Signs of Life

People We Love

Grandmothers for Everyone

Judy Kahrl

Judy Kahrl

Maine grandmothers lobby for reproductive rights

Judy Kahrl may be 82 years old, but the Maine resident is still concerned with the barriers that surround reproductive health care. “Access to contraception and the ability to control fertility empowers women,” Kahrl says.

That’s why Kahrl founded GRR! — Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights. The group of nearly 100 Maine grandmothers lobbies for access to contraceptives, abortion, and sex education.

The issue is personal for these women, who came of age in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, when access to reproductive health care was severely limited. Kahrl says all group members have stories of sisters or cousins “disappearing” to get abortions or have babies. They don’t want their daughters and granddaughters to face those same barriers and stigmas.

Being a grandmother advocating for reproductive rights has its advantages. Group members, with their “wrinkled faces and yellow T-shirts,” as Kahrl puts it, draw attention from media and legislators in Maine’s capital. Last year the group scored a victory when a bill to expand pregnancy testing, contraception, and STD treatments to low-income residents became law.

“Grandmothers have a lot of power,” Kahrl says.

Mary Lyons

Mary Lyons

Ojibwe elder takes on fetal alcohol syndrome

Some 22 years ago, great-grandmother and Minnesota Ojibwe elder Mary Lyons received a call: A 6-month-old boy crippled by fetal alcohol syndrome wasn’t expected to live long. Could Lyons, an advocate for indigenous children affected by alcohol, take care of him in his final weeks?

Lyons had fostered many children and had adopted six. The work was emotionally taxing, and she was ready to be done. Yet she knew she couldn’t say no. The baby, Chauncey, is now 22, and Lyons’ adopted child. He’s a testament to her commitment to helping children affected by fetal alcohol syndrome live full lives, and to keeping indigenous families together.

The battle is personal for Lyons: She was one of many Native American children removed from their families and placed in institutions decades ago. Alcohol was one coping mechanism her generation turned to, she says.

That’s why it’s not just children Lyons fights for. A winner of the Minnesota Congressional Angels in Adoption Award, Lyons gives lectures as a United Nations active observer and supports women as a grandmother counselor for sobriety group Women of Wellbriety, International.

“Women, when they rise up together, they can rule mountains,” she says.

Zodwa Hilda Ndlovu

Zodwa Hilda Ndlovu

Food and housing for Cape Town HIV orphans

Zodwa Hilda Ndlovu — or “Mama Zodwa,” as she likes to be called — recognized the AIDS crisis in her South African community when her daughter died of the disease and her HIV-positive son committed suicide out of shame. Fear of talking about these issues, she decided, was simply too dangerous.

In 2001, she began running a soup kitchen out of her home to feed children who were left orphaned when their parents died of AIDS. Now named Siyaphambili — which means “going forward” — the nonprofit has turned into a sort of village in Cape Town that provides food and housing for orphans and facilitates healing conversations among families about HIV.

Mama Zodwa, who is HIV-positive, says she does this work so that other people don’t lose their children to shame and hopelessness. She believes open discussion is crucial to destigmatizing the disease and teaching prevention, and grandmothers are in unique roles to affect change as community elders.

“In the future, I would like to see everybody treat HIV as a normal disease,” she says, explaining that too often sufferers are cast aside or too afraid to admit they need help. And Mama Zodwa hopes for a day when Africa is eventually free of AIDS.

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

Average hourly wage of a New Yorker (from the city) $29 1

Average hours per week a New Yorker spends commuting 6.3 2

Estimated amount per month a New Yorker will pay to live one minute closer to their workplace $56 3

Percentage of U.S. adult men who have read a book or listened to an audiobook in the past year 68

Percentage of U.S. adult women who have read a book or listened to an audiobook in the past year 77 4

Number of Pulitzer Prizes in fiction won by male authors writing about primarily male characters or from a male perspective, 2000–2015 8

Number of Pulitzer Prizes in fiction won by female authors writing about primarily female characters or from a female perspective, 2000–2015 0 5

Unique visitors to National Public Radio’s website in July 2016 33 million

Percentage of unique visitors writing comments on articles in July 2016 (found in a study that led NPR to disband its comments section)0.06 6

Number of reindeer killed in Norway in August 2016 by a lightning strike 323 7

Proposed number of reindeer that will be killed by December 2016 to prevent spread of an anthrax bacteria in a remote region of Siberia 250,000 8

Percentage of internet users who get their news on a social media site 62

Percentage of social media users who get their news on Facebook 66

Percentage of Facebook users who seek out their news rather than happen upon it 38 9

Percent of Americans who believe God granted the U.S. a special role in human history 62 10

Percent who say the U.S. is setting a good moral example for the world 43

Percent who say it is important to show public support for the country, such as displaying the flag 83

Number of known plant species 350,000 11

Number of known plant species the International Union for Conservation of Nature has evaluated 12,914

Number of evaluated plant species threatened with extinction 8,781 12

Number of vinyl records sold globally in 1981 1.1 billion

Number in 1995 33 million 13

Number in 2006 3.1 million

Number in 2015 31.5 million 14

Complete citations at

1.U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2. Office of the New York City Comptroller 3. 4. Pew Research Center 5. 6. and 7. National Public Radio 8. The Washington Post 9. Pew Research Center 10. Public Religion Research Institute 11. Botanic Gardens Conservation International 12. Center for Biological Diversity 13. Music Business Research 14. Statista

Editor’s note: A different version of this article ran in the Winter 2017 print edition of YES! Magazine. It included a misleading fact regarding the percent of childless women in the U.S. The error has been removed here.