Haiti’s “pillars of society” are also its most vulnerable

Haiti’s “pillars of society” are also its most vulnerable

Join

Join the fight against extreme poverty

Nicole Melancon is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist, traveler, and global volunteer who shares her passion for travel, culture and social good on Thirdeyemom. She is also a world voice editor for World Moms Blog. She recently traveled to Haiti as part of Heart of Haiti’s #Bloggers4Haiti trip and shares her experience below.

“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” – Haitian proverb

Haitian women are the backbone of society and many are the breadwinners for the family, like this woman cooking fried plantains on the street in Jacmel. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

Haitian women are the backbone of society and many are the breadwinners for the family, like this woman cooking fried plantains on the street in Jacmel. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

When I arrived in Port-au-Prince in mid-February I had no idea what to expect. Danica, who leads the blogger trips for Heart of Haiti, a “trade not aid program” developed by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Willa Shalit in partnership with Macy’s to promote sustainable income in the arts for Haitians, handed each one of us a leather-bound journal with a personal note. My friend Leticia, A Heart of Haiti veteran brought along her eleven-year-old daughter Emily. Inside Emily’s journal was the Haitian proverb: “Dèyè mòn gen mòn” which means “beyond the mountains, more mountains.” Danica informed young Emily that her goal of the trip was to figure out what this proverb meant.

The weeks before my departure the news from Haiti was more or less the same. Protesting, political instability, and the usual ongoing extreme poverty that gives Haiti a bad name. Being the poorest nation in the western hemisphere is not a status any country desires. Decades of political fighting, instability, foreign meddling, natural disasters, and poverty has left the country in shambles after the devastating earthquake a little over five years ago.

The "gingerbread" houses of the slums rise up the many mountains surrounding Port-au-Prince. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

The “gingerbread” houses of the slums rise up the many mountains surrounding Port-au-Prince. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

To make matters worse, the dire statistics of women and girls in Haiti prove equally depressing. Women and girls, who are always the most vulnerable and hardest hit in disasters and situations of extreme poverty, have suffered greatly before, during and after the earthquake in Haiti. They continue to lack access to life-saving health care, education, food and protection. Sadly many women and girls who were displaced in the horrific earthquake were victims of rape and violence within the thin walls of their tents and many more were forced to give birth on the mud floors of those very tents, unassisted. Even walking down the street alone is a risk that a women or girl must take. Even for myself.

What is so ironic is the fact that Haitian women are known as poto mitan or the “pillars of society” playing a pivotal role in family and community life. Women do most of the housework, care for their children, work in agricultural labor and are often the primary breadwinners in the family. Yet they suffer the most. Some critics argue that Haiti’s lack of full social and political empowerment of women underlies Haiti’s social vulnerability to disaster, translating into why the earthquake’s effects were so profound and the recovery has continued to be so arduously slow.

Haitian girls pass the afternoon together relaxing on a bench. Like many girls in Haiti, they were not in school. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

Haitian girls pass the afternoon together relaxing on a bench. Like many girls in Haiti, they were not in school. Photo credit: Nicole Melancon.

Yet, the more I learned about Haiti, the more I believed that there is hope. Dèyè mòn gen mòn…beyond the mountains, there are mountains.

Although Haiti has a long way to go in rebuilding and ensuring that another devastation won’t destroy the progress that has been made, it can be done. There is much Haiti needs: a stronger economy providing sustainable jobs, better infrastructure on every level, investment in education, health care, water and sanitation, electricity, and transportation, and finally political stability and a government that works for its people.

But in my eyes there is one critical thing that Haiti needs most. It needs its women and girls to be empowered. Girls must go to school, become educated, be respected, and be heard. Girls must have the opportunity to be recognized as a equal status human being and be protected against violence, abuse, rape and neglect. For women and girls are the backbone of the nation. It is only by their inclusion, that Haiti will become a better place for all.

Dèyè mòn gen mòn

The mountains remaining are enormous and seem almost impossible to pass. Yet the one thing that I learned after five days in Haiti is that the women and girls are some of the strongest people on earth. They have witnessed so much hardship for centuries yet they persevere. Their strength and resilience is astonishing. It is our duty to not forget them.

Be a voice for girls and women around the world! Subscribe to ONE Girls & Women now.

Join the Conversation

Comment Guidelines