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Chris Linnares, Published November 13 2013

Women's Wisdom: Dawson’s mission helps Sudanese girls

The cold is coming, and my Brazilian heart is preparing to face the long winter ahead.

Luckily, I’ve learned the secret to staying warm in frozen Fargo, and it doesn’t have to do with a puffy parka, mittens or scarves.

No, the key is found in a special natural resource of this state.

A few years ago my husband and I started a project called “Beautiful Women of North Dakota” with the mission to expand the definition of beauty by putting the spotlight on ordinary beautiful women creating extraordinary lives. After identifying 22 women through a nomination process, we took our three daughters on a road trip to be inspired by the true beauty of these remarkable North Dakotan women. What we thought would be just an inspiring conversation ended up becoming a book, an education project and a life-changing experience for all of us.

From Beach to Fargo, we knocked on the doors of these amazing women, and we had the blessing to drink from their wisdom. They had overcome different trials in their lives, but they all had one thing in common: a generous heart and a deep desire to use their existence to make our world a more beautiful place.

The beauty of their stories, along with their unconditional love and immense gratitude to this land and to life warmed my heart in a very special way.

It was on this journey that I realized the greatest resource of the state of North Dakota is not the oil, agriculture or Bison champions. It is found within the hearts of the humans that habitat the vast land of this beautiful state that I am proud to call home.

Today, I am pleased to introduce to you one of these beautiful women responsible for making my Brazilian soul feel that North Dakota is one of the warmest places on earth.

Deb Dawson is a passionate and empowering woman with an immensely generous soul. Dawson, a mother of five, felt she needed to give her life to help the dreams of others come to life. Inspired by one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, she founded the nonprofit, African Soul, American Heart. The mission is to provide a home and education for orphaned girls in southern Sudan. This boarding school rescues them from girlhood marriage and gives them the skills they need to succeed.

So today, forget the oncoming cold outside, wrap yourself up in a warm blanket and let this North Dakota woman’s wisdom warm your heart.

Q. In the story of your life, what was the most challenging moment you needed to overcome?

A. One of the biggest challenges I faced was coping with my mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. She was not even 50 when she began having trouble managing day-to-day life. I was the oldest of four girls and a new mother myself.

Q. What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?

A. It took some years to get a correct diagnosis. When the doctors said, “She has Alzheimer’s.” We said, “What’s Alzheimer’s?”

Though people talked about dementia, Alzheimer’s wasn’t commonly used, and we had never heard of it in someone so young.

My sisters and I pulled together to help my dad and to help each other. We lost her so early. We had to depend on each other, and that continues today. I’m lucky to have sisters.

Q. If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?

A. Life is a beautiful but challenging gift. Make the best of each day. Struggles make you stronger and sorrow helps you appreciate joy.

Q. What advice can you give to empower a woman’s life story?

A. Each day is a new day. Give it the best you can do that day.

Q. How can women best impact the world today?

A. I believe in education as the best way to empower and protect girls – tomorrow’s women.

My nonprofit, African Soul, American Heart, runs the ASAH School for Orphaned Girls in Duk County, Jonglei State, Republic of South Sudan. Our mission is Protect. Educate. Empower.

You can find out more at www.ASAHinSudan.org or at www.Facebook.com/

ASAHSudan.

Chris Linnares is international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact, formerly Diva Connection Foundation. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of the Forum. To suggest a woman for this column, email chris@womensimpact.org. For more information on Linnares’ work, visit www.chrislinnares.com.