Kristof and Collins

Mr. Kristof has been “In a Remote Village, Witnessing Miracles.”   He says being born with clubfoot in a poor country is no longer an automatic life sentence.  Ms. Collins, in “Women Move, World Improves,” says there’s progress on greater gender equality in politics. So everything’s going to get better.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Buchanan, Liberia:

Miracles are rare these days, but I’ve seen them.

In a village in rural Liberia, a long and muddy road from anywhere, I came across a grandma, a mom and a baby daughter all afflicted by clubfoot. This is a common birth defect in which one or both feet are grotesquely turned inward.

We don’t see it in the U.S. or Europe because doctors correct it soon after birth, and clubfoot alumni include athletic superstars like Mia Hamm and Kristi Yamaguchi. My mother (a tireless walker with perfectly normal feet) was born with a clubfoot.

Yet here, as in most of the world, kids with clubfoot weren’t treated and grew up as outcasts. About one child in 800 worldwide is born with clubfoot, and in poor countries they are left to hobble on the sides of their feet; unable to work, they may become beggars.

In this village, clubfoot used to be a life sentence: The grandma, Yahin-yee Korwee, never went to school, nor did her daughter, Hannah Cooper, 26. The grandfather abandoned the family when Hannah was born, ashamed that neighbors mocked her as a cripple.

Then Cooper had her own daughter 11 months ago, also with clubfoot (it’s partly hereditary), and her boyfriend left her as well. “You’ve got a crippled child,” she remembered him saying. “I don’t want it.”

Yet this baby had her feet fixed. This is possible with a simple nonsurgical treatment involving a series of plaster casts to guide the foot into the proper position.

This approach, called the Ponseti method, is routine in Western countries and is increasingly available in poor countries as well, through aid groups like MiracleFeet, based in North Carolina, and Cure, based in Pennsylvania.

I wish that skeptics of humanitarian aid could have seen the baby get care from MiracleFeet and emerge with feet as good as anyone else’s. Now she’ll be able to walk and run, go to school and hold a job, support herself and her country.

And the total cost? Less than $500 for transforming a life.

I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey with a university student, Aneri Pattani (who has been busily blogging at — check out her posts!). I wanted us to report on clubfoot because it’s an antidote to skepticism about humanitarian aid.

The dirty little secret of foreign aid is that it’s hard. You can build a school, but it’s hard to ensure that teachers will show up. You can build a well, but what happens when the hand pump breaks? You can provide safe birthing kits, but what if a nurse sells them on the black market?

Look, helping people is complicated. But I’m a strong advocate of more aid because sometimes aid is transformative. When properly done, clubfoot treatment is straightforward, succeeds 95 percent of the time and inexpensively changes a life like that of this 11-month-old girl.

“Now she’ll go to school,” said Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, executive director of MiracleFeet. “She’s going to stand on her own two feet for the rest of her life.”

Yet most children in poor countries still don’t get clubfoot repaired. The Global Clubfoot Initiative estimates that only 15 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries get good treatment, and it aims to raise that to 70 percent by 2030. Aid groups like MiracleFeet train local health care workers to treat clubfoot, so that over time each country’s own health system can take over diagnosis and treatment. But for now, thousands of children slip through the cracks.

Cooper told us that there was another child in the village with clubfoot, and soon he was brought to us. His name was Henroy, and at age 9 he had never attended school because he has trouble even hobbling. MiracleFeet is now arranging to fix his feet, too.

In another town, Ganta, we saw the toll on families of clubfoot. A small boy, Aria, was being looked after by his grandmother, Nora Glay, because his mother fled rather than raise a child she expected to be permanently disabled. “She was embarrassed,” Glay said of the mother, “and that’s why she abandoned the child.”

But Glay heard on the radio that clubfoot could be repaired. So she borrowed money from friends and took Aria on a weeklong odyssey to get to the Ganta hospital, where Aria’s feet will be corrected over the coming months so that he will be able to walk and run.

A few feet away in the hospital waiting area, Saye Willie acknowledged that he was initially devastated when his son, Bigboy, was born with clubfoot. “I thought it was witchcraft,” the father said. “I accused my wife of taking a bath at night, and I thought somebody put drugs in the water.”

Bigboy, 7, seems a bit overcome at the prospect that his feet will soon be normal, allowing him to walk, run, play soccer. “I want to go to school,” he told me. “I want my feet to be good so I can run, too.”

My friend Michael Elliott, who ran the One Campaign’s fight against global poverty until shortly before his death last year, used to say that we live in an “age of miracles.” I thought of that while in the village with the family suffering from three generations of clubfoot, where the baby now has normal feet.

Oh, and the baby’s name?

Her mom named her Miracle.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Good news has been in such very short supply lately. Beyoncé did have twins. Joey Chestnut set a new record at the Coney Island hot-dog eating contest. Kentucky sold a billion dollars in lottery tickets for the first time …

O.K., here’s a real one: Women’s involvement in politics seems to be skyrocketing — they’re doing everything from petitioning Congress to planning their own campaigns. Groups that help prepare women to run for office are reporting an unprecedented number of website visits, training-school sign-ups and meeting attendance.

Everything is going to get better! There’ll be more bipartisanship in Congress, more rationality in foreign affairs and better government on the state and local levels. Corruption will drop, voter satisfaction will soar and never again will the governor of a major state spend a holiday sunbathing on a public beach that’s closed to the rest of the public due to a budget crisis.

All right, we’re only totally positive about the last one.

Still, more gender equality in politics is a great goal. While there have been some really terrible, truly awful women elected to public office over the years, as a group women seem to be better at working with others. For instance, female senators have regular bipartisan dinners in Washington. There was a time when this would not have been a big deal, but in the current climate it’s akin to Nixon in China.

Women also tend to bring a mood of reform, since they’re often coming from the outside. “It’s the women who in many ways feel — if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” said Debbie Walsh at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The center runs training programs for women candidates in perpetually scandal-prone New Jersey, and their success is proof of the theory that voters will turn to women when they feel the political status quo is horrible. “When we started, New Jersey was in the bottom 10 for women in the legislature,” said Walsh. “Now, it’s 14th from the top. Indictments have been very, very good to us.”

Progress on this front is not necessarily guaranteed to last. The center’s ranking of state legislatures puts Wyoming last in the percentage of women, which is extremely sad for a place that calls itself “the Equality State” because it was the first to give women the right to vote. Wyoming does have Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz in the House of Representatives, and you will have to decide for yourself whether you think that is a good plan.

Cathy Connolly, who’s a state representative and professor of women’s studies at the University of Wyoming, says the legislative schedule was set up to accommodate ranchers: “We work around the clock for 40 days one year and 20 the other in the dead of the winter. … It’s disproportionately retired men.”

But even Wyoming is looking for a leap forward. Connolly is co-chair of a women’s caucus that is — of course — bipartisan. (“Its only goal is to recruit more women and be supportive of each other when we serve.”) She feels that same surge of new interest, “and it is wonderful.”

Women have been setting record-breaking web traffic at Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women’s campaigns. Stephanie Schriock, the president, thinks the motives run from “fear of slipping backward” after Hillary Clinton’s loss to a sense of solidarity engendered by the marches after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Now the visitors are stoked, and looking for information on how to run for anything “from school board to the U.S. Senate.”


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