I became involved with the Population Council over seven years ago when my husband, Rodney Wagner, was chair of the board. We traveled and saw several Council project sites, and I was impressed with the creativity and realistic aspirations of these programs. In Ghana, I visited a program where nurses went regularly to the homes of families in villages to provide primary care. It was stunning to see how much one nurse could do.
I am also involved with schools in South Africa, Turkey, Bhutan, and Ethiopia. For just a few dollars, you can enable a family to buy a school uniform and a few books. When I travel and come back to America, I see the glut of personal possessions that we have. We just throw things away to make room for other things. Yet when I visited a school in South Africa, I saw a girl in 1st or 2nd grade with a pencil, not even two inches long, tied to a string around her neck so she wouldn't lose it. This stub of a pencil was her treasure.
Before he passed away, Rodney used to say that you can't care about development in developing countries if you don't care about population issues. I couldn't agree more. If you can't give people a choice about the number and timing of their children and provide good care for the people, development is virtually impossible.
Girls are crucial to a country's development. If you can prevent a girl from getting married at 13 and give her some education, there is a multiplier effect. Her life chances change, which changes the chances for her family, and the future of her community.
I traveled to Ethiopia with a friend and visited the Council's program for girls. My friend asked one girl, "What do you want in your future?" Her reply was, "I want this school to stay open." This program has led me to believe that you can change a community, and even an entire country, by changing the scenario for these girls. As women, they will carry their culture by affecting the future of their families and many of the people around them.
I support the Population Council because they do first-class work. It is so pleasing to travel around the world and to hear people from other NGOs speak so highly of the Population Council. The Council has a great reputation which reinforces my desire to stick with them.