December 4 - Independent-London : Obituary: Perdita Huston - Peace Corps Staffer and Activist

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, January 07, 2002 - 8:38 am: Edit Post

Obituary: Perdita Huston - Peace Corps Staffer and Activist

Read and comment on the obituary for Perdita Huston from the Independent London which discusses her contributions to understanding third world development and her service as a regional director of the Peace Corps at:

Obituary: Perdita Huston*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Obituary: Perdita Huston

Jan 4, 2002 - Independent-London Author(s): Benjamin Pogrund

PERDITA HUSTON was a voice for the most ignored people in developing countries - the women struggling to survive and care for their families in lives swept by change.

Twenty-five years ago she wrote two books - Message from the Village (1978) and Third World Women Speak Out (1979) - which profoundly influenced the international aid world. The books urged governments, aid agencies and development experts: speak to rural villagers before building dams, agricultural schemes and industries aimed at improving their existence. The villagers know their own situation and they know local conditions, said Huston, driving home the point through interviews with villagers in a range of countries.

So obvious a concept surely did not need to be stated. Amazingly, however, experts brought in at great expense from abroad to prepare aid schemes time and again did not bother to consult their intended beneficiaries. This could and did lead to their efforts proving counter- productive, damaging and wasteful.

Huston focused especially on rural women who are the least heard, even though, as she showed, they usually carry the main burden in looking after the family as well as tending the crops vital for survival. This focus came out of her lifelong commitment to improving the status and lot of women in both the developing and developed worlds.

Born in Portland, Maine, in 1936, Huston studied at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris and the University of Grenoble. She began her working life with Time Inc in Paris, writing for Life and Time magazines and later handling public affairs in Europe for the group.

Marriage to a young doctor who was conscripted into the French army took her to a military outpost in Algeria during the final era of colonial rule. As a medical-social worker she directed welfare programmes for 15,000 refugees. With one foot inside the French army establishment and the other amid the Algerian people she was a unique witness to the savagery in the war for independence: her searing story resides in a still unpublished manuscript.

She returned to the United States in 1971 to join the Bicentennial Commission and during the next five years, in the celebration of the American Revolution, initiated a national women's programme and directed the Citizen Participation programme. She went on to the US Peace Corps and from 1978 to 1981 was Regional Director for North Africa, Near East, Asia and the Pacific.

Her international concerns, the recurring theme in her life, took her to work at the World Conservation Union's headquarters in Switzerland where she concentrated on women's roles in environmental management. Then to the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London, where from 1987 to 1990 as director of public affairs she created a new department to enhance the organisation's global visibility through publications, media, conferences and coalition- building. Two books emerged from this period of her life: The Right to Choose: pioneers in women's health & family planning and Motherhood of Choice (both 1992).

She went on to spend five years on an ambitious study of the changes experienced by the family through the 20th century, travelling to 11 countries to interview three generations of families. The result was published last year as Families As We Are: conversations from around the world.

Meanwhile, she returned to the US Peace Corps in 1997 and was country director in Mali and then, until she fell ill last year, in Bulgaria.

The United Nations Association for the National Capital Area has created the "Perdita Huston Human Rights Fund" which will support its activities for human rights with special attention to women. Contributions can be sent to Unanca, 1808 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 101, Washington DC 20009, USA.

Perdita Huston, writer and international development campaigner: born Portland, Maine 2 May 1936; married first Dr Yves Champey (two daughters; marriage dissolved), second Dr Marcel Diennet (one son; marriage dissolved); died Silver Spring, Maryland 4 December 2001.

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By venita robertson on Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 12:23 pm: Edit Post

I am wracked by grief to hear of this news. Perdita was a profound mentor for me as a student at Wheaton College. I know her son, Pierre, and would love to be able to send condolences. Do you know how I can reach him? Any information you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much, Venita Robertson
Phone (207) 236-2123

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