Isabel Allende writes novels about self-reliant women who thrive in the midst of political turmoil. In her passionate TEDTalk, Allende praises women whose grit and selflessness transform the meaning of modern feminism — mentioning, in particular, three women of rare courage: Wangari Maathai, Somaly Mam and Rose Mapendo. Watch Isabel Allende’s TEDTalk, then read what these women are doing now to change our world.
Wangari Maathai (find her at 4:09 in Allende’s talk) is the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. As Allende says, Maathai “planted 30 million trees, and by doing so she has changed the soil, the weather in some places in Africa — and, of course, the economic conditions in many villages.” Writing in a recent Harvard International Review, Maathai discusses the reasoning behind her crusade — her belief that the best way to achieve sustainable development is to empower local communities. Last week, Maathai was named co-chair of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, recipient of a £58 million grant from the British government for satellite monitoring of the Congo rainforest.
Somaly Mam (find her at 4:24) is “a Cambodian activist who fights passionately against child prostitution. … She told us of little girls raped by men who believed that having sex with a very young virgin will cure them of AIDS.” Somaly Mam’s grandfather sold her to a brothel when she was 15 years old; 11 years later, she established AFESIP, an NGO that has since rescued more than 4,000 young women from sexual slavery. Named Glamour’s 2006 Woman of the Year — and the subject of an astonishing profile by Marianne Pearl — Mam battles human trafficking by raising global awareness through the Somaly Mam Foundation. Her autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence, will be published in the US in September 2008.
Rose Mapendo (find her at 7:31) Mapendo, whose name in Swahili means “Great Love,” protected her nine children through 16 months in a Congo concentration camp. Allende tells the story: “When the soldiers break into [Mapendo’s] cell to rape her oldest daughter, she grabs onto her and refuses to let go, even when they hold a gun to her head.” Now settled in Phoenix, Arizona, Mapendo is the ambassador for Mapendo International, which evacuates and rehabilitates African refugees. Her efforts earned her the 2007 Grand Award from Volvo for Life, and last week she spoke at the White House to honor World Refugee Day. But Mapendo’s latest achievement may be the most personal; on Thursday, her organization tells TED, her parents will finally resettle in the US. Watch a trailer for the upcoming documentary about Mapendo’s struggle to reunite her family. — Karl Kong