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Dear --FNAME--,

In this time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we give you these first Giraffes of 2018, brave women whose stories remind us all of the courageous, compassionate actions of women far and wide.

More new Giraffes will hit your inbox in the next few days. Read them and take heart. Because as long as there are Giraffes, there's hope.
—Ann Medlock, Founder
 
 
 
 
 
Mary Anitha gave up a comfortable career and risked her health to assist disabled children in Kerala, India.

Armed with a Master’s in Business and a Doctorate in Management, Anitha was enjoying a successful career in business when she contracted tuberculosis.

She quickly discovered that Indian society—the government as well as the culture—does very little to support people with tuberculosis. She remembered a similar lack of support for disabled children, a cause she had worked on when she was a student.

When her health improved enough, she took 65 disabled kids on a field trip—which wasn’t quite legal—risking arrest if any of the children had been injured. It mattered to get the kids out into the world, Anitha felt, in a society that preferred they be invisible.

Anitha quit her job to devote all her time to repairing that situation, despite the strain on her health and the occasional stretching of laws. She sold all her jewelry to finance the creation of a nonprofit, CEFEE—the Centre for Empowerment and Enrichment—which now helps hundreds of thousands of people throughout Kerala.

As she says on CEFEE's website, “Our first and basic aim is to enable the disabled.”

And that she does.

The Black Mambas are an on-the-ground presence protecting wildlife in the Balule sector of South Africa’s huge Kruger National Park. It’s a place where the wild life can kill you and so can poachers, who get up to $60,000 a pound for rhino horns.

There are now 26 Black Mambas on patrol; 24 of them are women, an unheard of thing in South Africa.

The director of Transfrontier Africa remembers the initial reactions to the idea: “When we said we were going to hire women for an anti-poaching unit, all the old-school conservationists in the reserves surrounding us just laughed at us. They said it’s never going to work to have a woman doing this job, and within a year we proved them wrong.”

Unemployed local women were put through a three-month training regimen that included running three miles a day, learning surveillance practices, studying compliance techniques, using walkie-talkies, building shelters, and disabling snares that are designed to trap animals—not only rhinos, but also lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and, yes, giraffes, all of which are targets of poachers.

Ten months after Black Mambas began their patrols, other reserves had lost two dozen rhinos; Balule had lost none. Two years later, incidents of snaring and poaching in Balule had decreased by 76 percent. Poachers have been apprehended and arrested.

Black Mambas patrol for four hours at dawn and four hours at dusk; most walk about 12 miles a day. They set up road blocks. They conduct sweeps to look for snares. They search buildings. They are constantly in danger from poachers, their snares, and from wild animals.

Black Mambas report being surrounded by lions, charged by elephants, and threatened by poachers. A photographer who spent a week with them was filled with admiration: “They are risking their lives to conserve nature instead of exploiting it.”

Black Mambas also visit schools and do two important things: They teach the students about poaching, and they give the kids role models.

A 22-year-old Black Mamba sums it up the best: “I am proud to be a Black Mamba. Many people don’t know that a woman can do this job. We will show them that we can do it. We are proud of it.”


“If you don’t keep your mouth shut, you know what the consequences will be.”

Dr. Esperanza Cerón was supposed to go silent about—soft drinks. 

She leads an organization in Colombia, Educar Consumidores, that was promoting a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks. The Colombian legislature was preparing to vote on the tax. A large majority of Colombians were for it—70%. Thirty other countries had imposed such taxes. Yet legislators were balking. There were serious corporate profits at risk.

Cerón and her organization created a television ad that explained the health risks of sugar. After complaints from the largest Colombian soft-drink company, a government “consumer protection” agency told Cerón that the ad was misleading; “If you do it again," they said, "you’ll be fined a quarter of a million dollars"—this despite expert testimony that “Every fact and figure cited in that ad was backed up by mainstream science.”

Educar Consumidores employees were forbidden to speak publicly about the links between sugar and obesity. “We were completely shut down,” said Cerón. “Censored.”

Educar Consumidores had taken on other issues that affect Colombia’s citizens, including climate change, second-hand smoke, and potable water. Sugar was its most recent issue. And sugar is indeed a problem for Colombians. Sales of carbonated sugar drinks have climbed more than 25% in the past 15 years, compared to a 12% drop in the U.S. And obesity has—pardon the expression—ballooned. Every year, 4,000 Colombians from age 30 to 70 die from obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

After the shutdown, Dr. Cerón tried other tactics. In her blog, she made fun of an old soap opera called “Sugar.” She wrote, “It’s one thing to watch Sugar; it’s another to drink it in excess.” She was sued; if she loses, she’ll have to pay $300,000.

“If they win,” said Cerón, “I will be financially ruined.”

The physical threats have also continued. The office phones were bugged. Cerón’s personal phone ceased to work at all. The organization’s antivirus software was disabled. Spyware was found on their cell phones. “Shut up, you old wench,” said one caller at 5:00 AM. As she was walking to the gym, a man in a hoodie told her, “Keep your mouth shut.” When motorcyclists pounded on her car windows as she was heading home from work, Cerón stopped driving alone.

The Congress squelched the soda tax. But Colombia’s high court overturned the consumer agency’s decision to silence Educar Consumidores, ordering the government to “abstain from censoring any other ad related to public health in the future.”

“It was a great victory for free speech in Colombia,” said Cerón. But, she added, “The only pity is it came too late.”


Catherine Corless, a quiet, private person, risked ostracism by rocking civic and religious boats in her Irish town, a place that wanted its secrets left secret. She braved disapproval, scarce resources, and her own anxiety attacks to pursue the truth of a shocking history.

As a child, Corless had passed a place every day on the way to school, a home operated by nuns of the Sisters of Bon Secours for disgraced, unmarried Irish women and their “illegitimate” children, some of whom went to her school. The teachers and students shunned the kids from “The Home,” calling them children of the devil.

The institution was torn down in the 60s; Corless thought nothing more of it until she found in old records that her own late mother had been born out of wedlock.

She thought of the students from The Home and began looking further, investigating reports that small human bones had been unearthed near a statue of the Virgin Mary on the institution’s grounds. The police had said the bones were of famine victims.

Corless looked for records of deaths at the home; the Galway County records office charged her for every record they sent her; a shocking 796 reports of children who had died at Bon Secours in its 36 years of operation. But she found no graves for them anywhere in the County.

When she asked the nuns for information on these deaths, they stonewalled her. She told a reporter what she’d found and the mystery became world news. Some people dismissed her as “only a housewife,” unqualified to mount such a challenge. Government agencies refused to give her information because she has no degrees. Many people seemed simply indifferent to the deaths of the children and the disappearance of their bodies. They just wanted her to shut up.

The press coverage prompted the Irish government to start an inquiry and to send digging equipment into the area of the statue. A septic system was uncovered, with remains of small bodies in almost all its chambers.

A commission of the government announced determination to discover “who was responsible for the disposal of human remains this way.” The commission’s charge was broadened to looking into the operations of all the Church’s homes for “wayward” women and their children, including the now notorious Magdalene Laundries.

After braving crippling shyness to tell the story of Bon Secours in a BBC interview, Corless became the mentor to dozens of Irish men and women who have sought her out, looking for parents or children who disappeared in what has been called a “network of horrors.” She assists them in their searches, as always, taking no pay for her work.

 
 
      
 
 
 
 
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