Actress Maria Bello is about to be honored by Starkey Hearing Foundation at the upcoming So the World May Hear Awards Gala on August 4, for her foundation We Advance. Maria’s community-based organization is a women’s rights based grassroots movement set in the poorest slum in the Western Hemisphere, aimed at empowering and educating the people of Cité Soleil, Haiti.
Maria opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her humanitarian efforts in Haiti and her work with “women’s lobbying and empowerment, both in Haiti and elsewhere.” She also talks about her 11-year-old son Jackson, who “stole the show” alongside mom in their upcoming comedy Grown Ups 2. Maria goes on to talk about her “massive thunderstorm” home birth and returning to Fox as a regular on Touch.
CBS: Tell us about partnering with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and the So the World May Hear Awards Gala. What’s it all about?
MB: “I’ve been working in Haiti for several years and seen much, but one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had there was with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. I was asked by a mutual colleague to meet them at a local hotel. When I arrived, there was a five-year-old little boy, that I sat next to, who had never spoken and never heard.
Bill fit the little boy with hearing aids and the little boy heard and made sounds for the first time. It was like magic. Everyone in the room was in tears – realizing what it meant for a child in a poor nation, such as Haiti, to overcome such a huge obstacle.
But as Bill and Tani explained to me, many people who believe they are deaf in developing countries can actually hear if they have the correct hearing aid. It’s incredible work. I’m so honored to work with them and that they support my foundation, We Advance.”
CBS: Tell us about your work with We Advance and the women in Haiti. How are you working to help empower the women in Haiti and fight for women’s rights?
MB: “I started working in Haiti about six years ago with Artists for Peace and Justice. When my foot touched the ground, I knew I was home. I flew into Haiti days after the earthquake to help with emergency relief and it was after that my partners and I started We Advance.
Our center of operations is in Cité Soleil – the poorest slum in the Western Hemisphere – where most international NGO’s aren’t allowed to do work because of security issues. We have a medical clinic geared toward women & children (but with free access for all), adult education programs (half of our first set of graduates got jobs for the first time, ever), empowerment programs (where we teach health & hygiene, human rights, STD prevention, cholera training, etc), and children’s programs.
We also lobby for women’s rights platforms throughout the country. The women know what they need – we are not telling them what to do, we are there to act as a voice for the voiceless and to facilitate. Additionally, I’m a Vital Voices Global Ambassador.”
CBS: How is your son Jackson doing? What is he into?
MB: “My boy is sports, sports, sports everyday – sports! He’s at a sports camp in Maine for the summer. Everyday I get photos, he either has a lacrosse stick, tennis racket, baseball, or — and this is his favorite — a soccer ball. Huge smiles all around.
He’s a smart kid and loves to read. He just got into a great middle school in Los Angeles. This summer he did a scene in my movie, Grown Ups 2, and by all accounts stole the show!”
CBS: We hear you had a home birth with Jackson. Please tell us more.
MB: “I chose to give birth at home with a midwife. After a 22 hour labor and a massive thunderstorm, with not even an aspirin, and Jack’s amazing dad with me every step of the way, Jack finally arrive.
In that moment I realized I had never felt so much love and so much fear all at once. Knowing that this is the deepest love I would ever feel, and fear that no matter how much I loved him I would never be able to protect him from all the lessons he needs to learn in his life.”
CBS: How do you balance motherhood and your career?
MB: “How does any woman – or parent in general – balance family and career? I just try to be present in my work when I’m at work and with my son when I’m with my son. And also to have a sense of humor about trying to juggle it all!”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
MB: “I am currently finishing filming Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups 2, which will preimier July 18, 2013.
In the fall I start as a regular on Season 2 of Touch on Fox. I did two episodes last season – it’s a really moving show with such a talented cast!
I’m proud to say We Advance is becoming a strictly Haitian staff, which is what we wanted from the beginning. We are also moving more into women’s lobbying and empowerment, both in Haiti and elsewhere.”