published Friday, October 11th, 2013

Journalist Lisa Ling visits Chattanooga's GPS, says education offers women power

International journalist Lisa Ling talks with students at Girls Preparatory School on Thursday morning following her talk to the upper school. From left are Ling, Kathleen McDougal, Jacqueline Kliner, Hannah Tate, Angel Sims and Cameron Ford.
International journalist Lisa Ling talks with students at Girls Preparatory School on Thursday morning following her talk to the upper school. From left are Ling, Kathleen McDougal, Jacqueline Kliner, Hannah Tate, Angel Sims and Cameron Ford.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Countless people mistake Lisa Ling's celebrity as Charlie's Angel lookalike Lucy Liu, but the international news icon may as well be a secret agent.

Ling, a 40-year-old journalist from Sacramento, Calif., is a household name for human rights, having reported for on Nightline and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She visited Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga on Thursday to talk about her experiences in documenting women's struggles across the globe.

Everything from being a new mother to her famous 2007 North Korea trip was on the table.

"When I ask women in other countries what they want, they say 'education,'" Ling said. "They want the one thing, more than anything else, that will give them a chance to have power and be a voice."

Anne Exum, the director of communications at GPS, said the speaker series started in 2008 as an effort to bring the world's movers and shakers to the prep school.

"These speakers are not always huge names, but rather, people who have made a name for themselves on the international or national level," Exum said.

Ling started her first lecture to the upper school, which contained more serious content about international realities, by discussing her excitement about 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai. The Afghani girl has captured the world's heart after addressing the United Nations with stories of bravery against the Taliban regime.

"As I stand here today, I think back to all the girls in the world I've covered who are exposed to challenging home lives and situations," Ling said. "To say I'm impressed would grossly underestimate how I truly feel about her."

Ling's two-decade repertoire of investigations covers the unthinkable: Midwest towns ravaged by heroin. Gang rape in the Congo. Bride burning in India. War veterans shaken to the core by post-traumatic stress disorder.

She even met boys in the Middle East who didn't know their birth date, yet were trained to operate bazookas.

"I could only wonder what would happen to those boys 10 years from then," she said of a 1994 trip to Afghanistan.

Ten years later, those boys would have found themselves enveloped with America's longest-running military operation in its history.

Susan R. Groesbeck, interim head of GPS, expressed in her opening remarks how she wants her students to become "digitally informed, savvy, global citizens."

"By immersing herself into the lives of the people she meets and the hardships they face, Ms. Ling brings a unique lens to the story of real people, challenging us to consider a different viewpoint," Groesbeck said.

Although Ling admitted the atrocities and realities she has seen often get to her, she said she relies on her faith to be a harbinger of purpose with her work. She reflects on a poem her husband told her called "Why?" and left the auditorium of girls with its message.

"God, why don't you do something about this?" the poem asks. "I certainly did do something about it: I made you."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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