Fire and Spark

Three words—You will survive—written by former Buddhist monk and best-selling author Jack Kornfield gave us hope during dark times. Dr. Kornfield states that we are never alone no matter our circumstances, because thousands of generations before us were survivors. They carried the lamp of humanity through difficult times and passed it on from one generation to the next. He points out that the same spirit that carried Nelson Mandela through years of imprisonment or survivors of the Holocaust through years of torture resides within each of us.

Extraordinary human beings shine a light in the darkness. Their stories help us realize that we were designed for all of the ups and downs that life holds for us. Their fire can tap a spark within us. Paola Gianturco is one such extraordinary woman who is helping to illuminate a dark world.

Paola Gianturco was among the first female executives at advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi. She also co-developed the Executive Institutes on Women and Leadership at Stanford University, where Michealene met her when she participated in her course. After thirty-five years in corporate America, Paola decided to take a year off and focus only on what she loved—photography and travel. She wanted to learn about women in the developing world. Paola says she had no idea that she would begin a second career at the age of fifty-five by becoming an internationally acclaimed photojournalist and author. Today, at age seventy-eight, she has written many best-selling and award-winning books, among them Women Who Light the Dark, Wonder Girls Changing Our World, and Grandmother Power—A Global Phenomenon.

Frequent Flyer

Paola launched a new chapter in her life with the 3 million frequent flyer miles she and her husband had accumulated in the course of their careers. Those miles fueled her travels and assisted her in introducing the world to women and girls who are changing the future for their families. Paola reminds us that these women and girls are among the most vulnerable and the least literate and yet they have imagination and determination that lights the darkness in the midst of intractable problems.

In Africa, Paola documented the work of women and girls in rural Kenya, where there is no national water infrastructure. Young girls often walk seven hours each day to find water and bring it back for their families. Paola talks about Norma Audion Bois, who had searched for water for most of her life. She decided to start an NGO that now includes forty-three local women’s groups whose work it is to get wells dug in schoolyards. Children can now wash their hands, preventing deadly disease, and girls are in school instead of searching for water.

In Senegal, Paola met grandmothers who were horrified that their daughters were dying in childbirth as a result of hemorrhaging from female genital mutilation. The grandmothers were determined to stop this practice, but it wasn’t easy. Over a three-year period spent meeting with elders, religious figures, and community leaders, the grandmothers began conversations about good traditional practices that should be sustained. They also asked that everyone think about bad traditions that should be changed or abolished. Through wise conversations, the grandmothers gently persuaded over twenty villages to abandon female genital mutilation and child marriage.

No Emotion Is Ever Final

Paola is still traveling and photographing women from all over the world. She catches them in the acts of enhancing education, health, equality, and the environment. They are stopping child marriage, domestic violence, human trafficking, and war. She points to a hand-painted mural on her office wall that reads: No emotion is ever final. “I’ve discovered that women can always find a way to use their pain, their suffering, and their losses to channel it all into ways that help the world move forward,” she explains. “When you meet a grandmother in an African village who is caring for her twelve AIDS-infected grandchildren because all five of her children have died from the disease, it’s difficult to wallow in your own misery. There are women and young girls all over the world with very few resources or support who are doing miraculous work. Their courage is always contagious.”