Gayle, Hunter-Gault to share experiences in global health sphere

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 30, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Rebecca McKinsey | Staff Writer

A journalist who has reported from South Africa and the Middle East will conduct an interview on the Amphitheater stage today.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg, will interview Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater. They will discuss CARE’s work in the global health sphere.

CARE is a humanitarian organization that works to combat public health problems and poverty by empowering women in underprivileged communities around the world. Gayle, who has worked with CARE since 2006, shifted the organization’s focus to improving communities by empowering women, said Hunter-Gault, who has known Gayle for years.

Gayle’s background includes work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; she worked with HIV/AIDS programs at both

Gayle was a keynote speaker at the New African Connections conference in Norway prior to traveling to Chautauqua and could not be reached for comment.

“I think (Gayle) has taken CARE into an area that in the past has been woefully neglected, which is looking at empowering women, especially in places where women are second-class citizens,” Hunter-Gault said.

“She has moved CARE from an organization that delivers care packages, which is important, but she has moved it to a much broader scope and is working with women across the world.”

Hunter-Gault has served as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent, as well as the chief correspondent in Africa for NPR. Before that, she was a correspondent for “PBS News-Hour” and covered urban African-American communities for The New York Times.

Growing up in the segregated South, Hunter-Gault said there were no black role models in the mainstream media. However, she fell in love with the idea of being a journalist after reading the “Brenda Starr, Reporter” comic strip.

“I told my mother that I wanted to be a journalist like Brenda Starr,” Hunter-Gault said. “She knew the realities in the South and how remote that possibility was, but my mother instinctively knew that dreams compelled ambition, so she said, ‘OK, if that’s what you want.’ That was all the encouragement I needed.”

Hunter-Gault went on to become the first high school junior to be an editor at her school newspaper. Several years later, she became the first black woman — and one of the first two black people, along with orthopedic physician Hamilton Holmes — to enroll in the University of Georgia.

Her interest in international journalism stemmed from her desire to describe every aspect of a subject’s character.

“I was always concerned about how people were portrayed, and I wanted to make sure that people of color, who had traditionally been portrayed stereotypically, were portrayed in real, recognizable ways,” she said.

Most media coverage of South Africa focused on what Hunter-Gault calls the “four Ds” — death, disease, disaster and despair. However, the journalist, who lived in South Africa for almost 15 years, said she tried to show a different side in her work.

“I went to South Africa before it was liberated to report on just the people there, and no one had done that. No one had looked at South Africa and gone into who the people were,” Hunter-Gault said. “Even living there for 15 years, I’ve just scratched the surface.”

Hunter-Gault will draw on her own global knowledge and experience to interview Gayle about CARE’s international work. She said Gayle invited her to join her on the Amphitheater stage.

“When someone asks you to do something, there are some things you just don’t say no,” Hunter-Gault said.

She added that Gayle’s work with women in developing countries exemplifies an African saying: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

In a time in which 1 billion people lack access to health care, Gayle’s work is especially important, Hunter-Gault said.

“I travel a lot as a journalist covering the world, but Helene is truly like Superwoman,” Hunter-Gault said. “She’s always on a plane. I send her emails saying, ‘Where are you now?’ It might be the Far East one day, and the next day it might be from the jungles of South America. I’ve seen committed, dedicated women, but (Gayle) stands tall in front of the efforts to bring women around the world into their rightful place, and the health component is extremely important.”