The message seems simple: “Bom bagay lekol”, which in Haitian Creole means “School is good”. But in a country where there are an estimated 816,000 children and adolescents engaged in child labor, including domestic work and agriculture, keeping boys and girls in school is not always that simple. That’s why AVSI staff in Haiti has been visiting schools in the North promoting ‘sensitization’ activities on children’s rights, child labor and the negative effects of children working. The initiative is part of the project “Let’s Work for our Rights!” funded by the US Department of Labor.
“Children were excited to receive visitors and cheer about the importance of education. They understood that working at their age brings more negatives than anything,” says AVSI-USA Business Development and Partnership officer Marie L’Hermine, who had the opportunity to visit Ecole Presbyterale St Dominique, a primary school in Cap Haitian with AVSI Haiti staff. “Children were excited to say that working is bad and that their main responsibility is to stay in school and learn. They received some flyers and we hung posters in the classrooms so that the message of the importance of education can be a constant reminder.”
A consortium led by Catholic Relief Services implements “Let’s Work for our Rights!”. AVSI focuses on the activities in 5 communes of the North of Haiti: Cap-Haitien, Milot, Grande Rivière, Limbé and Limonade. The project aims to reduce the prevalence of child labor, and improve working conditions and workers' rights through a package of integrated interventions that engage government, civil society and the private sector. In the communes targeted by AVSI, households have been identified, including the children, to approach and improve the economic status of the whole household, with a focus on workers’ rights.
The project has a four-pronged approach to reducing child labor. The first approach was to identify the children and start working with specific schools to rehabilitate the infrastructures and compensate school fees. L’Ecole Nationale Grand Gilles is one of the targeted schools. The director of the school, Mr. Saint Lois Chener, is open and welcoming of the project, and understands the need for bathrooms and infrastructure reparations: the leveling of the ground is necessary for the school to be safe and adequate for its 447 students. Thanks to the project, 60 students are now able to attend the national school because they have their schools fees paid. Their progress will be followed during the project.
“AVSI is always welcomed”, says Chener. “They are helping us improve the school and support some of the children in the village in most need of guidance in order to be able to attend school.”
Beneficiaries of the project, who are older than 15, may choose to go to professional schools for vocational training. Going back to school after a certain age can be hard to accept, but it does not mean that education is off the table. AVSI has paired with different vocational schools in the communes to allow the youth and young adults to choose a program such as construction, mechanics and sewing. After the training is complete, the beneficiary will receive a start-up kit to begin working or even to start their own business using their new skills.
The second approach is on the household, which is identified and accompanied through different interventions. Training on life skills, starting micro finance groups, and distribution of start-up kits to improve their economic status are some of the interventions households are offered. In Grand Gilles, one of the women in the program, whose children are supported by the project, received a capri, a little goat common in Haiti, and was excited to share that the animal was pregnant. Another women who attended the meet-up does not have a child in the project but she follows a little orphan boy, one of the beneficiaries that now is able to attend school.
“It’s important that he knows that he is not alone. This is why I am here today, to thank you for helping him and to make sure that he knows that there is more than one person looking over him. A lot of us in the village make sure that he’s looked after,” said the mother of three.
Legal assistance is also given through reference to the correct office, the creation of Councils of Protection in the different communes and responding to problems of documentation of school children and household families. The creation of Councils is an important activity as it allows for the efforts of the project to continue after the end of the initiative. Recently created in Milot, the Council of Protection, for example, has as its main goal to observe the real situation of school children and be able to bring up cases in need of attention to the correct authorities. By involving all the local authority, child labor prevention is more prevalent.
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