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Activists against social injustice celebrate friendships with a cause

Pamela Bell (L), Carrie Wicks(R) and HHAE board members celebrate social activism.
Pamela Bell (L), Carrie Wicks(R) and HHAE board members celebrate social activism.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Bell

Pamela Bell, creator of Arms Wide Open Project (AWOP) hosted a party for her activist friends, held Sat., Aug. 13, at The Golden Triangle of Chicago. Bell was happy to provide a celebration for the people who had taken her challenge to read the book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and subsequently done something to fight injustices and abuses across the globe. Bell and friends are living up to the Chinese proverb upon which the book title is based, which states that “Women hold up half the sky,” in their fight against social injustices affecting girls and women across the globe.

Bell has brought to light 170 activists for the empowerment of girls and women, well above her goal when she first set out to hand 100 people a copy of the book, back in April, 2010. She created the Arms Wide Open Project through her website, traveled to India with some of her activist friends, and made good on her pledge to celebrate with a huge party for all.

Bell took the celebration one step further by creating a silent auction to raise funds for Helping through Health, the Arts and Education of Illinois (HHAE), a non-profit organization founded by her friend and fellow AWOP activist, Carrie Wicks.

“(The celebration) was an incredible success. It was really a creative process, ... done very low key and organically,” Bell commented. “People were being inspired by the project. A lot of what they felt and thought was ended up being artwork (which they donated).”

The event raised $20,000 for HHAE, which includes providing care to the village of Lonto, Ghana, where Wicks has traveled to volunteer as a nurse and midwife. Wicks is a retired nurse with a Ph.D. in health administration from University of Chicago who had spent her entire career in the underserved communities in Chicago, Bell said. Since seeing first-hand Lonto’s lack of proper birthing beds; pieces of plywood sticks with no linens, lack of medical supplies and overall awful conditions, Wicks traveled back and forth to Lonto, helping provide items such as a solar lamp, to replace toxic kerosene lamps, a proper labor and delivery bed and linens, medical supplies, a generator and refrigerator, vaccines; along with helping out the village’s school.

“It’s very grass roots,... she gets the job done,” said Bell.

As does Bell. Most of the gifts that were donated to the silent auction were of time and talent, she said. There were more than 40 paintings, plus guitar lessons, homemade pies, all donated by participants in AWOP. The night included music including the “Arms Wide Open” song performed by the teenage author of a poem inspired by the book and project, and a movie of all the activists set to music are some of the outcomes. The night also included performance art and books personally signed by Kristof put up for auction.

“I’ve had a great time meeting people, and reconnecting with old friends. And I’ve gained a wonderful sense of seeing how other people’s lives can be changed. Some are going to Africa to do service work. The thread’s just thrown out there and you never know where it ends up,” Bell observed.

Bell says reading "Half the Sky," performing a suggested action, and then passing the book along to someone else will help keep the process of social activism going.

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