August Burns retired today after 10 years as executive director of Waterbury, Vt.-based NGO Grounds for Health. Under Burns’ leadership, Grounds for Health has grown exponentially, and now partners with 17 coffee cooperatives in four countries, training education and medical workers and empowering women locally to help prevent cervical cancer.
“Grounds for Health is grateful to Ms. Burns for her ten years of vision, expertise, and commitment,” the group’s board of directors recently announced. “She has guided the organization from a fledgling NGO with a service project in one country, to a global leader in cervical cancer prevention in low-resource communities…Her vision and commitment to community partnerships as a key to truly sustainable development has served to make Grounds for Health a model of community-based development.”
Burns is being replaced by Guy Stallworthy, a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with more than 25 years experience working with health- and mission-based initiatives in developing countries.
Yesterday, on the eve of her retirement, Burns was less reflective than downright inspirational, writing, in part:
My journey did not begin with Grounds for Health, but rather ends with it after 38 years working for women’s health and rights. I was raised by a role-breaking mother to believe that women are equals to men in all ways. Unfortunately, this is few women’s reality. And yet, my intimate experience, serving literally thousands of women, confirms my mother’s vision: women rise to every challenge and always amaze me with their strength and integrity. If by some magic—because I’m not sure what else will ever do it—we could create the opportunity of equality for all women, we would unleash the full measure of our human potential.
Women’s lives are valuable to the strength and health of the community and somehow, our powerful little project brings that value into focus. When women are empowered, men are empowered, communities are empowered, and everyone’s life improves. That empowerment might come in the form of new knowledge about health, or increased respect as demonstrated by a health care program that focuses on saving women’s lives. In every community Grounds for Health has worked, we have seen this transformation happen.
So thank you to everyone who has contributed to making Grounds for Health a success, and please stay with us.