Vivian Stromberg, Who Worked to Aid Women, Dies at 74

October 14, 2015

By WILLIAM GRIMES
October 6, 2015

Vivian Stromberg, a founder and later the executive director of Madre, an aid and human rights organization that supports women’s groups around the world, died on Sept. 24 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 74.

The cause was end-stage liver disease, her daughter Daniella Stromberg said.

Ms. Stromberg was an elementary school music teacher in the South Bronx in the early 1980s when she joined a group of women hoping to rally public opinion against American support for the contras, the rebels trying to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The group, which included the actress Susan Sarandon, toured the United States, reading testimony from Nicaraguan women whose children had been killed by the contras.

Members of the group later traveled to Nicaragua, where the women they talked to urged them to create an organization in the United States that might change American policy.

Madre was formed in 1983 by the poet Kathy Engel, who became its first executive director. Ms. Stromberg served as one of the founding board members and became executive director in 1990. She retired in 2011.

The organization works with local women’s groups in the United States, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Africa to alleviate suffering caused by war and natural disasters, and to promote human rights. Its first project was to send a ton of baby cereal and powdered milk to Nicaragua.

When organizing aid projects, Ms. Stromberg often began by listening to the women she intended to work with. Their testimony sometimes led her in unexpected directions. As part of its relief efforts in the former Yugoslavia in 1993, for example, Madre distributed candy and other small items to mothers at a refugee camp.

“We learned from these women that it felt terrible not to be able to respond to their kids’ simplest requests,” she told Ms. magazine in 1999.

Vivian Hoffman was born on Aug. 16, 1941, in Brooklyn and grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood. After earning a degree in education from the City University of New York, she began teaching sixth grade at Public School 31 in the South Bronx. As a child she had studied piano and violin at the after-school programs at the Juilliard School, and in her last 12 years as a teacher, she taught music.

While in college she joined the Freedom Riders, who traveled by bus across the South in mixed-race groups to challenge racial segregation. She went on to become active in the antiwar movement, and in 1982, she helped organize a rally in Central Park in support of a freeze on nuclear weapons, which drew more than half a million demonstrators.

An early marriage ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter Daniella, she is survived by another daughter, Nicole Stromberg; a goddaughter, Monica Aleman; and three grandchildren.

After becoming executive director of Madre, Ms. Stromberg, working with a Jordanian women’s group, organized a truck convoy to drive 10 tons of milk and medicine from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad in the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf war.

Madre, which has directed about $34 million in humanitarian aid to its various projects, often concentrates on addressing problems of survival, but with the goal of developing leaders who can then press for women’s rights.

“When you know your rights, instead of begging for something, you start asking that it not be taken away,” Ms. Stromberg told O Magazine in 2008. “Your whole body language changes; you stop crying.”

Originally published by The New York Times