When asked what community means to her, Anne Hill, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, told us, “It’s reaching out. It’s extending the hand of friendship and help, and sharing what one has learned and experienced with those who haven’t had the same advantages.”
“Our lives can be so insular,” she added, referring to work, home, family and other responsibilities. “You can tend to think that all you see is all there is.”
That thought, Anne says, applies equally to people in need. “So many people around the world live in limited circumstances, where they cannot see a path forward. Their lives become insular as well, thinking the life they experience today is all that there is for them.”
Expanding opportunities for people in need is a cornerstone of community for Anne. That’s why she supports The Lily Project, an organization dedicated to educating women in Nicaragua about health care, self care, and empowerment. “Nicaragua has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the Americas,” Anne explains. “Yet it’s one of the easiest cancers to detect early and treat.” Anne’s eyes were opened to this fact by Susan Cotton, co-founder and board chair of The Lily Project.
“Sue and I were ‘parenting friends’,” Anne explains. “She was a corporate executive who decided to follow her passion for nonprofit work. Through her, I learned about the high rates of cervical cancer among Nicaraguan women and how simple screenings and preventive care can be when made accessible. The Lily Project calls attention to the fact that ‘when you lose a mother, you lose a family’.”
The Lily Project’s core mission, to provide mobile health clinics that provide cancer screening and pre-cancer treatment, is inspired by Co-Founder Anielka Medina's experience. Her mother, Lily, lived a life typical of women in rural Nicaragua: raising 7 children on her own by age 25. Lily passed away at age 48 after a lengthy battle with cervical cancer. The mobile health clinics, deployed four days per week, not only provide cancer screenings and on-site pre-cancer treatment, but also offer reproductive health classes and opportunities for local women to gather and focus on themselves, an opportunity not often available to them.
“Access to health care and self care information is so limited for most women in Nicaragua,” Sue explains. “Many believe their regular menstrual cycle is a disease. They’ve never been told how their bodies function. Many of them are having children in their early teens, so exposure to HPV (a virus linked to cervical cancer) starts very young.” The women can be hesitant at first, Sue adds, “but all it takes is one. One woman to participate and tell other women. Often, we’ll see 20 women on the first day and 200 on the next.”
Screening and pre-cancer treatment involves two simple tests. When detection and treatment are this easy, Sue says, there’s no reason for cervical cancer rates to be as high as they are in Nicaragua. “Access to medical care and information is what will make the difference to these women. That’s what The Lily Project provides.”