A Letter from Maria Bello.
July 2014 – We Advance Then and Today:
To all of our supporters over the last four years who contributed their time, money, and efforts, we thank you so much. What we were able to accomplish at our little yellow sunshine clinic on the small budget that we had, was truly extraordinary. We couldn’t have done it without you! Through trials and tribulations, great successes and painful failures, we have learned so much about what the community needs and also the role that We Advance could play to best serve our community.
Four years ago, along with Alison Thompson; Aleda Fishman; Barbara Guilliaume, I co-founded a non profit we called “We Advance” (or Nap Vanse which means “We Advance” in Creole, Haiti’s national language). We founded this in response to the devastating earthquake of January 2010 that took 300,000 lives. Located in the slum of Cité Soleil, which was already in existence before the earthquake, We Advance aimed to help all affected in the region, especially the millions who were left homeless. We Advance established a medical crisis clinic located in one of the poorest slums in the world, Cité Soliel. 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. After four long years however, We Advance was forced to close our clinic based on safety issues and lack of funding for high security budgets. We realized that even with the emergency medical attention we were supplying, We Advance was really having the most impact on the community through education.
We provided classes 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.
We 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, we saw the incredible potential to educate hundreds of thousands of people. Thus we created We Advance University.
We Advance University was founded and developed by Barbara Guillaume, Clare Munn, Suzanne Lerner, and I. 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.
Our 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). In July, we will be ready to begin editing in preparation for an official launch at the end of 2014.
In essence, the We Advance University site is a personal and local online interactive information and educational site. The site will allow local women’s groups from all over Haiti to connect, access services, and learn about the things that will empower them to move forward. With their own “Oprah-like” host, different countries will create their own dynamic We Advance University site, containing topics that are relevant to them and their particular needs.
We are excited to have such great supporters like you joining us in our new venture!