Haiti: Espace Sûr – A safe space

Education for young women and girls in slums of Haiti

Background and Programme Context

Haiti has 11 million inhabitants and is considered the poorest country on the American continent. The country is regularly hit by natural disasters. The strong earthquake in 2010 claimed 230’000 deaths and more than 1.5 million people lost their belongings. The population suffers from poverty, lack of education and lack of access to basic medical care. The political situation is unstable - violence and corruption are commonplace. Over 6 million Haitians live below the poverty line of 2.41 USD per day.

Girls and young women are particularly affected by the problems. For example, 77% of all girls attend primary school, but only just under 30% are still enrolled in secondary school, as they already have to take on leading roles in the household. Without sufficient education it is practically impossible for young women to escape poverty. In addition, violence against women is widespread, but in Haiti there are no specific laws against domestic violence, sexual harassment or other forms of violence against women and girls. Due to the lack of access to information on contraceptives, the number of teenage pregnancies is worryingly high, especially among those girls who have not been able to attend secondary school.

The Horyzon programme of YWCA Haiti is mainly implemented in Pétion-Ville, Port-au-Prince. This location was chosen because it is located directly on the edge of a slum, making it easily accessible by foot for the beneficiaries, but also because it is well visible and easily accessible from the city center. The program is open for women, regardless of their religious and political affiliation and serves their basic needs for food, dignity, peace and security.

Target Groups

Girls between 5 and 19 years and young women between 20 and 35 years from the poorest social classes of Port-au-Prince. 350 girls and young women benefit directly from the programme every year. Since parts of the programme are also implemented in other centers or schools, around 200 other girls and young women benefit from it.

Aims

The young women and girls in the programme can lift themselves out of poverty. They know about the importance of a good school education, knowledge of their own rights and duties, gender equality, health, healthy nutrition and hygiene. They use the skills acquired in the programme to become economically independent and bring their knowledge to their families. They strengthen their leadership qualities and can later stand up for socially relevant issues in political committees or in their profession. In this way they become part of a positive change in Haitian society.

Activities & Effects

Effects

First and foremost, the Espace Sûr project offers exactly what its name promises: a safe place where the girls and young women can further their practical, educational, psycho-logical and social education and development, and thus better shape their everyday lives.
By giving the girls a place where they feel emotionally and physically safe, their psychosocial well-being is strengthened. Increased resilience supports them in making healthy family planning decisions and in advocating for their rights in their daily lives and relationships. The project also supports them in staying in school and strengthens their knowledge about hygiene, their bodies and their rights. Many participants pass on these competencies, skills and abilities acquired in the project as mentors. Leadership skills in general but also specifically for female mentors are taught in the so-called Leadership Academy (second project component). Since mentors often face similar challenges as the younger participants, they take on an important part as role models, not only for the younger participants, but also in their families and neighborhoods. These older project participants are also guided in their career choices at the Leadership Academy. Through the project, the young women are able to write good job applications and increase their career opportunities or even learn how to set up a business themselves. In general, the Leadership Academy aims to provide the women (between 19 and 35 years old) with life skills so that they can cope well with daily challenges and live their lives independently and self-determined.

SAFE SPACE

In this part of the program, the girls build knowledge in practical life skills. Teachers work in age groups and conduct workshops on topics such as self-esteem, hygiene, health, gender-based violence, rights and the environment. Recreational activities such as self-defense, yoga, art or dance are also offered. Participants receive a hot meal following the lessons. Under the leadership of YWCA Haiti, the Safe Space program is being implemented in 2 other organizations. In total, another 200 girls will benefit from the program.

Activities
  • Safe haven for over 200 girls, away from the streets and from an often violent personal environment.
  • Tutoring in reading, writing, arithmetic and English.
  • Playful instruction on topics such as self-esteem, hygiene, nutrition, sexual health, gender-based violence, rights and the environment.
  • Serving hot, balanced meals, often the only meal of the day for many of the participants.
  • Psychosocial support.
  • Health checks: gynecological exams, deworming treatments, and HIV testing.
  • Conducting a five-week summer camp during the summer school vacations.

LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

The Academy reaches nearly 300 young women between the ages of 19 and 35 each year. Three to four times a year, a 10-week leadership program is conducted with 50 young women, coordinated by trained psychologists. Together with teachers from the YWCA and external experts, they mentor traumatized young women and conduct workshops on various topics.

Activities
  • Conducting 3 to 4 leadership training courses per year for nearly 300 young women (19 to 35 years old). Each course includes workshops on topics such as gender-based violence, sexual health and rights, human rights, communication, leadership skills and ethics.
  • The goal is to provide the participants with life skills that will enable them to live their lives in a self-determined and independent manner and to assume responsibility and leadership in their communities (in a very patriarchal society).
  • In addition, the course teaches financial skills (including opening a bank account, budgeting) and the basics of entrepreneurship.
  • Scientific studies have shown that access to economic opportunities has many benefits for young women, including reducing the risk of violence and delaying the onset of sexual activity.
  • Psychological support and dream work.
  • Health checks: HIV testing.

