It is day three of 2011. For many the New Year is a time to make a resolution or re-affirm a previous commitment. For others, it is a time to look inwards and reflect upon choices already made. It is unquestionably a time filled with the possibility of change and renewal. During this time of year I find myself thinking about Helen Keller International’s co-founder and namesake, Helen Keller. Growing up I was taught – as most of us were – the remarkable story of how she learned to communicate though deaf and blind. What I didn’t fully realize until I came to HKI is the full breadth of her life’s accomplishments.
I was especially surprised to learn how radical some of her political views were. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, an ardent socialist and a birth control supporter. She appeared before state and national legislatures and international forums, traveled around the world to lecture, and wrote numerous books and articles, focusing most frequently on blindness, deafness, socialism, social issues, and women’s rights.
Helen Keller was also just as interested in the welfare of blind people in other countries as she was for those in her own country. She was particularly concerned about conditions in underdeveloped and war-ravaged countries. As such, in 1915 she helped found the Permanent Blind War Relief Fund, which would later become Helen Keller International.
Miss Keller won numerous honors (far too many to list here), including honorary university degrees, the Lions Humanitarian Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and election to the Women’s Hall of Fame. She died in 1968, leaving a legacy that Helen Keller International is proud to carry on in her name and memory.
The more I learn about Helen Keller, the more I am impressed by her wisdom, courage and strength. Her words are still as poignant in 2011 as they were when she first uttered them. They are a constant reminder to me that we all have the ability and responsibility to make the world a better place, something we strive for everyday at HKI with our sight- and life-saving programs. As Helen herself so aptly stated, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
A New Year extra: Caroline Talman, from HKI Europe, recently sent me this video of a Vitaphone Newsreel from 1930 that shows how Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s tutor and lifelong companion, taught Helen to speak. It truly is a testament to the strength and perseverance of both these women.