I loved seeing the video clip of the NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrating the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars the other day. What a milestone!
I’m a child of the Apollo era, when we stayed up late to watch moon walks or heard about the mission’s progress over the school PA system. At one point I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I realized you had to be good at math to be that kind of scientist, and I started making other plans. Like many my age, we remember the grainy black-and-white transmissions from Mission Control in Houston, with a bunch of homogenous guys in matching white shirts, crew cuts, skinny ties, and enough black eyeglass frames to stock an optometrist’s store.
What struck me as I watched the revelry at JPL was how much that room had changed, and I’m not talking about the blue polo shirts vs white button-downs. There were people with long hair, beards, and crew cuts. Somebody sported a bandana, which definitely would have been banned in the 1960s. They weren’t all white guys. In fact quite a number of them weren’t guys at all.
There were girls in the room.
It never occurred to me that because there weren’t any girls in the room, that I couldn’t be there too. But that’s the kind of upbringing I had. I don’t recall hearing that there were limits because I was a girl. I could literally shoot for the moon (or I could have, if math and science had come more naturally).
I’m glad Food for the Hungry helps girls — and women — dream beyond what their society says they can do. By working with girls, and their parents, we can change attitudes that will affect multiple generations.
I remember my first month working with FH in Bolivia, and visiting a child sponsorship community near my home in La Paz. I met a woman there whose name is lost in the mists of time; we sat next to each other on a bench, while she listened to an FH staff person talk about household budgeting. She never spoke. She couldn’t look me in the eye. She just blended in.
Four years later I saw her again at a meeting. This time, she was the neighborhood president, with a confident, direct gaze and strong hand shake. With FH’s help, she had explored new avenues for her own talents. She led the neighborhood to build sidewalks, put in a sewer system, and construct a community center. She knew how to urge the government to shoulder its responsibility to do its part. And, she had children — daughters included — whom she would teach to be curious about the world and push the envelope.
I won’t be going to the moon, but I wouldn’t rule out one of her kids colonizing Mars.