• Catherine Hansen MD, MPH

The Value of a Little Girl

When I met Sandra we were about the same age. She had nine children, and I was a third-year Obstetrics and Gynecology resident spending time working in Sub-Saharan Africa. Five of her children were born to her, and four of them were the orphaned children of her late husband’s other wife whom she had taken in to care for when their mother died of AIDS. He met and married his second wife while still married to Sandra because she had contracted HIV—from him—and he wanted to secure his future when she died. Sandra had just had every material possession confiscated by her dead husband’s family because she refused to marry his brother, a condition of “buying and owning her in matrimony.” Possessing few skills, she worked at the Missionary hospital that had become my home for a month. She counted her blessings for the small wage she earned, though it wasn’t enough to feed her family. Sandra’s is not an isolated case—more than 800 million people worldwide are starving and without enough resources to feed themselves or their families.

Sandra’s story cut to my core and still haunts me to this day. I returned to my ob/gyn residency in our tertiary care hospital and listened, as intently as I could, to woman after woman confiding how they hated their lives. How they felt suffocated by their roles as mothers, as wives, as professional women encased in the drudgery of a nine-to-five existence. How they despised their bodies for the extra weight they carried, and wished their husbands were more attracted to them. Evenings found me at home crying for Sandra and her nine children who celebrated a bag of rice like they had won the lottery. I hurt for a mother who would likely die, leaving her children behind to fend for themselves in a culture that places very little value on human life, and even less on the life of a little girl (she had five daughters).

In the developing world, sixteen hundred girls and women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. These tragic deaths leave millions of children without mothers to love or care for them and, culturally, men don’t often pick up the slack, they simply move on to other wives. Many, mere children, are forced into sexual slavery as part of the economy of a nation that trades the body of a female for a paycheck. Sadly, we are not making a dent in this global issue. In 1998, when I met Sandra, there were approximately one million HIV orphans; now there are over ten million. This is just one of the ways we leave children vulnerable and easily preyed on by people ready to exploit their innocence. International estimates indicate almost 21 million children are victims of human trafficking—mostly young girls starting at the age of 12 to 14 years—to satisfy the greed and sexual perversions of men. All countries are represented in these statistics and Houston, Texas is a major hub.

I returned home from Africa and went immediately to work on a Master’s of Public Health at Johns Hopkins with a focus on International Maternal, Child and Women’s studies, and a plan to save the world. Then I met and married my husband. Many years, three children and too many sleepless nights put me into survival mode with my family. I’m embarrassed to admit I became one of those patients who had lost perspective, finding myself trapped by overwhelming to-do lists and an unrelenting need for professional accomplishment. I was exhausted, empty and alone. I had forgotten about Sandra. It tears me apart to imagine how many other female souls were ignored, discarded and thrown away during those years when I took for granted simple luxuries like food, water, clothing, shelter, and the blessing of a healthy family.

As I embark on new ventures to help, heal and support a Circle of women who leverage up-lift in their lives by utilizing our vast resources to face real challenges, I can’t help but wonder if part of our "treatment plan" could be extending a hand to women like Sandra.

What would be the personal impact of waking up to the global reality that half of the world lives on less than $2.50 per day and 22,000 children die daily due to poverty? What if we, as women and the “mothers” of our planet, were unable to ignore the agony our soul-sisters sustain, the victims of human trafficking, and the excruciating suffering endured by women and children everywhere? What if we truly believed we could make a difference in a woman’s life—would we do something? Of course we would!

If you’ve ever searched deep into your heart and extended a hand to someone in need, you already know the incredible sense of fulfillment and joy that comes from making a difference. It positively changes your life and, through a ripple effect that’s impossible to understand, it could also change the world, one worthy and deserving woman at a time.

When I met Carolina Batres, the time was ripe for me to re-awaken to my need to serve impoverished women. Sending money overseas in support of our sponsored children is a regular occurrence for our family, a way of empowering our children with the knowledge they can and will make a difference in their lifetime. 

Nightingale Nursing School. C&M Lifeline (www.candmlifeline.com) is building the Nightingale Nursing School in Honduras, with Carolina spear heading local fundraising efforts. For only $1,500, a young woman—victim to extremely limited opportunities—will spend three years in school and graduate as a nurse, earning a living for herself and her family, and providing much-needed healthcare services to an entire community.

Get involved today:

  • Join our growing global Empowered Women's Circle. In our Circle of support you will meet many incredible women stepping into their destiny and, in doing so, they generate up-lift for others to do the same.

  • Help RIGHT NOW by making a purchase of something you need from a list of all-natural health and wellness products available at: https://cmlifeline.idlife.com/. All proceeds from EVERY sale go toward building the Nightingale Nursing School and directly to the girls.

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