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Haiti’s communities try peace to rebuild post-earthquake

People in circle in front of building in Haiti
Haiti earthquake memorial meeting at Camp Corail. Photo: Garry Laurent / AFSC
Young people hugging
Healing memorial meeting at the Camp Corail Photo: Garry Laurent / AFSC
People holding hands in a circle in Haiti
Haitians come together for a healing memorial meeting on the five-year anniversary of the earthquake.  Photo: Garry Laurent / AFSC
Young men learning masonry
Martissant students learn masonry skills during a livelihoods training.  Photo: AFSC
People standing in a circle at Peace Day retreat
Haitians celebrate Peace Day in the community of Lilavois Croix des Bouquets. Photo: Jude Francois (MOJESECO) / AFSC

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing an estimated 222,570 people— many of them children arriving or leaving school—major challenges remain as the country slowly rebuilds.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the world prioritized relief, as did the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Private donors gave $3.1 billion. The international community pledged around $10 billion and dispersed about $6 billion, the majority on relief. And private sector partnerships between government and NGOs have raised more than $430 million for commitments in support for Haiti.

Five years later, the tough work of reconstruction continues on the ground led by Haiti’s most vital resource: its people. Working in partnership with local officials, people in urban neighborhoods are addressing both their immediate needs and long-term issues—paramount of which is building a culture of peace, conflict resolution, and trust in a country that was dominated by generations of authoritarian rule.

Here, AFSC staff describe the work of our partners on the ground in five communities, supported by practices and training AFSC provides.

Ivan Monzon is AFSC’s Country Representative in Haiti. Garly Michel runs the monitoring and evaluation project for AFSC’s Haiti programs. Fabiola Flores Munoz is AFSC’s Regional Director for Latin America & the Caribbean.

Q. What programs does AFSC support in Haiti and where are they located?

A: Ivan: Immediately after the tragedy, AFSC focused directly on trauma healing, participatory planning, and conflict transformation for urban areas affected by the earthquake.

Currently AFSC is directly working with youth, community leaders, community-based organizations, and local public authorities in improving daily life, promoting peace education, youth participation, and reducing insecurity and violence against vulnerable groups living at high risk. We are currently working in Cité Soleil, Martissant, Fontamara, Croix des Bouquets, and the Camp Corail. They all are big urban zones with a large number of neighborhoods suffering from poverty, food insecurity and environmental risk.

Working through “local peace networks,” our programs encourage and support communities to advocate for themselves on the problems they want to address issues including insecurity of sanitation, sexual violence, and so on. Youth and community leaders form small groups together to have a sustainable dialogue within their communities. AFSC respects their local wisdom and supports them as they analyze and create solutions to problems, without imposing our own ideas.

Using this approach, we are working to prevent different kinds of violence—gender-based violence, assaults, community unrest, and environmental risks, among others. We are also working in schools on conflict mediation and peace education, and training public officials (including the police) in how to listen to the communities and have a different approach to conflict.

In Martissant, for example, the lack of trash collecting systems produced many violent conflicts in the community and exposed people to health epidemics, especially during the rainy season. The local peace networks have decided to work together to reduce the amount of trash and to make city officials more aware. Altogether we’re working with 500 community leaders and 30 public officials and authorities.

(NOTE: On Jan. 12, 2010, an estimated 20 to 40 percent of civil servants died in 35 seconds, wiping out the government’s already strained capacity.)

Since the government doesn’t have enough capacity to solve most of the conflicts, we are helping people to organize themselves to negotiate with local officials. This is a new approach. People used to ask for solutions (from government), sometimes violently, and the government used to ask for resources. Working together is new – to go without violence, to work with officials.  That is part of what makes our approach different.

Fabiola: Now more than ever, as the rebuilding begins to take root in communities, we need to support this work that we know how to do better than anyone else, using peaceful techniques and training to help people advocate for themselves, to help them build their own infrastructure and to coexist without violence.   

Q. What activities will AFSC be supporting during this five-year anniversary of the earthquake?

A: Ivan:  On Saturday January 10 and Sunday January 11, we’ll be participating in four key activities where we are working: we’ll pause and reflect, commemorate those who died, continue trauma healing, and consider together what kind of future we want. We will join hundreds of community leaders in events during this time and also on Monday, January 12, the actual date of the tragedy.  We’ll be in the neighborhoods and schools in Martissant, Croix des Bouquets, and Cité Soleil In particular the schools are emblematic of both pain and progress for the community.

(NOTE: Most schools in Port au Prince collapsed just as both shifts of pupils were on site. In some communities not one child survived. Tragically, that reflects the fact that enrollment rates in primary education nearly doubled—47 percent in 1993 to nearly 90 percent in 2010—with equal participation of boys and girls, according to the Clinton Global Initiative.)

Q; Why should others care about a more secure and self-sufficient Haiti?

A: Garly: It benefits others in the world when we have peace in Haiti. Haitians will not have to travel to the U.S. and other places (like Brazil, the Bahamas, or Cuba) to look for a job, if they can work here in Haiti. We can reduce tensions by helping people collaborate to create an environment where they can support themselves here in Haiti.  Haitians overall have so much potential.

AFSC is helping people create activities that will allow them to earn money so they can take care of themselves. That’s the key to real transformation. Helping others to benefit from their fuller capacities will help everyone – including other countries.   

Fabiola: Sustainability and food on the table is everyone’s priority all over the world. Our first line is building the infrastructure—in individuals and communities—to contribute to their learnings to co-exist without any violence. That will make everyone more secure.