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Jun 1, 2004
Naomi Bronstein remembered as 'mother to everyone'
Humanitarian credited with saving as many as 140,000 lives

Commentator Jeff Danziger is a syndicated political cartoonist and author with deep roots in Vermont. Today, he is remembering a woman who dedicated her life to helping others - especially very young children.

(DANZIGER) Naomi Bronstein died three days before Christmas, at the orphanage she founded in Guatemala City. She had devoted her life to orphans, victims of war and poverty, and had lost count of how many she had brought to families in the United States, and to her own country, Canada.

In 1975, as the Vietnam War came to an inglorious end, Naomi brought my daughter out of the war zone. The US had ignored the existence of war orphans until the last minute. President Ford hurriedly provided a C5A cargo plane for a well-publicized evacuation. My daughter was almost on that plane. It took off from Saigon Airport, with about 140 babies and many nurses aboard. Over the South China Sea a cargo door blew off. The pilot desperately tried to get back to the airport but didn't make it. In the crash, all the babies and many of Naomi's friends were killed. And to her, fell the task of going out to the crash site to identifying the people - and the babies - as best she could.

A week later, on a commercial plane, my daughter arrived with another group of babies in Montreal, where we waited, with about thirty other Vermont families. Naomi was on that flight, exhausted but happy.

For the next 35 years, Naomi continued to travel to the war zones, and the poverty-stricken areas of the world, to save orphans and bring health services to the citizens. She worked largely alone, not trusting the governments of either the third world, or indeed the first world, to act in the best interests of the children. After all, the C5A that crashed had been known by the US Air Force to have a faulty design.

Naomi Bronstein was always been a source of pride for Canadians. She had received innumerable honors for her bravery and determination. But she remained untouched by her own legend, unimpressed by talk, realizing that professional praisers have their own agenda. She was always a loner, even though, in some cases, her independence was more desirable than practical. She was not good at raising funds, not good at begging, not good at shaming the fortunate. She was a one-woman show, which made sense in a way.

She died at work in Guatemala City, a place of poverty and disaster, in the middle of mudslides, sinkholes and volcanoes. There she helped the children she had found stumbling through this hellish maze, some orphans, and some who didn't yet know they were.

She was, at the end of her life, broke. She had lost her house in Quebec so she had no place to return to. She was tired and ill, and she lived largely on an internal stubbornness. Even that fire was fading, and she told me last year that she didn't really know what to do except to go on.

But whatever her motivation was, she exemplified the true meaning of charity. She gained nothing. Not money, not publicity, not political standing, not book contracts or anything else in return for her labors. She did the hard and personally costly work of really helping other human beings. And I hope she has entered heaven as she lived her life - exhausted, but happy.

MONTREAL - Naomi Bronstein was remembered Friday as a great humanitarian whose quest to save the world’s children at times turned her own family’s life upside-down.

“She gave herself entirely to others, even if it meant sometimes that we had little left for us,” daughter Heidi Bronstein said in a tearful tribute in a Décarie Blvd. funeral chapel.

A Canadian flag covered the casket of Bronstein, 65, who died on Dec. 23 of heart disease in Guatemala, where she ran a mobile medical clinic for rural children.

The recipient of multiple awards, including the Order of Canada, Bronstein is credited with saving as many as 140,000 lives over four decades by providing medical care and adoptive families for poor and ill youngsters in Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea and Central America, Rabbi Alan Bright told mourners.

“Her life was proof that one woman can make a difference,” Bright told a funeral packed with family and friends. An overflow crowd watched the funeral by video link in an adjacent room.

Stubborn and single-minded, Bronstein earned the title “the swearing Mother Theresa,” for her tireless efforts on behalf of children, daughter Heidi Bronstein recalled.

In 1969, she began evacuating orphans from war-torn Vietnam and later founded an orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from which the Khmer Rouge forced her to flee in 1975.

She brought hundreds of children to Canada from developing countries for life-saving surgery or adoption.

“She broke down borders between countries, manipulated politicians, crashed through red tape and barricades and in the end managed to save lives,” Heidi Bronstein said.

But Bronstein’s selfless devotion came at a price for her own 12 children, of whom seven were adopted.

“What I learned to share was not my toys and my food but rather my mother,” Heidi Bronstein said. “She believed that whatever we had, someone else needed it more.”

Having a mother bent on “saving the entire world” gave her children a unique perspective, Bronstein’s eldest son, Brian, told mourners.

He brought the entire room to tears when he thanked his mother for giving him “11 brothers and sisters that make me proud every day.”

Brian’s daughter, Meagan, 20, described her grandmother as an independent spirit focused on more important things than baking cookies with her grandchildren.

“Maybe she wasn’t made to be a grandmother,” Meagan said. “Maybe she was made to be a mother to everyone.”

In an interview after the service, daughter Tam-lien Bronstein, 41, said Bronstein saved her life by adopting her from a Vietnamese orphanage where the 3-year-old slept in a box under a bed. “I don’t think I would be alive because I was so sick,” said Tam-lien, now a mother of four in Bellerive, Mi.

Bronstein is survived by her 91-year-old mother, Tillie Segal, 11 of her children and her former husband of 30 years, Herbert Bronstein. A son, Sanh, died in 1989.

During the last years of her life, Bronstein was plagued by ill health but refused to leave Guatemala, where she lived alone while pursuing her life’s work.

“I’m so proud of her, but my heart is breaking,” said Segal, whose son, Joey, died in 2009 at age 69.



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Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Reminded me of Bhagat Puran Singh of the Pingalwarra..these are the types of Humanitarians on whose heads the Dharma Stands. I salute Naomi with all the Love and respect I can muster. May her soul rest in Peace - a peace she must have brought to so many...she has done her service to Humanity..and that leaves the rest of us to wonder..what is our contribution ??



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