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Women Seek Vital Role in Haiti Recovery

by Linda Bloom

A woman sells items in front of her makeshift shelter in a camp for homeless families set up on a golf course in Port-au-Prince.
A woman sells items in front of her makeshift shelter in a camp for homeless families set up on a golf course in Port-au-Prince.
Image by: Paul Jeffrey
Source: ACT (Action by Churches Together)

For 16 years, staff of the Lambi Fund have helped rural communities in Haiti work toward self-sufficiency.

Since the Jan. 12 earthquake, the humanitarian organization has witnessed the effects of reverse migration on those communities as more than a half-million people have streamed out of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's heavily damaged capital. The 80-year-old mother of Lambi staff member Pierre St. Cyr, for example, has taken in 39 earthquake survivors.

"Many of the rural towns doubled their populations overnight," said Karen Ashmore, Lambi's executive director. "We're giving cash grants to 43 grassroots organizations in the countryside to help their members meet that expanded capacity strain."

United Methodist Women has given financial support to the Lambi Fund and other groups committed to empowering women as equal participants and community leaders in the rebuilding of Haiti.

The organization also is part of a coalition that is circulating principles calling for the inclusion of women in the earthquake recovery process, says Carol Barton, an executive with the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

United Methodists intend to be involved "in direct support for efforts to train and mobilize grassroots women in some of the refugee camps in Haiti to monitor how aid is getting to the camps, how it is being distributed and whether women's needs are being taken into account," she added.

At the United Nations, the Huairou Commission, a partner with United Methodist Women, submitted a statement on behalf of the coalition during recent meetings of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, noting that because women are "disproportionately impacted" by the earthquake, they also are key to Haiti's recovery.

"We expect to see a large and diverse number of Haitian women's organizations consulted and included in needs and damage assessments, and in the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of post-disaster aid programs," the statement said, adding that financial aid to grassroots women and their organizations is essential.

Legacy of leadership

The coalition's declaration is part of an effort to get women on both the agenda and participants' list at an international donors' conference set for March 31 at the United Nations.

Recognition of women's legacy of leadership already has come from the Board of Global Ministries and the Church World Service board of directors, whose members include Harriett Olson, the Women's Division's top executive. In a March 11 statement, directors said that women must be actively involved in leadership roles in Haiti, allotted a fair share of resources for reconstruction and development and receive training and financial support to expand the capacity of their organizations.

On the ground, the Women's Division has given $10,000 grants to both the Lambi Fund and the Movement of Dominican Women of Haitian Descent for their earthquake relief efforts.

More grants for Haiti assistance will be approved when the division's board of directors meets in April, according to Betty Gittens, staff executive. Regional missionaries and staff also are planning fact-finding trips to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, she said.

Caravan for relief

The Movement of Dominican Women of Haitian Descent, which supports community health projects and offers training and educational programs for women and children, organized a caravan of 88 relief workers within 36 hours of the earthquake. The workers provided medical care and other services to survivors in six different makeshift camps.

The Dominican volunteers also set up a tent city and clinic at a church-run orphanage and school that had collapsed outside the city of Leogane, caring for the 78 orphans who had been left on their own.

The Lambi Fund already had an extensive network of projects in Haiti related to sustainable development, community microcredit, animal husbandry, the environment and leadership training.

"Prior to the earthquake, we had worked on 175 different projects impacting almost 2 million Haitians," Ashmore explained. "We have strong grassroots connections in the countryside."

Lambi staff convened regional assemblies after the earthquake, asking participants to prioritize their immediate, mid-and long-term needs.

Among the more immediate concerns:

  • Sanitation. The influx of population into the countryside has overloaded sanitation systems, so the Lambi Fund plans to build 880 latrines in rural areas.
  • Income generation. Micro-enterprise will help earthquake survivors "develop their own livelihood so they can start supporting themselves," Ashmore said. Lambi is helping a group of market women in Port au Prince replenish their microcredit fund.
  • Medical supplies. A lack of basic items, such as refrigerators to hold medications, is a problem, Gittens said. "There's still a tremendous amount of need, in terms of medical assistance within the camps."
  • Safety. The Lambi Fund supports a group that is forming protective areas in the tent cities and applying group pressure to encourage people to intervene if they witness attempted sexual assaults. "They're amazing," Ashmore reported. "A lot of the women were victims of domestic violence and rape and they are supporting each other and helping other women."
  • Shelter. With many people still living under blankets strung on ropes, permanent housing has become a priority, particularly as the rainy season approaches Haiti. "We were hearing that women need tents and that tents also have become a scarce commodity," Barton said. "There's an enormous concern about the rains coming."

The Lambi Fund's long-term goals include increasing the availability of organic, locally-grown food and clean water with expanded sustainable agriculture, reforestation and water access projects. Other sustainable development projects would include pig and goat breeding and setting up grain and sugar cane mills.

"Imports and food aid is fine in the immediate time, but it doesn't help the local economy at all," said Ashmore.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

See Also...
Topic: Children Emergencies United Methodist Church Women Methodism
Geographic Region: Haiti
Source: United Methodist News Service

arrow icon. View Listing of Missionaries Currently Working in: Haiti   

Date posted: Mar 26, 2010