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Two women......each in very different worlds and with differing lives

It ought to give us pause for reflection that whilst there are doubtlessly many poor people in the West, and other parts of the world, there are also significant numbers of people who are beyond poor - on a multitude of levels.      This latest op-piece for The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof puts things into sharp focus and context.   Two women.... with totally different lives.

"Readers often ask: Why do I travel to places like Sudan or Myanmar when we Americans have so many challenges at home to worry about?

As Janessa put it on my Facebook page: “Shouldn’t we take care of the issues within our own borders BEFORE we try and fix everyone else’s?”

It’s a fair question, and it comes up often now. We’re weary with the world, and so many humanitarian problems seem insoluble. We’re ready to turn inward.

Yet perhaps an encounter last month in Myanmar on my annual “win-a-trip” journey, with a college student in tow, can help answer the question.

The winner of my contest this year was Nicole Sganga, a 20-year-old Notre Dame student. One day, we hiked into the remote village of Yae Thay, far from any road, and we met a woman named Sajan, also 20.

We stopped and chatted, meeting her children and talking about her aspirations. Nicole and Sajan are both bright, hard-working and fun-loving, and they got along well. But their lives could not be more different — a reflection of the lottery of birth.

While Nicole grew up in a middle-class family on Long Island, N.Y., thriving in school, Sajan dropped out at age 10 when her father died. “I couldn’t afford to go to school after that,” she explained.

Sajan, a model of resourcefulness, resilience and tenacity, became a cook to fishermen and married at 13, traded for a bride price of one cow. She has two daughters whom she aims to send to high school, but she wants sons because, she explained, “a boy is better than a girl.”

She has never seen a dentist. She wears lipstick but has no television, no radio and even no electricity. She has never ridden in a car, and she doesn’t have a bicycle to get around. Her wardrobe consists of two sarongs and four tops, but no shoes or sandals; she goes barefoot.

Sajan says she can leave the home only with her husband’s permission. She loves her husband but declined to say whether he beats her. She added reflectively that a husband should beat his wife if she disobeys him.

Nicole told Sajan bluntly that she didn’t intend to marry until at least the age of 30. We wondered if Sajan would disdain such a lifestyle, but she immediately said: “I’d like to trade with you.”

She also estimated that a highly educated young woman like Nicole would get a huge bride price — at least five cows. That was perhaps a sign of the premium villagers place on educated girls."


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