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Get out the Vote – for Malya!

It is election day in the US, and many people here are headed out to vote for their representatives. But everyone, everywhere in the world, can vote for our partner Malya for CNN Hero of the Year! You can vote every day, ten times a day, until the end of the month. Read her inspiring story in her own words below – and then go vote!

I’ve been involved with grassroots groups in Haiti since 1986. This is my story.

In the beginning, we would get together to discuss the immediate issues facing our community. If we didn’t have any water, we would figure out whose door we could knock on to get the problem fixed. When families couldn’t afford to send their children to school, we formed a committee to visit schools in the area to see if any could take on students free of charge. I’ve always been a part of local groups working to identify the issues that plague our community.

At the beginning, these groups were always made up of both men and women. Unfortunately, our voices as women were never heard. Even if we had good ideas for development, it was only the men who had the opportunity to lead.

So in 1991, all the women sat down, and we decided to create our own organization: Oganizasyon Fanm Progresist Matissan (The Organisation of Progressive Women of Martissant). OFPM gave us the chance to be independent and to think for ourselves. As women, we cherished the opportunity to join together and share our ideas for change in Haiti. We were able to create a lot of movement and develop many important projects in our community.

Then, in 1992, I was raped. That year, I met many other women who were also raped. I decided I wanted to protect rape survivors. To make sure that they did not go through what I went through. My new friends felt the same. Shortly after, we began to rally around the issue of preventing violence against women—organizing protests, rallies and sit-ins.

We were all rape survivors, and we all wanted to find justice. But we never found any justice. Many of the women who were part of this group had contracted HIV/AIDS and other diseases from their attacks—a lot of them died. We never found any justice. I knew something had to change.

In 2004, when we realized that nothing was happening to prevent rape or to protect survivors, we changed our strategies. Instead of just seeking justice, we created an organization to protect and support rape survivors. We created KOFAVIV. We opened a clinic where women could get examined and receive medical services. Between 2004 and 2010, over 3,000 women were helped through KOFAVIV. They received medical help and medical support. Today, we have expanded to provide legal and psychosocial services to the women as well.

Despite KOFAVIV’s success in reaching rape survivors, our struggles were far from over.

In 2010, the clinic was destroyed by the earthquake. KOFAVIV lost everything. But we did not stop working. We gathered under the tarps of the displacements camps to continue our vital work with rape survivors. After the earthquake, only 1,150 of the 3,000 women we supported were left. Some had died, others had left Port-au-Prince. Nevertheless, we kept meeting to talk about the escalating violence against women after the disaster. People lost their homes, they were scattered around camps. And violence was on the rise.

We started to meet more rape survivors, seemingly younger and younger—many just children. This was revolting to me, and to everyone else at KOFAVIV. Despite the disaster, we needed to keep fighting for these young girls. Our struggle was not over.

After the earthquake, MADRE helped us, providing health kits and other aid for the women and girls. In June 2010, I traveled with MADRE to Geneva to testify at the UN about the horrible situation that was happening in the displacement camps. We’ve found a real partner in our fight against violence against women with MADRE.

It hasn’t been an easy fight. There have been many setbacks. But I am determined to continue. I spent eight months on the streets after the earthquake. KOFAVIV kept fighting. I kept working. And I will keep working.

With MADRE’s help, we were able to rent a more permanent space for the KOFAVIV Center so that we can keep providing support services to rape survivors. But we want to buy our own space so that, whether I’m here or not here, the women of Haiti can still find the support they need at KOFAVIV.

For me, that’s why my nomination as a CNN Hero is so important. Winning $250,000 will keep the KOFAVIV Center active for many more years to come.

In solidarity,

Malya Villard-Appolon