Results 2021

In Haiti, political uncertainty resurfaced after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. As a result, rival gangs fought for control of the country, while police forces struggled. The political crisis was accompanied by an increase in gang violence. Kidnapping for ransom is a way for gangs to generate revenue. Nearly 800 kidnappings were reported in the first ten months of 2021 alone.

2021 was marked by political instability and the rise of Covid-19 cases. Despite the political uncertainties and natural disasters, the Youth Center only had to close during a total of 9 days during the year. Given the circumstances in which the project takes place, this is an excellent achievement and signifies that YWCA Haiti has learned lessons from previous years and successfully implemented them. Getting to the youth center remains a challenge for participants. YWCA Haiti increased supervision of the participants and is in contact with them, especially during tense times, to ensure that they arrive at the youth center and then back home. Nevertheless, due to the critical safety situation, the participants were not always able to attend the courses offered. However, they can make up the courses they missed in the next session and thus successfully complete the course cycles.

Safe Space
  • Of the 275 enrolled participants, 210 (76%) successfully completed all thematic courses (on self-esteem, hygiene, nutrition, sexual health, gender-based violence, rights and environment).
  • 100 girls were able to participate in the 2021 summer camp and thus spend their summer days away from school in a violence-free and safe environment. The girls thus had the opportunity to break out of their everyday lives and playfully acquire new knowledge that they can put to good use in their everyday lives.
  • One third of the participating girls received medical and/or psychological care during the year through the Horyzon project (as necessary). In addition, 244 girls were tested for HIV/AIDS, none of whom tested positive.
  • 47% of the girls whose school performance was below average were able to improve their school performance with the help of the tutoring and thus stay in school.
Leadership Academy
  • 3 Leadership courses at 10-weeks each could be carried out in 2021. A total of 293 young women (19 to 35 years old) registered. Each course includes workshops on topics such as gender-based violence, sexual health and rights communication, leadership skills, entrepreneurship education, and financial skills (including budgeting, opening a bank account).
  • Of the registered participants, 253 (86%) successfully attended all courses, thus completing the Leadership Academy.
  • Of these, 23 participants will be trained as mentors in 2022 to work at the YWCA Haiti Youth Center.
  • Many participants learned what gender-based and sexual violence is only in the workshops and thus realized that they are in such a situation. Approximately 10% of the participants sought YWCA Haiti's offer of professional psychological support and were accompanied to come out of their situation of abuse.
  • 100 participants were able to open a bank account with the support of YWCA.
  • 90% of the young participants said they gained more confidence through the Leadership Academy and felt encouraged to pursue their ambitions. The knowledge and newly acquired skills have encouraged them to apply to the job market or open their own business.

Results 2020

Haiti doesn't get to rest. After an embezzlement scandal the public life reached an impasse. This combined with the increasingly autocratic led government by president Jovenel Moise has led to an increase in protests. At the same time the covid pandemic hits Haitis weak economy and health system especially hard. Additionally the amount of kidnapping has increased by a lot.

Because of those reasons many girls and young women couldn't complete the whole program organised by YWCA Haiti. The walk to the center was already a big risk they had to take. Out of 392 participants only 272 could finish the complete program. Because of the ban on assembly the summercamp couldn't occur either. As an alternative YWCA Haiti organised a week filled with various free time activities. The tutoring couldn't be offered for the whole year either. 155 young women finished the Leadership Academy instead of the planned amount of 250 women. Out of those 6 women were trained as mentors; instead of originally planned amount of 25. The pandemic even worsened the situation of the women that could finish the program because finding a job in this state has proven much more difficult. At last 282 girls and young women have gotten access to psychological support on the phone as well as food and hygiene supplies. 

Youth Center
  • 117 out of 237 girls attended school tutoring from Monday to Thursday afternoon, which was conducted by professional mentors and teachers. They received the necessary school material to solve their homework.
  • 117 out of 237 girls took part in workshops on the various program topics. The workshops were conducted by female mentors. The girls were also able to bring in their own topics, which they had worked on together with the mentors in the group.
  • 5 of the older participants passed on their knowledge at their schools as so-called "Young Leaders" and thus reached at least 150 other young people.
  • As part of the international campaign "16 Days against Violence against Women", 8 program participants from YWCA Haiti took part in a rally and campaigned against gender-specific violence and for women's rights. Specific workshops on these topics were held in advance with all programme participants.
  • All program participants had access to psychological support. 26 girls have taken advantage of counselling.
  • During the summer, 117 girls took part in acitivities like handicraft, dance, yoga, live competencies workshops, nutritional courses and recycling.
Leadership Academy
  • 155 girls participated in workshops on leadership, self-esteem, financial planning, violence prevention, sexuality, health, rights and the environment
  • 81% of them recognise gender-based violence and know what resources they can use to counter it.
  • 61% of them know how to write applications and CVs and how to present themselves in job interviews.
  • 22 young women have found a job after graduating from the Leadership Academy and are financially independent.
  • All program participants had access to psychological support. 15 of them have claimed counselling.
  • 8 graduates of the program were trained as mentors and conducted the workshops in the Youth Center.
  • 8 former Leadership Academy graduates were trained as mentors and conducted the program in Martissant. This enabled another 88 young women to complete the Leadership Academy.

