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Nepal trip inspired ‘accidental humanitarian’

Volunteers prepare supplies for Navajo Nation residents last summer during the pandemic. Thirty-five tons were delivered. (Courtesy of Christine Glidden)

Editor’s note: Today, the Journal continues “The Good News File,” a series of uplifting stories in partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio. The Journal will publish a “Good News” feature the first Friday of the month, KOAT-TV will present its feature each second Friday and KKOB each third Friday.

Christine Glidden never had visions or dreams or plans or even an inkling she would become a humanitarian.

She now runs the successful nonprofit Women To Be, which provides menstrual hygiene products for girls and women around the world. Her organization became even more critical during the recent pandemic, expanding to help those on the Navajo nation obtain much needed food, water and other supplies.

“I’m an accidental humanitarian,” she said. “If you are not generous, you are not fully participating in life and who you are meant to be.”

It was a trip to Nepal in 2012 that would change the way she looked at life. There she met a woman who shared stories with her about refugees, especially young women, who did not have access to basic hygiene products. Glidden said a lack of sanitary napkins and a way to dispose of them is severely impacting the lives of women, leading them to drop out of school, marry prematurely, isolate themselves and use weeds, rags and even paper in the absence of sanitary napkins.

She started Women To Be in 2014. The organization puts together hygiene kits with eight reusable sanitary napkins and two pair of underwear. When COVID-19 shut everything down, her operation came to a standstill.

But then a new opportunity emerged.

The pandemic stampeded across New Mexico in March 2020, hitting the Navajo Nation pretty hard. Not only were Navajo people dying in great numbers, their members found themselves isolated and cut off from basic supplies like food and water.

“I get home and start reading about Navajo people dying during the pandemic,” she said. “I started going through my pantry and asking my neighbors for stuff.”

Having done community service work for years, Glidden was able to quickly mobilize others.

Everything changed when she met 24th Navajo Nation Council member Mark Freeland, who oversees eight communities in San Juan and McKinley counties. He was able to connect her with the very people she hoped to help.

Freeland said many of the people he represents do not have running water or electricity, and many were afraid or unable to leave their homes during the pandemic.

“I knew there was a great need,” he said. “A lot of people are living in multi-generational homes.”

Freeland helped with the logistics, Glidden secured a $25,000 grant from the Rotary Club, of which she is a member. The Jewish Community Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, the Albuquerque Community Foundation, Vegan Outreach, Community Organized Relief Effort and DreamLab also stepped in to help.

“There were 250 vehicles waiting for us when we showed up (the first time),” she said. “Then 100 more showed up. We ran out of stuff. It was heartbreaking.”

They went every other Saturday from May until January and delivered a total of 35 tons of food, water, household supplies and hygiene products.

“It made a huge difference,” Freeland said. “It helped with addressing the needs of a lot of people.”

Glidden said she will continue helping where she is needed.

“Experiencing these humanitarian projects has changed me,” she said. “I am a kinder, more engaged, more personally powerful person. That does not make me wonderful, it makes me lucky.”

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