Inspirational Woman Of The Day: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Inspirational Woman Of The Day: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

A Message From The Creator

A Message From The Creator

Women’s News: Familiar Balancing Acts: Conversations with the Women We Know Best

Women’s News: Familiar Balancing Acts: Conversations with the Women We Know Best

Helping Teen Moms: Giving teen moms the tools to change their lives

Helping Teen Moms: Giving teen moms the tools to change their lives

Helping Teen Moms: Giving teen moms the tools to change their lives

By Kathleen Toner, CNN

Cartagena, Colombia (CNN) — When a 12-day-old boy died in her arms, Catalina Escobar was devastated.

She was working as a volunteer in the maternity clinic at one of the largest hospitals in Cartagena, Colombia. At that time — October 2000 — such incidents weren’t that unusual; on average, at least one infant a day died at the overcrowded and underfunded facility. But when Escobar learned that the baby’s teenage mother had not been able to raise the money for treatment that would’ve saved his life, she was crushed.

“His mother [needed] $30 that I had in my pocket. I will never forget that,” she said. “It was a preventable death.”

Less than a week later, Escobar endured another, more personal loss: her second son, 16-month-old Juan Felipe, died in a tragic accident when he fell from the balcony of her home. She was overwhelmed by grief.

“It was agony,” said Escobar. “I didn’t want any mother to feel the same pain, so … I took action.”

The successful businesswoman sold her international trading company and dedicated herself to helping the city’s most impoverished children and their young mothers. In the last 10 years, her Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation — named for her late son — has brought health care to tens of thousands of children in Cartagena and provided more than 2,000 teenage mothers withcounseling, education and job training.

Do you know a hero? Nominations for 2012 Heroes close August 31

At first, Escobar focused on lowering the infant mortality rate at the hospital where she’d volunteered. It was more than double the national average. She built a state-of-the-art neo-natal unit, brought in experts to train the clinic’s staff and established a program to cover the medical costs for babies born to impoverished mothers. Five years later, the rate of infant deaths at the hospital had dropped 67%.

From the start, Escobar noticed that 70% of the mothers she was working with were between the ages of 14 and 16. Most lived in the slums outside of the city, which have grown during the last decadeas people have fled violence in the northern areas of the country.

“You see these girls, [with] their tiny faces … they’re babies holding babies,” said Escobar, 42.

She realized that the only way to ensure the long-term health of the children was to enable these teenage girls to break the cycle of poverty.

“When a girl gets pregnant, she drops out of school. … Next year, she’s going to be pregnant again,” Escobar said. “She’s repeating the same patterns of the mother, the grandmother.”

The Colombian government reports that nearly 20% of girls between15 and 19 years old are or have been pregnant — nearly triple the U.S. rate. In Cartagena, where one-third of residents live at or below the poverty line, it’s an equation that means these young mothers have very little chance of improving their lives.

Escobar is hoping to change that through her teen mothers program, which aims to teach young women how to support themselves and their children. It started with just 30 girls in 2002, but it has expanded in the last decade. With the opening of her foundation’s new center last year, 400 pregnant teens and young mothers now enroll every year.

Built in one of the city’s many slums, the center is an elegant, modern structure, equipped with a daycare, medical center, cafeteria and classrooms. It’s light years away from the impoverished world of these teen mothers. For Escobar, that’s the whole point.

“When they come here, this is a piece of heaven [on] Earth,” she said. “They deserve the very best.”

Read about the CNN Heroes of 2012

For the first year, young mothers come to the center every weekday, leaving their babies at the daycare while they attend classes. They receive instruction on basic hygiene — many have never encountered indoor plumbing before — and learn how to care for their infants. Because food is often scarce at home, the girls also receive a hearty hot lunch.

During the first six months, the teens take part in therapy sessions to help them understand their new reality and responsibilities. Escobar says that many of the teens she’s worked with have been victims of rape and sexual abuse, so counselors work intensively with each girl. The goal is to help them come to terms with their past so they can focus on the future.

The center also teaches teenage mothers about reproductive health and contraception.

“Girls tell me they don’t understand how they got pregnant. They think it’s from a kiss,” Escobar said. “They don’t know that the option of using condoms exists.”

While the program aims to prevent future pregnancies, Escobar also wants to give these young mothers the tools they need to change their lives. The girls can finish high school on site, take computer classes or learn vocational skills like sewing or jewelry-making. The teens also make and sell products at the center’s bakery, which helps fund the program, and the foundation offers micro-loans to help them start their own businesses.