Results 2019

Due to the political unrest in the country, the resulting difficult economic situation and the violent street protests in Port-au-Prince, the center of YWCA Haiti was open on fewer days than originally planned. As a result, programme activities have been reduced.

Despite the challenging situation, a total of 379 girls and young women participated in the YWCA Haiti program in 2019. At the center of YWCA Haiti they found a safe place where they could exchange ideas with other girls and receive instruction in practical life topics as well as professional, psychological support.

In the Youth Center, 230 girls aged 6-14 years improved their school performance thanks to after school tutoring, and in workshops they built up knowledge in the areas of self-esteem, violence prevention, rights, health and environment. In the Leadership Academy, 162 young women aged 15 to 30 years learned to make free and self-determined life decisions and to assume role models and leadership roles. As graduates of the Leadership Academy, they make healthy decisions regarding family planning and relationships. They lead equal relationships, recognize gender-based violence (also within the family) and use the resources available to them against it. The young women know how to position themselves in the labour market and become financially independent.

152 girls between the ages of 5 and 18 visited the summer camp of YWCA Haiti during the summer holidays. During 5 weeks they had the opportunity to improve their school knowledge, to participate in workshops on health, law, self-confidence and environment or to learn about new leisure activities through games and fun.

All programme participants received at least one warm and balanced meal, on the days they were in the center.

Youth Center
  • 230 girls attended school tutoring from Monday to Thursday afternoon, which was conducted by professional mentors and teachers. They received the necessary school material to solve their homework.
  • 230 girls took part in workshops on the various program topics. The workshops were conducted by female mentors. The girls were also able to bring in their own topics, which they had worked on together with the mentors in the group.
  • 3 of the older participants passed on their knowledge at their schools as so-called "Young Leaders" and thus reached at least 150 other young people.
  • As part of the international campaign "16 Days against Violence against Women", 8 program participants from YWCA Haiti took part in a rally and campaigned against gender-specific violence and for women's rights. Specific workshops on these topics were held in advance with all programme participants.
  • All program participants had access to psychological support. 6 girls have taken advantage of counselling.
  • During the summer camp, 152 girls took part in handicraft workshops, spelling competitions and tutoring. Towards the end of the camp they held an art exhibition and celebrated a graduation ceremony together with their families.
Leadership Academy
  • 162 girls participated in workshops on leadership, self-esteem, financial planning, violence prevention, sexuality, health, rights and the environment
  • 81% of them recognise gender-based violence and know what resources they can use to counter it.
  • 61% of them know how to write applications and CVs and how to present themselves in job interviews.
  • 5 young women have found a job after graduating from the Leadership Academy and are financially independent.
  • All program participants had access to psychological support. 4 of them have claimed counselling.
  • 6 graduates of the program were trained as mentors and conducted the workshops in the Youth Center.
  • 8 former Leadership Academy graduates were trained as mentors and conducted the program in Martissant. This enabled another 88 young women to complete the Leadership Academy.

Results 2018

Program Area “Youth Center”

After School Tutoring
  • 183 girls received tuition 4 times a week from trained mentors and teachers. The girls received the necessary material to solve their homework.
  • Every day there was a warm meal for each program participant.
  • All 183 girls had access to professional psychological support.
  • 145 girls attended a dental hygiene workshop and received dental check-ups.
  • 126 girls were tested for HIV and syphilis, all with negative results.
Safe space
  • YWCA was a safe place for 195 girls to meet on Friday and Saturday.
  • Every Friday and Saturday workshops were held at the YWCA Center. Topics included leadership, self-esteem, financial planning, violence, sexuality, health, rights and environment. Activities such as self-defense, yoga, art and dance were also offered.
  • All participants received a meal on Fridays and Saturdays.

Program Area "Leadership Academy"

  • 273 young women have participated in workshops on leadership, self-esteem, financial planning, violence, sexuality, health, rights or the environment.
  • 273 young women learned how to write applications and CVs and how to present themselves in job interviews.
  • All participants came from the two most disadvantaged districts of Port-au-Prince (Martissant and Cité-Soleil).
  • 16 mentors and trainers (former graduates of the Leadership Academy) have either carried out the programme in another organisation or are active in YWCA after-school tutoring.

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Further information

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Facts about the program

Name: Espas Pa Mwen - A place for me
Partner organization: YWCA Haiti
Location: Pétion-Ville, Port-au-Prince
Goal: Education for young women and girls in slums of Haiti
Target group: 510 girls (5 to 19 years old) and young women (20 to 30 years old),
Required funds 2021: CHF 248'122
Duration: 2020-2024
Responsible: Amélie Gottier, amelie.gottier at horyzon.ch

Facts about Haiti

Capital: Port-au-Prince
Population: 11.4 mill.
Human Development Index: 0.510 (rank 170.)
Life expectancy: 64 years
Median age: 24 years
Youth unemployment (15-24 years): 30.7%

Source: Human Development Report