By Sarah Leavitt
They traveled by dusty dirt roads, through the mountains, on the back of a moto-taxi, crammed into the back of a colorful tap-tap and many walked a good part of the journey. In all, 36 leaders of grassroots organizations arrived in Ennery, Haiti eager and excited—albeit a bit tired—but ready to begin their training. Nine partner organizations with the Lambi Fund of Haiti were present and the participants were young and old, male and female—20 women and 16 men in all. These grassroots leaders are Haiti's hardworking farmers, enterprising female merchants and upcoming youth that are pouring their blood and sweat into changing Haiti for the better—and they came to attend Lambi Fund's 2013 conference for the Artibonite region on civic education, gender equity and how to lead more democratic organizations.
Civic Education & Human Rights:
Day one had the task of providing an introductory course on civic education in Haiti. This included a brief history on slavery, Haiti's independence, and democracy today. Discussions of what it means to be a citizen, a citizen's role in society and the rights of a citizen were all covered.
"[Before this training,] I didn't know what gender equity was. I used to hear people talk about it, but I never quite understood what they meant."
For most, this was their first formal discussion about what it meant to be a citizen of Haiti and what rights and responsibilities accompany being a citizen. Voting and participating in Haiti's democracy and advocating for certain changes in their community are all part of being an engaged citizen. There was a lot of talk about participating, speaking up when things are going wrong and being proud of Haiti and its flag.
Part of this included discussing each person's human and civil rights – the right to food, a home, security, health and an education.
An engaged young man and member of OPMO, emphatically stated, “This training is working us up so that we can go home and change things.” After discussing Haitians' rights and responsibilities as citizens, another responded, "The development should come from us. Only this will happen when we step up." A woman from APEAG said, "Before this education, I didn't know anything about these topics at all. Now I know much more and understand how we should strive to live and the type of country we can and should be."
Next on the agenda was discussing the imbalance of men and women in society. By default, many participants assumed that their homes and organizations are models of equality, yet as the trainers delved deeper into what it means to have equality, several interesting topics arose.
The workshop facilitators
From the get-go, there was a consensus that women are just as good as men and that they should have the same rights. Once trainers explored this a bit more and teased out what equality means within the context of society, interesting discussions emerged.
For instance, there was a lot of discussion about the unfair burden of work that falls on a Haitian woman's shoulders. She must cook, clean the house, fetch water, watch after the children, tend the fields, wash clothes, go to the mill to have their grains milled, and then find time to go to market to buy and sell goods. Participants recognized that a man, however, will come home, say he is hungry and demand that dinner be ready. He never offers to help with the meal if she is overwhelmed with work because that is "woman's work."
Many laughed at the thought of a man helping his wife prepare a meal, but when it was shared that women often eat the remaining scraps in another room or forgo meals altogether to feed their husbands and boys, many nodded as they acknowledged the unspoken practice. Throughout Haiti, women face much higher rates of malnutrition.
One woman from APEAG was especially inspired with this discussion. She stated, "[Before this training,] I didn't know what gender equity was. I used to hear people talk about it, but I never quite understood what they meant. Now I know that it's not about just holding our organizations to this standard. Although I have more boys than girls, four boys and one girl, I used to put all the weight of the chores on my girl and me. She had to carry the water, help with cooking and cleaning and now I know I can spread out the chores more evenly."
Solange Michelle from OPMO declared, "From now on, when I cook for my husband, I'm going to make two plates - one for me and one for him. I'm not going to eat scraps out of the bowl in the corner anymore…and if there aren't two pieces we both won't eat or we'll share."
The discussion then moved past the home to discuss women's place in society – the clothes they are expected to wear, how their hair should look, the tendency to send boys to school over girls, and how women are represented in society. Clearly these are diverse topics with deeply embedded social undertones, yet most participants agreed that women should look, act, and behave in a way that is "feminine," while males are expected to be "strong" and "brave."
One of the older men in the group said, "Women are taking big and important posts [in society and the government] and this is something we need to continue to work on for the next 5, 10, 55, years so that we see more of this."
By no means does Lambi Fund think that the few days set aside to discuss the imbalance of women in society will radically transform or magically create communities throughout Haiti that are equitable for both men and women, but one can be certain that seeds of change were planted and some social norms that had never before been questioned are now being looked at in a different light. Perhaps the most hopeful statement was from a young woman from ACHVRO, "This training was especially important in regards to gender equity. I don't have a family yet, but now I know how I should balance my family when I do."
Leading Democratic Organizations:
The last and final component of Lambi Fund's training was providing the participants with practical tools to return home and share this information with their organization members. Methods of “animation” or group singing, role-playing, and dancing - which are common activities in Haitian grassroots organizations, were covered.
Conference attendees participating in a breakout session
Vita, one of the trainers, taught participants new songs and showed the grassroots leaders how to educate and share certain topics through animation. In addition, a great deal of time was spent covering what types of characteristics make a leader democratic and what makes a leader authoritarian. In that same regard, members shared what kind of practices within organizations actively include and exclude its members.
Both the trainers and participants also reflected on what makes up a truly inclusive and democratic organization and they shared with one another how to lead meetings that are efficient and productive. It is hoped, that as a result of this training, these participants who are leaders of organizations in their community will return home with a new found sense of motivation. Beyond acquiring some tools and techniques for making their organizations stronger, hopefully, these leaders will relay some of the concepts discussed.
Quite possibly they will become advocates for certain rights and issues in their communities, use the network of leaders they met at the training as resources and allies and maybe, just maybe, these grassroots organizations will begin to see the strength in working collectively and in valuing each person as an equal. Here's to the next chapter in Haiti.