March 22, 2012

JDC Receives Prestigious Honor from Susan G. Komen for the Cure

From Steve Schwager, CEO

A Bosnian breast cancer survivor, with her kids,
wears a specially made pink head covering
at the Fourth Bosnia and Herzegovina Race
for the Cure. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
 September 2011. Photo: JDC.
In 1982, Ambassador Nancy Brinker created the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, just two years after the death of her sister, Susan, who lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 36. Since then, the Komen Foundation has invested nearly $2 billion in breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services, and social support programs both in the U.S., through its affiliates network, and internationally, through partnerships in more than 50 countries.

Breast cancer is a global crisis. It kills more people in the world than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Every 74 seconds, a woman in this world dies of breast cancer, a frightening statistic by anyone's standards.

JDC works with Komen through our Women's Health Empowerment Program (WHEP), a breast cancer awareness program started by JDC's Marcia Presky in 1995 after her own mother lost her battle with the disease. Before her untimely death in 2005, Marcia's efforts laid the foundation for a strong and solid partnership in five countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2004, Hungary since 2006, Russia since 2007, Montenegro since 2009, and Israel since 2010.

This year's Komen Leadership Conference was held in Ft. Worth, Texas on March 1-3. It is the annual gathering of all of Komen's U.S. affiliates and some of its global partners. The highlight of this three-day event is the closing dinner where awards are given to local affiliates, and Komen honors some of its most outstanding volunteers. This year, Komen introduced a new award, The Global Impact Award, for an international partner; and JDC was the first- ever recipient of this prestigious honor.

JDC Board member Martha Freedman attended the Conference, along with JDC professionals Itai Shamir from Headquarters and Nela Hasic from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Martha accepted the award from Amb. Brinker on behalf of JDC and received a standing ovation when she spoke very movingly and shared her own personal story: "On a personal note, I've loved hearing Itai and Nela tell me about the 'Race for the Cure' in Sarajevo because it brings back wonderful memories of walking in the Race in Colorado with my mother. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 2005, but her memory is always honored in Sarajevo, and one of our devoted volunteers even walks in her honor. I intended to go to Bosnia to participate in 2010, but at that time I was dealing with my own diagnosis and care. This year, I plan to be there, among the multitudes, walking in my pink t-shirt. I extend an invitation to all of you here tonight to join me, and I really hope some of you will come."

This Award symbolizes more than just the strong and caring partnership between JDC and Komen; it also symbolizes the profound impact of our global work on tens of thousands of women and their families in those five overseas locations.

Penny and I both marvel at the fact that through these programs, we are breaking stigmas and taboos every day. In 2008 in Bosnia, we decided to take the 'Race for the Cure' to Sarajevo and bring women, survivors, and their families into the public sphere to change the face of this disease in that country, celebrate life and survivorship, and honor those who lost their battle. When we began four years ago, we thought we would have fewer than 600 women at the Race. Last September over 5,400 people registered to run.

In Hungary, we have reached out to underserved communities in very remote areas of the country, where we work with minority groups who for the first time receive equal access to mandatory health services. Our screening events bring the mammography machine to women who have never had a mammogram before—and many of these women are in their 60s and 70s! In fact, this model has been so successful we actually brought it to Bosnia last year.

In Russia, where WHEP works very closely with the Russian Federal Mammology Center, the Health Ministry, recognizing our educational and health impact on women in central Russia, selected us as a resource for best practices to promote a healthy lifestyle and the ability to replicate our work in other locations, thereby benefiting more and more women.

WHEP also works toward a greater social good, for it builds bridges between people and helps to fight prejudice. When we started in Bosnia in 2004, the country was still healing from the war in the Balkans, but the women—Muslims, Serbs, and Croats—came together to fight one common enemy: breast cancer. In the Middle East, we've brought Palestinian and Israeli women together through our COPE Forum. These women have the potential not only to help each other overcome the impact of this disease, but also to overcome some of the animosity between people in conflict. In two months, we are bringing these women together with our women from Bosnia for what will surely be a very unique exchange.

Penny and I are convinced that our global impact is undeniable. We have been providing screening services and educational outreach to survivors and healthy women, thereby promoting the importance of early detection and diagnosis. Years ago, women diagnosed with the disease in the countries where we've worked were paralyzed by the fear that breast cancer was a death sentence. Today, thanks to our efforts, they are empowered and inspired to help other women, and are leading our programs and carrying the message forward. Once again, here is tikkun olam at its very best.

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