It’s a small, very functional tool found in most American homes: a flashlight. When the electricity goes out, its beam is helpful, even comforting. And in communities in Haiti, flashlights can mean the difference between danger and safety.
AFSC is working in Martissant, a slum area of Port-au-Prince, and Leogane, a community especially hard hit by the massive earthquake in 2010. The residents in both of these cities still live in makeshift camps. After a series of focus groups that identified major concerns, the Service Committee agreed that camp security should be a main priority. Theft, domestic violence, gang conflicts, drugs, and prostitution contribute to the tension of everyday life. To support the resident safety committees, we supplied walkietalkies, vests, whistles, those useful flashlights, and additional training. The enhanced safety teams are up and running.
In addition to safety concerns, the communities were alarmed by the cholera outbreak in Haiti a few months ago. AFSC responded with vital anti-cholera kits—a plastic bucket filled with bottles of chlorine, disinfectant, and hand and dish soap. Thirty-four camps received the 7,000 kits, which reached nearly 25,000 people.
Over the next several years, AFSC’s program in Haiti will focus on young people. Some 42% of Haitians are 18 or younger, and schooling is hit or miss for far too many of them. Only 20% or so get the chance to attend secondary school. For the displaced youth still living in camps, the future can be bleak. But they have also shown initiative in organizing in the camps and participating in activities such as food and water distribution. AFSC’s long-range work includes introducing Public Achievement Methodology, a strategy used successfully with young people in Gaza and the West Bank.
This youth program will identify potential youth leaders who will receive training in conflict-resolution and opportunities for income-producing activities. As permanent housing remains a critical concern for Haitians, the young people will learn about urban land rights and how to work with government agencies on housing matters. As already demonstrated by their involvement in their communities’ day-to-day needs, these young leaders are expected to have a positive impact on Haitian civil society.