Haitian women take rebuilding into their own hands | Globalization | DW | 10.01.2013
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Haitian women take rebuilding into their own hands

After the earthquake that devastated Haiti, women, especially, joined forces to rebuild without waiting for the weak state to step in. Three years on, their work is far from over.

"When it rains, it's quickly flooded here," says Jacqueline Dovielle, pointing to a mango grove." After Hurricane Sandy, everything here was underwater. Luckily, there weren't tents here anymore."

Earlier on, some 350 tents were standing among the mango trees, a temporary shelter where residents of Carrefour Dufort, a village 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, took refuge after the earthquake on January 12, 2010. The quake that struck around 5 p.m. that day had destroyed or badly damaged nearly every house in the village, which was merely 5 kilometers away from the epicenter. More than 220,000 people in Port-au-Prince and the southern coast were killed.

"The situation was catastrophic, when we came here after the earthquake," recalls Marisol, a volunteer with the Dominican-Haitian women's group Movimiento Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (Mudha). Marisol, a Dominican with Haitian roots who declined to give her surname, works alongside other volunteers to rebuild Haiti's social structures.

Residents of Carrefour Dufort

The women of Carrefour Dufort have taken rebuilding into their own hands

Help is important, she says, but in the long run "only being proactive can resolve some problems." That's a lesson Mudha volunteers learned in the Dominican Republic, where they advocated for women's rights in settlements where Haitian immigrants lived.

'Eager to learn'

A few kilometers from Carrefour Dufort, the women of Haute-Miton have also joined forces with Mudha's help. The groups "Brave Women," "Attentive Women" and "Starshine" ensure cleanliness in the tent camps and that everyone gets food and water, not just the strongest. They also help the residents with their medical needs.

Here locals have moved out of tent camps and into small storm-proof wooden houses. "Our organizational structure has survived being separated," says Haute-Miton resident Fabian Louis. "We've started offering courses to the women about sexual violence, gender issues, health and self-confidence."

The Dominican-Haitian helpers taught the women in the village how they could defend themselves from male violence. They also started making hygiene products and cosmetics that they can sell at street markets. Volunteers from Mudha offered classes in sewing, food safety and making sweets - and they've been a huge success.

A woman cooks in a makeshift camp in the city of Grand Goave in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on November 21, 2010 (Photo: Juan Carlos)

Many Haitians had to live in tent camps after the quake hit

The local women are eager to lean," says 29-year-old Sylvince Norvecia, a teacher. "Only few have finished school. Many can't read or write properly."

Even educated villagers like her can hardly make ends meet. Norvecia, a single mom with two children, earns less than 48 euros ($63). "And food prices have doubled or even tripled since the earthquake," she adds.

Local self-empowerment

Mudha's classes have apparently also led to more competition, which makes it harder for the women to turn what they've learned into money. "It's a vicious circle," says Marisol. "I don't know how the people bear it, and what we should do to help effectively."

But there is a positive side: "The misery has remained, but we have advanced ourselves," says Fabian Louis. "People's self-confidence - above all women's self-confidence - has risen." And the knowledge they have acquired opens new perspectives for them, she adds.

Also, the women's groups have survived - despite people moving out of the tent camps and into individual houses. "They get involved in the issues concerning the community, make demands and take action, rather than waiting for the Haitian state," says Sylvince Norvecia.

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