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Hurricane season in Haiti – but don’t forget long-term community development

With Hurricane Isaac recently causing havoc in Haiti, it is a good time to reflect that even when Haiti is not in the news for storms or earthquakes, FH is active behind-the-scenes helping local leaders create healthy and disaster-resilient communities.  One of these cases is Belladere, a town close to the border of the Dominican Republic. It’s densely populated and poor, and only about half the inhabitants get a school education.

FH supported this area with emergency assistance after the deadly earthquake in January 2010. We were invited to stay on and support long-term development – which also helps communities to be more resilient to future disasters. FH saw that community structures and leadership were either non-existent or weak. So, the first move was to facilitate creation of a leadership base. Invitations to a community meeting were sent to local leaders of schools, churches and community-based organisations. After the meeting, FH asked for nominations for Leadership and Community Development training.

CDC leader training

Community Development Committees (CDC)

These were set up for each of the 10 communities in the Belladere area. FH often works with local leaders to do this, to encourage healthy community development and disaster risk reduction planning. More specialised training was offered, including how to conduct a survey of the community’s assets and needs. This led to the formulation of a Community Transformation Plan for each community.

Child Protection & Gender-Based Violence

This is a region where child slavery is widely condoned: children who are orphaned or sent to be looked after by other families in the hope of getting a better education often end up as domestic slaves (“restaveks”). This issue was discussed with the community leaders, and then with groups of children with the help of a movie animation. The children were encouraged for the first time to share their feelings about various forms of domestic abuse. Then the groundwork was laid for a community-based child protection system.

A number of women were nominated for training as community counselors and mentors for young girls, addressing such issues as child rights, trauma and gender-based violence.

Education

The CDCs were encouraged to survey the local education facilities, including the quality of the teachers. This formed the basis for assistance to schools to fill the gaps. FH obtained funding to distribute thousands of school kits (notepaper, crayons, etc.) and uniforms and other supplies to families who couldn’t afford this basic equipment. This was made possible by more than 600 FH child sponsorships, which allow FH to walk with community leaders in helping their communities.

Resilience to disasters

FH is focusing increased effort in Haiti and elsewhere on strengthening communities against disasters through what we call disaster risk reduction and preparedness.  In other words, every community is susceptible to disasters – especially the poor ones – so FH wants to help communities put plans in place that can make communities more resilient to natural disasters.

You can see more of FH’s work in Haiti on our website: http://fh.org/work/countries/haiti

In our next blog we’ll tell you the story of Marie-Nicole, one of the child-slaves. Don’t wory – it has a happy ending!