In addition to flooding Capitol Hill for a day with committed and well-prepared constituents, our annual Capitol Hill Days (CHD) event is a valuable time for us to form relationships with activists who will continue their advocacy with Population Connection once they return home.
When Marie Lina Excellent, one of our CHD 2015 participants, reached out to us about organizing an event on the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill campus, we were very pleased and encouraged that we had made a solid connection through our CHD outreach.
Marie Lina is a medical doctor, trained in her native Haiti. She is also a public health student at UNC, and serves as co-president of the Public Health Leadership Student Association (PHLSA).
She says, “In April 2015, I had the opportunity to attend Population Connection’s Capitol Hill Days. It was such an inspiring event that when I went back to UNC I suggested to a couple of student organizations that a collaborative event with Population Connection would help us bring more awareness about reproductive health and the challenges of foreign policy to campus.”
So, in January, we worked with the Public Health Student Leadership Association, the Student Global Health Committee, and Carolina BEBES (a campus organization that supports the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute) to organize a screening of the documentary Vessel.
While in the Research Triangle area, we also had the opportunity to host a well-attended film screening and discussion of Blessed Fruit of the Womb with several groups at the UNC School of Medicine, and to host a grassroots advocacy training with Partners in Health Engage at Duke University.
As always, we were encouraged by the strength and commitment of our supporters in North Carolina, and look forward to our future collaborations with these groups and other volunteers in the state.
A Closer Look at an Excellent Advocate: Marie Lina
From a young age, Marie Lina Excellent was passionate about helping others. As a child, those close to her referred to her as “Attorney Marie Lina” because of her aspiration to become a lawyer, and because she was always defending and standing up for her friends and family.
Marie Lina is a Fulbright Scholar from Haiti in her final semester of the master’s program in Public Health Leadership at the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. She returned to school for her MPH because through her medical work, both in Port-au-Prince and in remote parts of Haiti, she realized that she could have a greater impact by doing public health work with the “larger community.”
Her interest in public health was first piqued during epidemiology courses in medical school, and continued to grow through her work as the Director of HIV/AIDS and Community Health Programs at Saint Damien Hospital in Port-au-Prince.
It’s hard to focus on HIV prevention without talking about reproductive health, and at Saint Damien’s, Marie Lina also ran a family planning program that provided education and services, along with free contraceptives and condoms. Marie Lina notes that the “beauty” of the program was in its comprehensiveness and its ability to support women who were unable to “negotiate condom use” with their partners.
In providing information about all the various methods of contraception and providing a wide variety of supplies, women were able to choose what option worked best for them. As Marie Lina says, “It’s your health; it’s your body; it’s your life; it’s your choice.”
Marie Lina also implemented a strategy to bridge her family planning and HIV prevention work. At first, only two of her staff were allowed to distribute family planning information and supplies. Marie Lina made a change to that policy so that every provider—whether working in the HIV prevention program, the family planning program, or the community health program—had condoms available in his or her office, to avoid “missed opportunities” in promoting sexual and reproductive health to patients. Once each patient’s primary reason for their visit was addressed, they were offered condoms, which led to an uptick in their use among the hospital’s patients.
Marie Lina reflects that running the family planning program was “a great experience to learn about the barriers that women face when it comes to family planning—all the taboo and the stigma surrounding it” and that “the benefits of reducing numbers of births—when women want this as an option—is really beneficial.”
Her “wake-up call to strengthen her public health background” came following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This event was the catalyst for her transition to becoming a public health professional. While clinical care was obviously essential in the earthquake’s aftermath, public health was the greater issue, because at that time “not one patient, but an entire population was screaming for help.”
Around the time of the earthquake, Marie Lina had a dream which caused her to ask herself “Am I going back to school?” In the dream, she was walking through an unfamiliar place and heard a voice telling her that she was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She had never heard of Chapel Hill, and when she woke up, she researched the name, and discovered information about UNC. Several years later, she enrolled in UNC’s public health program. She says her subconscious fortune telling was “a wonderful dream that became a wonderful reality.”
We feel fortunate to have met Marie Lina, and are grateful that she has dedicated her career to promoting the health of women, men, and children everywhere. We look forward to having her as one of our volunteers for a long time to come!