New Internationalist

From cradle to grave – supporting Haiti’s poor

Jalouzi is a hillside neighbourhood of about 200,000 people overlooking lower Petion-Ville. It is accessible from two roads, one at the top and one below. The view from the top is stunning. From here you can see Port-au-Prince; looking east, to the sea; and north to the mountains. Flaurantin (pictured below) lives halfway up the village. In addition to her home she has a small meeting room and clinic for dispensing over-the-counter medication. Originally from Jacmel, she began her community work in 1990.

Flaurantin by Sokari Ekine‘I started working with women in the community [in Jacmel] in 1990. We had a small school and mobile clinic where we would offer support and medicines to families. Sadly I had to leave to come to Port-au-Prince 15 years ago with my husband and children. I would love to return to Jacmel; even now there are women waiting for me to return. But unfortunately my house was destroyed, so it is not possible. The community of Jalouzi is extremely poor and has some of the island’s most vulnerable women and children. In 1999 I decided to start the organization Le Phare [meaning Light] so I could provide support and education to women and children and everybody who needs my help.’

Le Phare is now part of the SOPUDEP community, and the microcredit project Fanm SOPUDEP en Aksyon [FASA] began in March 2010 after the earthquake. Flaurantin is the co-ordinator of the Jalouzi sector, which has 75 active members. FASA also recently opened a store for the programme in Jalouzi. They buy food in bulk and each week the women collect supplies to sell in the market. Recently, police have been driving street traders off the streets of Petion-Ville where all of the Jalouzi women sell their wares.

‘More than 20 of our members were affected by these raids. They lost all their produce, everything. If they cannot sell on the streets in Petion-Ville, what are they supposed to do?’ asks Flaurantin. ‘Now each day the women go on the streets to try and sell, but it is hard: they have to hide all the time from the police. It is too much stress but there is no other way to feed themselves.

‘As well as the micro-credit programme, we now have cooking and sewing classes for young women. We hope this will help the women find ways to generate income once they have completed their training.’

Miraculously, Jalouzi was not affected by the January 2010 earthquake but nonetheless the residents face major challenges, including lack of access to healthcare, food insecurity, unemployment, lack of water and gender-based violence. Although there are some 100 matwons (midwives) in the neighborhood, community leaders like Flaurantin find themselves attending to various health crises, intervening and supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence and generally helping those living in extreme poverty.

‘I delivered a baby at the weekend, and the mother did not even have anything to cover where she was sleeping. It was terrible. The women prefer to deliver their babies at home, but there are often problems, such as breech births. Pre-eclampsia is a real threat; the women cannot attend pre-natal clinics so those with high blood pressure end up very ill. They are the ones who need emergency treatment but the nearest emergency [free] hospital is the one run by Médecins sans Frontières in Delmas 33, which is far from here. There are a lot of women with HIV, and recently gonorrhea has become a problem – if the woman is pregnant it can be passed to the child.’

While many victims of gender-based violence, including rape, in the camps set up after the earthquake have benefited from interventions by local and international NGOs, neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil and Jalouzi seem to be off the NGO radar. ‘The NGOs don’t come here,’ says Flaurantin. ‘We see them driving up and down in their cars, but they never stop.

‘We try to give support to women who have been raped or beaten by their husbands, but it is not easy as we do not have any resources, only ourselves. The most difficult thing is getting women to make police reports, even in cases where children are the victims – this has happened in our community recently. We try to educate; it is important to give support and to participate [in the community] to know what is happening. That is all we can do: keep talking about the problem. Because of forced sex in marriage, women end up getting pregnant over and over again, which, because of poverty, leads to women always being sick. We do advise the women on birth control. We also have female condoms, but these are more expensive than male condoms.

‘One of the forgotten groups of women is the elderly. Of course, many are cared for by their families but many either have no family or their families are too poor to care for them. It is important that we include them in our work.’

The levels of poverty in neighbourhoods like Jalouzi are massive. But despite the hardship,  there is hope: ‘What is good about our organizing,’ concludes Flaurantin, ‘is though there is much misery, there is solidarity amongst us.’

Photo of Flaurantin by Sokari Ekine

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