Chelsea Clinton And Donna Shalala Visit Haiti On Mission To Empower Women

By Jacqueline Charles
The Miami Herald.

Chelsea Clinton, who serves as vice chair of her father’s philanthropic foundation, arrived in Haiti on Tuesday for a two-day visit to promote women and girls.

It was Clinton’s second visit to Haiti, where the Clinton Foundation has focused some of its initiatives on women-led and owned enterprises.

Similar to what her father did in 2011 during a visit to promote Haiti’s artisans, Clinton visited Caribbean Craft, a business started by Joel and Magalie Dresse in 1990, that employs local artisans, the majority of whom are women.

Guided by Dresse, Clinton toured the factory, asking questions about the paper mache crafts that are sold to West Elm and Anthropology in the United States. It was the first of several site visits for the day.

“The purpose of all these investments,” said Haiti Program Director Greg Milne, “is to work ourselves out of a job.”

Clinton’s visit provides an opportunity to see the foundation’s work through a new lens, said Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami, who became president of the Clinton Foundation in June. That lens is the No Ceilings Conversation that Chelsea Clinton has been having with women in New York and elsewhere.

Anchored in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2005 speech in Beijing, the initiative looks at the gains and gaps in women’s issues.

In Haiti, where the data on women is scarce, Clinton moderated a conversation on women entrepreneurship at Caribbean Craft. The audience included several local female entrepreneurs as well as U.S Ambassador Pamela White.

Serving as the interviewee, Clinton asked questions about access to markets and the difference literacy is making in the lives of women.

“Women are now getting it,” said White, emphasizing the need for women to support each other. “Women are starting to get a feeling of self-determination.”

Shalala said women are the key to the economic future of Haiti.

“Empowering women, lifting them out of poverty, their desperate situation, is absolutely the key to Haiti’s future,” she said.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s “leadership through our No Ceilings Conversation initiative is a chance to see how the foundation’s programs share a sustained commitment to empowering girls and women,” Shalala said.

Clinton was joined on the visits by Haitian-Italian fashion designer Stella Jean and rock group Arcade Fire Singer Regine Chassagne, who also is of Haitian descent. Jean said she was encouraged by the conversation but noted that Haitian artisans face many challenges from funding to access to markets to materials for their products.

The group also visited Haiti’s first permanent cholera treatment center, which was started by GHESKIO, the Caribbean’s largest HIV/AIDS treatment center. Just as it did with its HIV initiative years earlier, the center seeks to empower women into taking control of their lives through a vocational program that employs former sex workers and victims of domestic violence in making bags and pillows for sale.

Clinton ended her day with a visit to Papillon Enterprise, where 300 artisans are given a chance to earn an income by making beaded chains and jewelry from clay and cereal boxes, and iron works.

“Amazing,” said an impressed Clinton as she held a cloth doll she purchased from the group’s store.

On Wednesday, Clinton and Shalala will travel outside of the capital to Mirebalais to the post-earthquake Ministry of Health Hospital supported by Zanmi Lasante and Partners In Health. There, Dr. Paul Farmer, the visionary behind the hospital, will lead Clinton and the delegation to focus on the surgical, pediatric and oncology units.

“We’re very proud of the long-term investments we’re making,” Shalala said.

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