We Advance Then and Today
In 2010 Lawyer Aleda Frishman, Actress Maria Bello and myself were working as volunteers at a large IDP camp in Haiti where an earthquake had killed over 300,000 people. I was running the field hospital where I was witness to many raped women, children and babies. At night while we trying to sleep, we could hear women being raped far off in the night and we felt a great anguish in not being able to do anything about it. Fast forward to later that year – the three of us teamed us with Haitian women’s activist and songstress Barbara Guillaume to create the non profit We Advance (or Nap Vanse as pronounced in Haiti. ) which was about helping women in the struggle with Gender based violence.
In October of 2010 we opened the We Advance little sunshine clinic in the slums of Cite Soleil, which is one of the most dangerous slums in the western hemisphere. This women’s health clinic was originally focused on helping only women but the first months revealed that we couldn’t neglect the men in the area, who were also suffering from grave health issues along with the daily shootings and dangerous gang activity.
With both volunteers and paid staff working the clinic, We Advance attended to the most basic of health needs to some of the most complicated. Creating this clinic was one of the hardest projects I have ever had to do from getting permission to use the land and new building to a 100 other obstacles. The local police were also corrupt -and were hitting us up for extortion money in return for extra protection from the local gangs. We never paid up- which meant no protection for our area. Wearing my large Samarai knife at all times in Cite Soleil became a necessity.
My best memories were our Bath Days- there was no clean water in Cite Soleil so locals washed in the sewers and dirty street gutters. On Bath days we would fill up a small inflatable swimming pool with bubbles and water (ordered that day from a delivery truck.) Street children and orphans would line up -excited to be able to spend a few minutes being washed in clean water. The expressions of pure joy on their faces warm me to this day.
I was very fortunate to have working with us my friend Maeve McGoldrick, an Irish nurse and British soldier, who worked long ‘un thanked’ hours at the sunshine clinic to help it succeed. Equipment, medical supplies, curtains, toys and so much more had to be carried over in our bags from Miami where we toiled long sweaty hot hours with no food, water, electricity or Internet for communications. We had many successes and many trials and tribulations and painful failures but overall it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
After four long years however, We Advance clinic was forced to close, based on safety issues, lack of funding for high security budgets and the selling of the land. This was a painful period for me because Citi Soleil had over 400,000 people who desperately needed health care. We still continue to help fund a clinic down the road in Cite Soleil and it is working out but nothing like the bonds we made at the little sunshine clinic.
We Advance was having the most impact on the community through education. We learned so much about the community needs and also the role that We Advance could play in our future to best serve our community.
Classes were given on basic topics from cleaning water to opening up a bank account. We also provided education on more severe topics like removing worms from children’s eyes or seeking help about a recent sexual assault. We held adult education English classes that incorporated lessons on hygiene, family planning and gender based violence throughout the courses.
Maria thought about how to broaden the audience of the classes that were being taught at the clinic. With wifi becoming more available throughout the country, especially within rural areas, she saw the incredible potential to educate hundreds of thousands of people. Thus We Advance University was created.
We Advance University was founded and developed by Barbara Guillaume, Clare Munn, Suzanne Lerner, and Maria Bello.
The objective of We Advance University is to educate, empower, and “Oprahtize” Haiti to quickly get relevant information out to women in an entertaining, effective, easy, and dynamic way using mobile technology. The site contains a collection of videos that provide critical information/lessons posed in a talk show format.
The short-term goal is to provide free educational lessons to Haitians. The mid term intention is to have Haitian locals completely take over the site, with sponsorship from local businesses. Barbara Guillaume will continue to host; and our team led by filmmaker Danielle Dreis, will continue to create short videos with local activists.
The long-term goal is to give this online database to other countries and communities. They will be able to create their own cultural lessons based on videos that We Advance University provides. They will not only have a proven template to follow; they will have free access to the back-end technology, acquired partnerships, and existing videos of which they can easily edit for language requirements.
The ‘weadvanceu.org’ site is now officially launched – there are over sixty videos being uploaded throughout ten different categories. Over the past four months we have gathered feedback from locals and official partners, including APJ (artists for peace and Justice) and the Haiti University (ESIH).
MORE TO COME ON HOW YOU CAN BE INVOLVED WITH WE ADVANCE UNIVERSITY.