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Danziger: Naomi Bronstein Remembrance

01/07/11 7:55AM By Jeff Danziger
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(HOST)  Commentator Jeff Danziger is a syndicated political cartoonist and author with deep roots in Vermont. Today, he is remembering a woman who dedicated her life to helping others - especially very young children.   

(DANZIGER) Naomi Bronstein died three days before Christmas, at the orphanage she founded in Guatemala City. She had devoted her life to orphans, victims of war and poverty, and had lost count of how many she had brought to families in the United States, and to her own country, Canada.
 In 1975, as the Vietnam War came to an inglorious end, Naomi brought my daughter out of the war zone. The US had ignored the existence of war orphans until the last minute. President Ford hurriedly provided a C5A cargo plane for a well-publicized evacuation. My daughter was almost on that plane. It took off from Saigon Airport, with about 140 babies and many nurses aboard. Over the South China Sea a cargo door blew off. The pilot desperately tried to get back to the airport but didn't make it. In the crash, all the babies and many of Naomi's friends were killed. And to her, fell the task of going out to the crash site to identifying the people - and the babies - as best she could.
A week later, on a commercial plane, my daughter arrived with another group of babies in Montreal, where we waited, with about thirty other Vermont families. Naomi was on that flight, exhausted but happy.

For the next 35 years, Naomi continued to travel to the war zones, and the poverty-stricken areas of the world, to save orphans and bring health services to the citizens. She worked largely alone, not trusting the governments of either the third world, or indeed the first world, to act in the best interests of the children. After all, the C5A that crashed had been known by the US Air Force to have a faulty design.
Naomi Bronstein was always been a source of pride for Canadians. She had received innumerable honors for her bravery and determination. But she remained untouched by her own legend, unimpressed by talk, realizing that professional praisers have their own agenda. She was always a loner, even though, in some cases, her independence was more desirable than practical. She was not good at raising funds, not good at begging, not good at shaming the fortunate. She was a one-woman show, which made sense in a way.
She died at work in Guatemala City, a place of poverty and disaster, in the middle of mudslides, sinkholes and volcanoes. There she helped the children she had found stumbling through this hellish maze, some orphans, and some who didn't yet know they were.
She was, at the end of her life, broke. She had lost her house in Quebec so she had no place to return to. She was tired and ill, and she lived largely on an internal stubbornness. Even that fire was fading, and she told me last year that she didn't really know what to do except to go on.
But whatever her motivation was, she exemplified the true meaning of charity. She gained nothing. Not money, not publicity, not political standing, not book contracts or anything else in return for her labors. She did the hard and personally costly work of really helping other human beings. And I hope she has entered heaven as she lived her life - exhausted, but happy.
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