The program also helps mothers find jobs or provides them scholarships to help them continue their education at a trade school or university. The teens return to the center every week so Escobar’s staff can track their progress and assist with any problems. Within two to four years, Escobar wants her girls to be providing for their families and be on their way to a better life. She says that two-thirds of those who’ve completed the program have gone on to find jobs.

“I want my girls to be empowered,” she said. “Earning money provides them with independence and allows them to gain back control of their lives.”

That’s exactly what Yerlis Bautista has been able to do. She dropped out of school when she got pregnant at 16, but through Escobar’s foundation, she enrolled in a beauty salon course. She recently earned her diploma, an accomplishment that makes her glow with pride.

“I feel great, since I was able to accomplish a goal that I had wanted,” Bautista said. “Now I am working in the best beauty salon … earning a good salary.”

She said Escobar and the program gave her a new outlook on life.

“It is better to go forward with my future, to not just sit around like other girls,” she said. “Because I have been a fighter, I have found a better future for my child. … I will keep fighting so he can have everything.”

Escobar believes that attitude change is what will help these young mothers have long-term success. For her, each girl she helps is cause for celebration.

“These teen mothers are my own daughters,” Escobar said. “When they get here and they make it through, I feel so proud of them.”

Escobar is always looking for more ways to have more impact. In 2005, she established a medical clinic that has provided health care to more than 84,000 low-income residents of the community — mostly young mothers and their children. And she’s planning to build an early childhood education center where the girls can bring their children ages 1-5. In the coming years, she is hoping to expand her program throughout Colombia.

While Escobar has accomplished a great deal in the last decade, one thing is clear: Her personal war on poverty has just begun.

“I’m so passionate about it because we are seeing progress. … We are changing the lives of these girls,” Escobar said. “I wake up every single morning thinking, ‘What else can I do to help them?’ ”

Want to get involved? Check out the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation website at and see how to help.

A Message From The Creator

Inspirational Woman Of The Day: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Cristina Elisabeth Fernández was born on February 19th, 1953 in La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the 1970’s she attended the National University of La Plata where she studied law and politics. While at the university she met Néstor Carlos Kirchner, whom she married on March 9th, 1975. The couple had their first child, Máximo, in 1977, and their second child, Florencia, en 1980.

During the 1970’s, when Argentina was under the authoritarian rule, Kirchner was involved in the Peronist Youth movement, but dropped out of politics to focus solely on law in Río Gallegos during the national political reorganization process. She reentered the political realm however in 1989, when she was elected to the Santa Cruz Province provincial legislature – “a position to which she was re-elected in 1993.” The subsequent years proved to be very successful for Kirchner’s politicalcareer: in 1995, Kirchner was elected to represent Santa Cruz in Argentine senate; in 1997, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the national congress); and in 2001, she, once again, was elected to the senate.

While Cristina’s political career was flourishing, so was Néstor’s. In 2003, amidst an economic, social, and political crisis, Néstor ran for president against two other Justicialist candidates and the president at the time, Carlos Saúl Menem. After a long and at times disputed campaign, Néstor won the presidency and was inaugurated on May 25th, 2003.

Throughout her husband’s term, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proved to be not only a decisive politician, but also a key member in gaining support from the Argentine population. For this reason, “she was the main candidate for Senator of the Front for Victory faction of her party in the province of Buenos Aires, [during] the October 2005 elections…Kirchner won the elections by a 25 percent margin” † over Hilda González de Duhalde, the other candidate.

In 2007, Néstor decided not to run for reelection, but rather, he decided to support Cristina’s run for the presidency. The campaign proved to be very successful for Cristina – she not only won the presidency, but beat her nearest opponent, Elisa Carrió, by 22 percentage points.

On December 10th, 2007, when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was inaugurated, she became the first elected female president – Argentina’s first female president was Isabel Martínez de Perón became president after her husband, Juan Perón, died while in office.


Women’s News: Familiar Balancing Acts: Conversations with the Women We Know Best

Emma Sokoloff

Researcher, Freelance Writer

I don’t know firsthand what it’s like to balance work and family — I graduated from college last year — but I bet there’s no hard-and-fast, works-every-time rule. There’s no one article that will tell us exactly how to fill the many roles we envision for ourselves. There are stories and insights that guide our decisions. We glean them from articles and lectures and observations, and, as with the insights and stories that shape many decisions we face, we hear them from people we already know and trust. The conversation sparked by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” struck a chord with many of us in our early twenties who hope to have a family and a career someday. My friends and I are still talking about the article. The public conversation it sparked may be quieting, but we’re not ready to let this topic go. By asking the people we know best how this balance has played out for them, we can widen the conversation and keep it going strong.

