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Bell reaches sky high to attain Arms Wide Open goal

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Chicago's Pam Bell has surpassed the goal of reaching 100 people that she set in creating the Arms Wide Open Project (AWOP) last year. She has prompted more than 100 people to join her as a self-proclaimed social justice activist.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Bell created the project based on reading the book, "Half the Sky -- Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

She handed out more than 100 copies of the book, asked people to read it, and to pursue the authors' challenge to take one of four steps to become an activist against human rights violations worldwide. She then asked them to take a photo of themselves "holding up the sky" and email it to her for posting on her armswideopenproject.org and Arms Wide Open Facebook pages.

Bell will get a chance to meet Kristof in person and tell him about the impact his book has had, at a dinner and lecture to be held at her alma mater, Kalamazoo College in May. The opportunity to meet the author comes as another in a long line of coincidences and events, based on Bell's connecting and reconnecting with people throughout the project.

"It's been a small, guerilla, social acivism experiment, and it's been totally rewarding," Bell points out. "The conversations I've had trying to keep this moving; I did it organically. And there have been two or three 'hotspots,' people who have gone over and above with moving it forward; and through each of them several others."

She said the project has moved forward pretty easily, relative to the fact that people are asked to make a real effort, and that the best part has been the range of creativity in the postings. She has heard from people as far away as Australia.

One of the most popular and simplest ways to empower someone anywhere across the globe, Bell said, is by going to the website, Kiva.org, where one can choose the recipient of a micro loan of as little as $25, which is paid back with interest.

"There's sort of no reason not to do it," Bell said. Bell and her family have also participated by being sponsors on Plan International. "For $20 a month you can provide for a child to go to school and meet their health care needs. And you have a relationship with the child that you sponsor. I get letters from mine."

Bell's Arms Wide Open project has sparked diverse events, including:

  • A teen-ager has written and performed a song, Arms Wide Open, and posted it on Bell's website, armswideopenproject.org.
  • Bell traveled to India where she and friends arranged a party of two dozen women ex-patriots who immediately embraced AWOP.
  • Bell worked with students and teachers at Francis Xavier Ward School in Chicago to adapt the project for an Exploratory Day of experiential learning to delve into the topic of social justice activism.
  • Bloom Yoga Studio in Lincoln Square will host a "Half the Sky Workshop" in July, to bring the book and yoga together as a platform for awareness.

Bell said she remains an optimist and is hopeful that the project can contribute to real change in the fight against worldwide incidences of violations such as slavery, forced prostitution, forced labor, and honor killings.

"When a lot of people do a lot of little things, big things start happening," she said.

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