International Women’s Day

Today, to honor International Women’s Day, I want to reflect upon some of the females that I have found most inspirational as of late. There are a plethora of incredibly influential women that I won’t mention here, and these are in no particular order. These women I have “met,” either through reading or through actual interaction, that have influenced me, or my way of thinking.

Antonia Zabinski from the true story of “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” I highly recommend the book. The movie wasn’t bad either, if you aren’t much of a reader. (You can find it on Netflix.) During WWII, she had her husband, Jan, helped save the lives of hundreds of Polish Jews that they hid in their home and in the animal cages in the zoo. She had an intense love for animals, and believed all lives were equal. She believed herself to be a nervous and fearful person, and I found it encouraging that someone who would never have called themselves brave was able to do incredibly brave things to help those in need.

Eleanore Kraus from the book 50 Children: One American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany. Eleanore and her husband Gil spent months fighting government policy and, against the advice of their colleagues, family, and community, transported 50 Jewish children from Nazi occupied Austria to the US, making it the largest group of unaccompanied refugee children allowed into the United States. Again, I suggest reading this incredible story, but, there is a documentary on HBO Go for those less inclined to pick up a book.


Malala Yousafzai from the book I Am Malala. This girl is a certifiable badass, at least in my book. Malala was a teenager in Pakistan, living under the influence of the Taliban. The Taliban had declared that girls were no longer allowed to continue attending school, but Malala continued going to school anyway, despite the obvious risk. She believed,
“If it only took 1 man to ruin Pakistan, what can’t 1 girl change it back?” They boarded her school bus one morning and shot her in the head, neck, and shoulder. She was flown to the UK for treatment and, incredibly, recovered. She is now an activist for human rights and the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. #badass


Loung Ung from First They Killed My Father. Again, I recommend reading the book. Especially for those who don’t know much about the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot. Funny how I don’t remember learning anything about this in history class, despite the size of the atrocity. Guess they spent too much time playing up Christopher Columbus as our national hero. Anyway, I digress. Loung Ung and her family fled Phnom Penh when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over on April 17, 1975. Most of Loung’s siblings and both of her parents died during the occupation, along with one third of Cambodia’s population. Her story is deeply personal and moving, and will make you thankful even for your worst days. Netflix it if you can’t read books.


Those 4 women have influenced many decisions or changed my perspective in life in some way. It seems silly now that at one point I was considering not going to Bangladesh in order to pursue a different volunteer opportunity. The other 2 options I had to choose from at the time were much more within my comfort zone. One hospital in Cambodia, one in Laos, both serving severely impoverished children in beautiful villages in exotic countries that I longed to spend more time in. The work would be safe, rewarding, and I would have weekends off to travel to the beach, ancient temples, or go jungle trekking with elephants. In contrast, the Bangladesh job was long hours, little time off, no opportunity to explore the country, and, ran the risk of becoming unsafe of hostile at any time. Not to mention I’d never been to a refugee camp before. Honestly, what made the decision the most difficult was that all 3 opportunities seemed great, and I didn’t want to say no to any of them. Though now I don’t feel like I did anything brave by choosing to go to Bangladesh over Cambodia or Thailand, at the time of the decision, Bangladesh felt a little scary. Partly because I had read many articles about threatened attacks against western interests in the area, or speculation about a possible uprising of Rohingya militants and what that could mean for escalating tensions between Myanmar and Bangladesh. And, of course, some of those who were concerned for my safety encouraged me in the direction of either the Thailand or Cambodia opportunity.

As I was preparing to make my decision, I looked to these women and thought about the choice that they would have made. I considered all of the women, or people for that matter, whom I had read about and admired over the years, and realized that the choice was clear. I would have admired the person who chose to help those in the greatest need, which in this case was clearly the Rohingya refugees.

I also want to highlight two women I have met within the last year that I found personally inspiring, and the incredible work they do

Trudy Boulter is the director of the Children’s Hospital Burn Camps program in Denver, CO. I was so graciously allowed an opportunity to work at summer camp last August, and fell absolutely in love with the program and all that it does. Trudy’s compassion and dedication to her work have led her to great success within the program, and she gives me hope that perhaps one day I could run my own organization to help my own special group of people. If anyone is feeling curious and wants to learn more, (or is feeling generous and wants to donate to the foundation), here is the website. I will hopefully return this August, and I can assure you the money is put to good use.


Dy Rasmey is like the Trudy of Cambodia. Rasmey is the director of the orphanage I volunteered with in Phnom Penh. She works incredibly long hours away from her own children to make sure that the children in the orphanage have all that they need. She loves each child there as if they are one of her own. She treats every person she comes into contact with with respect and kindness, no matter how they treat her or the children she cares so deeply for.  There are some big, devastating changes currently going on at the orphanage, that I can’t get into in any great detail, but I’m going to shamelessly say that there is a private go fund me account with lots of details if you’d like to help. Ask me for details.


Also, if you’re in the mood for a good TED talk, see here. These young women worked hard to achieve a simple goal that will have a large and positive impact on the world. Plus, they proved that you don’t have to be an adult with money to make a difference, which I think is incredibly valuable.

One quick thing I want to highlight, and then I’ll sign off. The Bali plastic bag girls, (TED talk above) Malala, and Loung Ung all credit some of their strength and success to their fathers. They all were raised by strong men who empowered their young daughters to be confident, intelligent, and passionate. Their mothers were certainly of influence too, but they all specifically recognize their relationship with their fathers as a contributing factor to their success.

So as much as this day is about women, it’s about men too. I hope that isn’t forgotten today.


Kelli Wags







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