For 25 years, Women with a Vision has embodied the philosophy of “We serve at the feet of those who suffer the most.” That in itself can be revolutionary, and WWAV goes further by listening to what their clients need and making that the impetus for action. It’s harm reduction. It’s innovative. It’s what keeps the grassroots approach that WWAV has become known and revered for.
By working under a harm reduction approach, WWAV meets women at the intersections of life. What that means is that there is no personal shaming, and there is not necessarily a “right way” to approach difficult or even life-threatening situations. Just as they look at their clients as individuals, each experience is also unique. Their work in the community and with policies centers around talking and listening to the client, and then taking action in a way that represents what the client desires. That may seem like what every social justice organization aims to do, so let’s break it down to see how what WWAV does is revolutionary in many way.
Take for example a woman who has HIV/AIDS. If you are asked, “How can we help this person?” there may be dozens of ideas floating through your head. She needs medication. She needs access to a hospital. She needs education on how to take care of her current state of health. As Mwende Katwiwa (Program Assistant at WWAV) states, “If you have HIV and you’re homeless maybe your most urgent need is not taking care of that specifically but taking care of your living situation.” That is where WWAV removes any agenda that is outside the client. If the client wants to focus on getting a better home, then WWAV helps that client get a better home.
As Nia Weeks (Director of Policy & Advocacy) explains, “I can assume to know what the people that we serve need. I can have my idea of a policy that I think is bad or needs to be restructured, but the clients will tell me, ‘I’m actually being damaged this way. How can we change policy so I’m not damaged this way?’ My policy issues and what I want to do, I can do that somewhere else and some other time. This is about the clients.”
And these clients are predominantly black women. That is where WWAV saw a need – one that was present in history and continues to be present in modern times. “LGTBQ, Trans, and black women were falling through the cracks, and WWAV saw that,” Mwende explains, and that is where WWAV steps in.
The work is constant, and the work is challenging, so how do the volunteers and employees keep their energy going and their motivation strong? “Well, Mwende makes awesome tea,” Nia says with a giant smile and eyes of pride on Mwende.
“I have all this tea from Kenya,” Mwende says. “My people make amazing tea, so I bring it to the office.”
“When one of our other co-workers Christine comes in she says, ‘I’ve got milk,’ and I say, ‘I’ve got tea.’ And we are happy.”
Seeing Mwende and Nia laugh and bond over the stories that they tell gives a small glimpse into the environment that is cultivated and fostered at WWAV.
“WWAV staff has really exploded in the last three years. Now we have 12 staff members. The growth that the organization is going through is so beautiful. There’s an increase in volunteers. There’s an increase in interns and people wanting to be involved. There are so many people that want to be at WWAV, which creates the best office space,” Mwende says.
With their new office space at 1226 Broad Street, Nia and Mwende both are proud of the work that has been going on for years with WWAV, and they know that there is still a lot to be done.