The SHAPE OF WATER
Now out of the office, Rainn Wilson alongside Holiday Reinhorn, and Dr Kathryn Adams are teaching women and girls on educational and environmental issues in Haiti.
By Erica Commisso.
Rainn Wilson has one of those faces. Looking at him, you instantly see every one of his ridiculous, award-winning antics as Dwight Schrute on The Office. His memorable portrayal of the beet farming paper salesman skyrocketed him to countrywide fame and adoration, despite Dwight’s questionable beliefs and odd habits.
In reality, Wilson’s mission is inspired by more compassion than Dwight Schrute could ever muster. Alongside his wife, author Holiday Reinhorn, and prestigious educator Dr. Kathryn Adams, Wilson founded Lidè, a charity aimed at helping underprivileged women and girls in rural Haiti. Through arts education, Lidè (which means both idea and leader in Haitian Creole) teaches resiliency to women who are otherwise at high risk of falling victim to many exterior dangers. Wilson and Reinhorn had been to Haiti in 2009 with Sean Penn’s charity, and immediately fell in love with the country, its people and its culture.
After the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti in 2010, the already poor country suffered even greater setbacks, and women and girls took on most of the hardships. They’re sold to slavery in Port-au-Prince to make money for their impoverished families, forced to walk miles in search of water, and often are faced with diseases not even contemplated in the western world. So, Wilson and Reinhorn partnered with their friend, Dr. Adams, to step in.
“Women and girls are the lifeline of any community and when they are given a voice, through education and the arts, and if they have a sense that their ideas matter, they have an immediate positive impact on the environment, food and water security and healthy conflict resolution in any community,” Reinhorn says. “Improving the health, welfare, resiliency and vision of all people in the community becomes part of the daily conversation.”
Until Lidè, education was largely accessible only to boys. So, the charity promotes equality with exclusively female students. Combatting malnutrition, lack of education and inequality, Lidè has built 12 schools in remote, rural areas in Haiti to educate and empower over 500 girls, mostly between the ages of 11 and 21. To prove the legitimacy and advocacy of the charity, Wilson and Reinhorn self-funded Lidè for the entire first year of its existence.
“I was taught by all the women in my life and have always believed that women’s empowerment and education is pivotal to solving the most critical issues facing the human race. Literacy for adolescent girls as future mothers and change-makers is essential to healing the world and protecting future generations,” Reinhorn says. “For every young girl who has access to education, 100 people in her sphere will benefit in a positive way. We have watched this positive impact firsthand at Lidè over the last five years in all the communities where we work. For example, Lidè students have been critical first responders during floods and hurricanes because they know where all the most vulnerable members live and have mapped the community prior to the storms.”
Lidè also trains their educators to deal with students living in chronic high stress and in poverty. “The education in emergencies training came in because a lot of our work already incorporated that, having come out of the earthquake, and because so many of the girls lives in very fragile contexts where abuse is high and that whole sense of barely surviving is so common,” Dr. Adams says. “Because we work in the hurricane context, and even in a regular day-to-day basis, it’s always been very clear to us that the things that our girls struggle with are beyond the scope of a traditional education.
Girls are more impacted by changes in the environment, by issues in access to clean water, access to light and energy, and disasters caused by climate change.” She’s heard stories of her students’ sisters being sold to slavery in the south of Haiti because parents couldn’t afford too many kids after the earthquake, or had many of her students miss classes because of maladies found only in impoverished countries. The water students drink is often contaminated, spreading cholera and typhoid among the students. “Cholera, this summer, came back in one of our communities, and there were 75 people who came down with it in one small, rural community,” she says. “That’s a lot in one community when the world is thinking that Haiti is done with cholera.”
“Sometimes it feels like we’re picking up the pieces, and we need the world to gather around,” Dr. Adams says. “We need everybody to realize that the choices they make that have led to global warming, and that could make it get worse or get better, affect people that have no say in those choices.”