"I've had enough of wars."

June 1, 2010

Sally Fay Cottingham is a member of the Board of Directors for The U.S. Fund for UNICEF's New England regional office.

Anne Garrels, world-renowned foreign correspondent for NPR's foreign desk, spoke at the Women's Luncheon Series held in the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Boston office late last month.

"I have had enough of wars," she told the audience. "The goal (of war) is to destroy one's sense of self."

Garrels told one compelling story after another, including the story of the women who, when asked what she would like Anne to bring her, asked for "a pot of crème", something that she could put on her face to remember that she was a woman.

Roger Farrington/2010
Left to right: NE board chair Kaia Miller, Anne Garrels, NE board member Caterina Bandini

Garrels spoke about Iraq and the U.S. involvement there. She described how the Americans mismanaged money and were unprepared when they arrived. Speaking on the effects of the war on Iraqi women and families, she observed that the sectarian divides affected women the most. "This destroyed the family structure. They had to move--all those mixed marriages because there was so much tension around them. The middle class was depleted and moved away to Syria and Jordan."

Anne spoke passionately of Pakistan, calling it "the key place" to be right now. She said the country is close to being in a civil war. "We should have done so much more for decades," she said, particularly in the area of the educational system. Garrels noted that illiteracy in Pakistan is much worse than India. Primary education is always "informal," which typically means "an ill-trained woman on a dirt floor, with no water." She warned that "you've got more and more angry, frustrated Pakistanis. Healthcare getting worse, not better."

She told us that there was an advantage to being a female journalist in Pakistan because she was allowed "to walk both sides of the street."

"I can see the Presidents, local authorities, and I can go into the houses, maternity wards, boys' and girls' schools, and men can't. Male colleagues who want to do these stories, can't."

At the close, we had many questions, which Garrels answered honestly: What else could we be doing in Pakistan? "Monitoring where the money goes," she said, using Iraq as an example of bad investments: "We said we would build 600 hospitals, and I can tell you, 450 didn't even exist."

As for advice for today's foreign correspondents?

"It is not family friendly. The women are single, divorced, without children," she said, adding, "they are now younger women, 27-30 year olds. They are so talented and experienced."

Garrels praised NPR for keeping foreign bureaus open and for supporting its reporters with pay and benefits. She said journalists today blog, photograph, video, write and report. They do it all. Because the security costs are too high to allow additional staffing.

The urgency and importance of UNICEF's efforts on behalf of children under the present conditions in Pakistan and Iraq came through forcefully in the voice of Anne Garrels, right here in Boston. I think, if we all weren't already in awe of UNICEF's work in those countries, we were profoundly moved all the more after hearing from her.