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.
On November 16th, 2016, Fiammetta Cappellini, AVSI’s Country Representative in Haiti, and Maria Elena Latini, AVSI’s Program Manager, were invited to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Community Violence Reduction (CVR) Programs for the UN Peacekeeping Missions. The celebration took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The CVR program is a second generation of Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration (DDR) programs that, in Haiti, target vulnerable populations in overpopulated and underserved urban areas. AVSI has been an implementer of the program for more than 6 years and was invited to participate in the event “Creating Space for Peace” due to its “tremendously valuable support and contribution to CVR activities in Haiti”. Thanks, in part, to the success of AVSI’s approach, CVR programs have since been implemented in other countries such as Central African Republic, Darfur and Mali.
“We brought to this event our experience and expertise and we shared our involvement in the project which concentrates on the organization and reintegration of women as a strategic solution to violence reduction efforts in the community”, said Fiammetta Cappellini.
Fiammetta is referring to the projects that AVSI has been implementing in Haiti with the objective of reducing violence and more particularly a new project that started in July 2016: “Konbit pou Pwoteksyon Fanm nan Site Soley et Matisan” implemented in the West department of Port au Prince, specifically Cité Soleil and Martissant. AVSI is supporting the Haitian State, specifically the Ministry of Women and Women's Rights (MCFDF in French) in the implementation of its policy to reduce violence against women in order to detect, prevent and respond to community violence against women. More specifically, AVSI is working to prevent and accompany 200 women and girls victimized with an approach that includes local authorities, communities, schools, families, and the men responsible for acts of violence.
For the last 25 years, DDR programs have been integral parts of post-conflict peace consolidation. The aim of interventions is to reduce the size of armed forces and gangs and reintegrate ex-combatants into society with alternative livehoods. CVR Program continues the efforts of the DDR programs, but looks at the overall community including issues like rebuilding villages and allowing ex-combatants to re-enter the social live of the community. CVR programs also involve assistance in the form of ‘distracting’ activities such as sports to focus on building a community and reaching youth at risk of joining armed gangs. Unlike DDR, CVR involves the private sector and promotes female entrepreneurship to go beyond peacemaking and to transform communities.
“The success of CVR is the combination of training, employment opportunity and psychosocial support involving the community to transform it and give peace,” said Jan Voordouw, consultant who evaluated CVR program in Haiti with MINUSTAH (the UN Mission to Haiti) during the event.
The innovation of CVR is that it expands on the military approach established with DDR and promotes a more holistic, humanitarian, and people-centered approach that is proving to be highly effective. It is also easily adaptable according to the country, context and culture where it is being implemented. The next step for CVR is its expansion as a prevention tool. It does not have to be used only in post-conflict contexts.
“CVR has the ability to transform communities, have political influence, give opportunities to change lives and overall gives peace to individuals and their community,” celebrated Edmond Mulet, UN Chef de Cabinet.
AVSI’s Community Violence Reduction project results:
FORTIFIED FLOUR WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO PREVENT DIETARY DEFICIENCY IN CHILDREN AGES 6 TO 24 MONTHS
Child malnutrition is a major problem in Haiti. 2.5 million people live in extreme poverty with 100,000 children under five years of age suffering from acute malnutrition and one in three children stunted, or irreversibly short for their age. In 2014, AVSI Foundation, in collaboration with AVSI Canada, and in partnership with World Food Programme, and the University of Notre Dame Haiti, decided to combat this major problem in Haiti through a project called “Locally Produced Fortified Infant Cereal in Rural Haiti: An Innovation to Support Commercialization, Social Entrepreneurship”.
Two years later, AVSI and its partners developed a sustainable, affordable and locally grown product called Mama+. This product, which meets WHO nutrition standards for complementary infant cereal, was specifically designed to prevent malnutrition in children aged from 6 to 24 months in Torbeck, a commune in the Les Cayes Arrondissement, in the Southern Department of Haiti. The goal was to reduce malnutrition in Torbeck by 1%. The project, so far, was able to lower it by 1.2%. Mama+ fills the gap in available nutritional foods that are affordable for the local community. In addition, it has proven to effectively prevent malnutrition for children under 2 years old, which is considered the critical window of opportunity for a lifetime of healthy nutritional outcomes.
“My son couldn’t eat anything,” remembers Katherine Sander, mother of one of the 6,900 children who have received periodical home visits thanks to the project. “When I began to buy Mama+, he finally began to eat.”
Mama+ provides a much needed food supplement to local children, but also empowers women in the community through economic initiative and education. Twelve local women serve as health educators and sales persons. Through a door-to-door sales model, entrepreneurial women in the community were trained to sell Mama+. Their role is also to monitor the nutrition status of children and spread key information about proper infant feeding and healthy living, like the benefits of a balanced diet, the importance of clean water and how to recognize when children are malnourished.
“The women who participated in this project were able to spread their knowledge as well as the qualities of Mama+ to other families and, by doing so, they were preventing malnutrition. They were also able to learn more about other complementary foods,” says Joseline Marhone Pierre, Director of Nutrition of the Ministry of Public Health of Haiti.
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