When you meet or hear about someone who does something amazing, does it inspire you to be a better person? It does me. Whether it be spiritual or physical, I am inspired. When I watch a great Olympic athlete, half way through I want to get up and do that, skate, ski, whatever. But instead, I sit (which is probably a good thing, I really suck at skating). There are many more important situations that can stir that feeling of inspiration, the Olympics is just one of many that pop to mind.
Here is another one.
Rosemary Stasek, is a woman who has lived a life of successful details, from dot-comer to Mayor of Redwood City, California. She is now living her life with a big picture view, helping the women of war-torn Afghanistan.
You might have a visual image of Afghan women, not so many years ago, during the rule of the Taliban. An extremely conservative religious government that ruled with a particularly aggressive oppression towards the women of their country. All women in public were completely covered in the blue burkas, lest they be beaten. Women weren’t educated, women stayed at home. It was a scene hard for us to understand. Who could be allowed to treat women this way?
Rosemary was living in California, having a comfortable, successful life. She was raised in Pennsylvania, went to catholic school, on to Cornell University, then to graduate school at Stanford. She worked at the Bank of America, went on to a dot-com, and then inspired to run for political office. She was elected to the City Council of Redwood City, CA, and eventually become the Mayor. It was during her stint as a politician that she first set foot in Afghanistan. She has always been a motivated soul, and she has always been inspired by the human condition. She thought her trip to Kabul, Afghanistan as part of a delegation to tour the country after the fall of the Taliban, would be interesting. She didn’t know it would change her life.
Afghanistan got under her skin. She fell in love with the country, and she was inspired to help. Unlike most of us that allow that feeling to pass, Rosemary moved into action. She started a non-profit called A Little Help. She went back, every vacation, every break, any time she had. With her non-profit, she rebuilt women’s prisons. Most of the female prisoners were incarcerated for marrying a man their families did not arrange. Often children were imprisoned with their mothers. She built teaching kitchens. She taught canning and food preserving classes, a tradition lost to generations of women because of war. (Rosemary makes award-winning preserves, and she has the county fair ribbons to prove it). She helped run a beauty school, improve maternity care, and helped build a clinic for women and children, all in an effort to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan by giving them much needed help, a sense of purpose, and a skill.
When her term in local U.S. politics was over, she made the commitment and moved to Kabul, Afghanistan. She worked full time running a beauty school. Working in beauty parlors is one of the few professions an Afghan woman can have. It is also one of the few social centers women have to meet outside the home. Inside the beauty parlor she saw women thrive, away from the daily cultural restraints still so prevalent in Afghanistan.
As a foreigner, Rosemary had a few more privileges than Afghan women did, but she was not immune to the cultural restraints. She had been living above the beauty school, in the home of the American born beauty school owner and her Afghan husband. They were all good friends. She left one night after the husband threatened her at gunpoint, with a semi-automatic weapon, calling her a “whore” because she had a male friend over visiting in her room. Rosemary insists it would be a better story if they had their clothes off. They didn’t, they were just visiting. When it was over, she packed everything she could fit in two suitcases that night, grabbed her dog, and lived out of her car for four days.
It was this experience that firmed her resolve. What was she doing here? She didn’t need to do this, should she just go home? A lesser person would have. Rosemary however, found a home, a new job, and her purpose. She had done so much, learned so much. She was still useful. She knew it.
There aren’t many women that live alone in Afghanistan. There aren’t many that drive cars (only foreigners), and almost no one keeps dogs as pets. (They are considered too dirty). This is the life of Rosemary in Afghanistan. She doesn’t quite fit in, but it’s ok, and that just might be part of her purpose.
She lives by example. She takes great pleasure driving her car a few minutes out of her way everyday past the all-girls school. “If those girls can just see a woman drive a car, then they will know it can be done.”
Rosemary’s new job is training women to be politicians. She works with women who have been elected to provincial councils. Since the fall of the Taliban, and the reorganization of Afghanistan government, women must hold one quarter of the seats in the national government and one-third of the seats in the provincial or local governments. “Some of these women have never spoken a word in front of a man, let alone disagree with him, so the first step is to just get them to speak.
“This is going to be a long process, but the people of Afghanistan want so much to be at peace.”
All her passion and experience has come full circle. She has no plans to leave, much to her mother’s chagrin. But half of her, unfortunately, expects political turmoil to force her out. In the meantime, she is there to teach, to lead by example, to help. She calls it just A Little Help. If you would like to donate, visit A Little Help.
By Carolyn Kane
Related Story: For Love of Afghanistan