Kids still seem far off to me, though I know I want a family. Work feels immediate, exciting and I change my mind almost daily about what work I want to do long-term. After graduating from college last year, I moved to south Texas and ran an outreach program for a legal aid center along the border, and now I’m in Argentina on a year-long research fellowship. I don’t know what’s up next. Examples to which I might turn for the decisions I face now, the fairer workplace policies for which I could fight and the balance I’ll work to strike someday catch my attention. Slaughter’s article told one important story. I wanted to hear more, and I wanted to hear from the women whose efforts to balance the careers and families they love I’ve observed my whole life.

I started with my mom. She knew from before she can remember that she wanted to have a career and have kids. Managing both, she has found, isn’t something you learn to do once. It’s something you figure out as you go. “This balancing act is at the center of our lives,” she said. My mom works full-time as a child psychiatrist in Amherst, Massachusetts, and my dad commutes to teach at Boston University, an hour and a half away. They said it’s harder than they expected to divide household responsibilities equally. I thought back to the countless nights I’ve watched them plan the next day and realized that in those moments, I was watching them try. I was watching them figure out together how to coordinate their work schedules with carpools for three daughters, babysitters, clarinet lessons, family dinners and house cleaning in a way that didn’t leave one person always in charge.

I grew up with parents who were equally likely to make dinner or pick me up at school. Showing me that such a relationship is possible and being honest that it hasn’t been straightforward or comfortable each step of the way are two of their greatest gifts to me.

My writing professor from Yale and her husband, also a writer, take turns writing books and working jobs with salaries and benefits that support the family. Together, she said, they’ve raised two children and written six books. She can’t write and teach and cook and spend time with her kids as much as she’d like to all in one day. But over days, weeks and in some cases years, the different pieces have fallen into place. “We have progressed sort of in parallel,” she said, shifting responsibilities so that as a couple they are the writers and parents they want to be.

My mom’s childhood friend said that even with a partner who “values your family the way you do, and values your career the way he values his career,” there are moments when dedication and almost boundless energy aren’t enough. There will be many days you leave work earlier than you’d like. At some point you will miss a school event. This balance won’t be one you figure out in advance; it’s something you’ll tweak day after day after year. With varied examples and turns of phrase, everyone I talked to said that being both the parent and writer or doctor or professor or whatever you want to be is exhilarating and unquestionably worth it and still difficult and messy.

A couple I’ve known since I was born said that when they were my age, they thought everything needed to be symmetrical in their marriage to be equal — jobs of equal prestige, equal contributions of time at home. In the end, his work allowed for more time at home than hers, and that helped them build the family and community life they wanted. They’ve come to see the options for ambitious couples in a more open-ended way and don’t think two high powered careers should be the goal for every family.

I asked my mom what she would want her younger self to know. Her response came as a hope for my sisters and me: that we will notice all the things we are pulling off, and not just the places we’re coming up short. Keep dreaming as big as you do now, I heard her saying, and don’t work any less hard, but know in those moments you feel pulled in many directions that you aren’t necessarily doing something wrong.

So maybe the goal isn’t flawlessness. Maybe the goal is giving it your all. When I was in high school, Mom worked until nine or ten on Mondays, and I often sat with her while she ate dinner. I learned about her profession, but more than that, in these in-between moments I got a sense of how she approached her work and what it meant to her. When my boyfriend and I interviewed his mom together, she described a smiling, briefcase-carrying woman he had drawn on a welcome-home sign when he was 6-years-old. She had been away on several business trips that month. “I was feeling conflicted and guilty about my absence,” she said, “although very stimulated and happy as a journalist.” Seeing the picture her son drew of his working mom, she remembers realizing that “kids really care if their mom is excited and happy about what she’s doing,” and that her work contributes to her family beyond the income it provides.

I don’t know what stories I’ll be telling in thirty years. The stories I heard from family and friends will stick with me because I already know the cast of characters, and because the experiences and reflections people described don’t add up to a single answer or plan. Everyone I called had a lot to say, but no one tried to tell me what to do or pretended to know what the path forward will look like for women my age.

We face a world of enduring gender inequalities, but we have so many more professional women as role models than our mothers had. Some of them we hear from in articles or interviews on TV. Others we can just call. We’ve seen up close the way they handle this balancing act. We’ve seen them make mistakes. Whether or not they are the models we most want to follow, their perspectives will hit particularly close to home.

I called the people closest to me and heard one set of voices. There are so many more, and I’m curious to hear them. As we create pictures for ourselves of how the generations above us have built their lives, our pictures should include the women — and men — whose daily lives we’ve long observed, but who maybe we’ve never asked how they manage the many roles they play. It’s on us to start asking. We have the most at stake in the debate over having it all and what that even means. We have so many decisions still to make.


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