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International Women's Day: Vivian Onano

Today is International Women's Day and the only thing that's stopping me from writing about all the women I love and admire is the issue of time. There is not enough of it. In the past few years I have changed from a mom who happens to blog to an educator who uses her platform to a change agent in the space I'm allowed. There was a time when I kept trying to fit in but it was in the form of a round peg into a square hole. What I thought I knew about being a woman and what I was discovering about women that I look up to were far apart and that paradigm shift for me was monumental.

Women have saved me, they have surrounded me, and they have been the most powerful forces to help me see myself and where I want to be. I wish I could recall, at this moment, the true quote I am about to butcher in an attempt to explain myself, but I can't. It had something to do with knowing what people would say about you after you died and to then begin living like you want to be remembered. Something in me tells me it was probably something I read by Erma Bombeck, but since I can't source it that's the best I can do.

I do know she said this:

“Written on her tombstone: "I told you I was sick.” 

This sums up some powerful feelings I have about being a mother and a woman and mostly because we don't always allow ourselves things. At least, I don't. 

A few short weeks ago I spent time in Washington, DC with the ONE Summit and I flew in on Sunday. Naturally, Bono made a surprise visit on Saturday so I missed him. As I scrolled through the #ONESummit hashtag on Twitter I found a woman with a photo that had her sitting on stage next to Bono. 


Photo credit to Carthage College from their Twitter account, Ralph Alswang

Who is that? I wondered. Not for long, though, because following the clues I found out that her name is Vivian Onano and that she's a college student in Wisconsin. As luck would have it, I found her Twitter handle and immediately followed. She seemed delightful from the photo and she was an ardent supporter of ONE so it was a no-brainer. 


As I left the auditorium a few minutes later I spotted Vivian herself sitting in the back row with her laptop open to Twitter. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "You know those moments when people follow you on Twitter and you wonder who in the world they are? Well, I just followed you and since I'm here in the flesh I thought I would say hi. Hi."

Vivian squealed with delight (honestly, she's an adorable squealer) and declared, "Yes! I know! This is you. I just saw you. THIS IS YOU." and she scrolled through her screen to show me my picture. 

After that, any time our paths crossed at the Summit we smiled and said we should talk. Just before going to a ONE Moms board meeting she ran after me and grabbed me to see if I had time to talk. I didn't. But, of course, I did it anyway. Surely, they would understand. 

I knew, immediately, that we were kindred spirits, that I found another member of my Karass. Vivian and I held hands as we exchanged life stories and the work we each do with ONE and how she was lucky enough to be plucked from all the students to interview Bono. She is from Kenya and has lived with a host family since coming to the United States and she is the first in her family to receive a formal education. She will graduate with a bachelor's degree soon and wants to work to ensure that girls get equal opportunities for skills and education and also that they engage in effective leadership. Her hope, through her own writing, is that she is brave enough to take risks for other girls, including her own family members

Why wouldn't I want to honor her on a day like this? She is a woman after my own heart. She is the very epitome of international in her visible work for ONE, a foundation she sought after learning about their work for the extremely impoverished and their desire to eradicate preventable diseases. 

She is a light and she burns brightly. Just holding her hand and looking into her eyes as she spoke about her life made me see that. Everyone who is lucky enough to meet her will see it, too. While interviewing Bono, Vivian learned one of his own mantras that “it takes social movements to change things". I can think of nothing better for my own tombstone or eulogy someday than to be known for that. Vivian helped remind me of it.

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Reader Comments (3)

I want to meet her and catch some of her fire.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKjir

Love Viv! Check out her HuffingtonPost blogs, too. She's a very, very special young woman.

March 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Pace

She looks huggable and bright and a force! Like a younger Kelly.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGrandeMocha

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