it. One of her most recognized quotes is:

“You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.”

While many people will find quaint ways of saying what they believe, rarely will you find a person that puts their life behind their words. Suu Kyi has done just that, spending 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest for speaking out against the governmental powers and asking for democracy and freedom for her people. She is looked to as a national hero by the Burmese people, a model of inspiration for those who still suffer oppression, a picture of dignity who does not use her gender as an excuse for women who don’t have a voice, and an activist that has not stopped in the face of threats, hardships and dangers for those who desire to see change.

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a politician, an activist, a woman… she has changed the world through her commitment to action against oppression.

“I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without endeavor”

 


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Filed under Causes, Human Interest, Women's History Month