“In 1996, when I left the United States to become a Peace Corps volunteer in the Ivory Coast, I had one goal in mind. I wanted to positively affect the life of one person…I had no idea, and I would have never guessed, not in a million years, that it would be through working on the prevention of a 3-foot-long worm.” – Kelly Callahan, M.P.H.
There aren’t a lot of women I care to hang out with. When my older daughter was a baby, a very social friend of mine convinced me we should join this playgroup of moms from our gym. My gut told me “NOOOOOO, these are not your people”, but my long days alone at home talking at an infant and doing boring house chores (and my husband pushing me to make some new girlfriends since my closest ones had moved away) had me attending these playgroups, at least for awhile. I smiled and made small talk with the other moms, all of whom were pleasant and unobjectionable. But at the end of the day, the women I want to hang with need to be a whole lot more than just unobjectionable, I like ’em bawdy, in touch with their inner grit, hard to offend, adventurous, unabashedly fun-loving, comfortable in their skin, nice at the core (where it counts), and desiring to make the world a better place. I LOVE those kinds of chicas.
My friend Kelly Callahan is just such a gal. She’s tough, capable, loud, larger-than-life, funny, gutsy, unfiltered, and marshmallow-gooey on the inside (she hates that I’m telling you that) – loving, compassionate, kind, gentle, and generous. Not only do I count her amongst my closest friends, I admire her as much for what she does professionally as I do for who she is personally. Kelly works in public health for the Carter Center on the Guinea Worm Eradication project.
Guinea worm is a nasty parasite that has affected the lives of millions of people living in Africa. Not only does it disproportionately affect poor, rural people because part of its life cycle occurs in stagnant pools of water that serve as drinking sources, it exacerbates poverty by incapacitating those suffering from it. Guinea worm disease has no cure, but the team of people working on eradicating it have figured out that a combination of education and behavioral changes plus low-tech filtering remedies have put them in the home stretch for wiping out this disease. In 1985, 3.5 million cases were reported in 21 countries in Africa, today incidences have decreased by 99%. Seriously, Kelly has not only met her goal of positively affecting one life, she’s contributed to bettering the lives of millions of people. My hat is off to you and your colleagues, Kelly.
Here’s her TedxAtlanta talk about the program. Swallow down that bile which just rose in your throat and give the talk a listen. It has a way of right-sizing your perspective about how far from tough your life is in the Western world by comparison. And kudos to Jimmy Carter, who in my opinion has done astonishing amounts of good in his post-presidency. His championing of bettering the lives of the poor is indisputable.