Gayle Force

by Jan Goodwin
Photograph: Photo: Olivia Arthur

At the end of our Kenya visit, CARE holds a press conference about our trip for local media. Though earlier that morning we’d spent hours sitting on a hot plane on a runway and then gotten stuck in a traffic jam, Gayle showed up for the event looking fabulous in a vivid orange linen two-piece with a wide cinch belt. “I packed it so I could meet all the mucky-mucks,” she said, referring to the local officials—including Ken­yan government ministers—who were on the press conference panel with her.

In the under-air-conditioned, standing-room-only conference hall, as other panelists droned on, many people were tuning out, some even nodding off. Then Gayle took the microphone, and a frisson of energy ran through the room. She was inclusive, eloquent and gracious as she tiptoed through diplomatic minefields. Her message was clear: We came to learn, not to lambaste.

Much of what Gayle does is like shuttle diplomacy, with its concomitant demands and exhaustion. But Gayle seems to worry not about what the job is doing to her but about whether she is doing her job well. Later she remarks that the movie Schindler’s List meant a lot to her. “What was so touching to me was that here was somebody who did so much but still worried about that person he didn’t save,” she says. “I hope I always cling to that, that I never say ‘This was good enough’ because I did something that helped some, when there are still others in need.”

She wishes there were unlimited resources, unlimited political will—“if the world were a little bit different, and we didn’t have constraints on what we do,” she says. “It’s easy to accept the status quo. You need a sense of righteous indignation. I’ve been able to keep mine. To be a force for social change and social justice.” She smiles. “Of course, eradicating world poverty would be good, too.”

Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of More.

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