Check out these blog posts from Stephenie Foster, who recently traveled to Haiti with Vital Voices staff, a small delegation from the Women Donors Network and actress and advocate Maria Bello. Stephenie has over 25 years experience in domestic and international policy advocacy, government affairs, program development and training, and law. Read her blog for the latest news and updates.
Haiti Day One, 2/24/11
I’m here in Port Au Prince on a trip organized by my fellow member of the Women Donors Network, Maria Bello. Maria has a deep commitment to Haiti and to working with Haitians to develop sustainable and long term solutions to real problems. There are seven of us here, to really learn about the situation and think about the most effective way to make investments that lead to change.
We saw the earthquake devastation – which is still prominent – as well as the very difficult conditions in which people live, particularly in places like Cite Soleil. It was jarring and a stark reminder of how privileged we all are in our daily lives. I saw grim problems, but also met dedicated people – men and women, Haitian and non-Haitian, young and old – looking for creative ways to solve those problems. We met Bill Farrer, the Founding Director of Fountains of Hope, an American who designs incredible solar powered water purification systems. At the WeAdvance clinic in Wharf Jeremy, we met a great group of advocates, including Barbara Guillaume, Alison Thompson, Aleda Frishman and her husband Captain Barry, who are working tirelessly for health care services for women, for the eradication the culture of gender based violence and the power of people to make a difference.
I firmly believe in the role of government, and hope that Haiti will soon have the framework of a government structure that helps provide confidence that there is a way forward. But, I also believe that work on the ground matters. I really liked the NGOs we met with, which are nimble, can take advantage of opportunities and get things done.
More later. Tomorrow we meet with the women running for Parliament and the two candidates for President.
Haiti Day Two, 2/25/11
We had another amazing (and packed) day, starting at 7 am and ending around 10 pm. We met with candidates for office and those providing extraordinary service to Haitians. We started with a 7 am mass at St. Damien’s, a complex of hospitals and school rooms, located 500 meters from the US Embassy on the outskirts of Port Au Prince. Father (and Dr.) Rick Frechette runs this amazing center, in a calm and hopeful oasis. There were literally hundreds of people either being cared for, or waiting for care. We were all so impressed with the dedication of those working at St. Damien’s. The hospital was critical in treating a large number of cholera victims in the outbreak and those working there built a cholera ward in four weeks time! Later in the day, we visited KOFAVIV (the Commission of Women Victims for Victims), and met Jayne Fleming, an American lawyer who helps Haitian women who have been the victims of gender based violence fight for their rights and for justice. We also were moved by the many brave women we met, who had suffered sometimes unspeakable violence but are resilient and able to talk about what needs to change so that others aren’t the victims of violence. Especially striking is that simple things like patrols, whistles and lights in camps can reduce incidence of attacks.
At Femmes en Democratie, led by my wonderful friend Danielle Saint-Lot, we met with seven of the women running for parliament – two have already been elected, having made it through the first round with a majority of the vote. (I was so pleased to be back with FED, an affiliate of Vital Voices, having first worked with them in 2003 when I traveled to Port Au Prince to help on advocacy and public speaking skill training.) The women candidates gave us a first hand glimpse of their life on the campaign trail, which is very different from the campaign trail in the US. We saw their strength and heard about fortitude in the face of extreme adversity, violence and intimidation. We were inspired by them and they dedication to serving their constituents.
We were also privileged to meet with one of the two candidates for President, Madame Manigat (We were sorry that we couldn’t meet with the other, Michel Martelly.) Madame Manigat was very impressive; she spoke about her priorities and the need to work on health care and education. She was especially passionate about the need for Haiti to be a serious country, not a country dependent on others for charity.
We ended the day at a lovely dinner where we relaxed and continued to learn about Haiti and how to best understand this beautiful yet troubled place.