International Rescue Committee (IRC)

A safe space for teenage girls in Haiti

Gina, Kristina and Roxanne live in Vallee de Bourdon, an impoverished neighborhood wedged into a steep valley just outside Port-au-Prince.  The many tents and makeshift shelters among its sprawl of concrete block homes are constant reminders of the massive earthquake that struck two years ago, turning Haitians’ lives upside down.  

The life of any young girl is filled with worries and fears, but for teenagers in Haiti, where the future is uncertain, and violence against girls and women has increased dramatically since the earthquake, daily existence can be a struggle for survival. 
 
Fortunately Gina, Kristina and Roxanne have a safe place to go, a cozy wooden building called “Espas Pa Mwen,” or “My Space,” one of several IRC-sponsored centers dedicated to addressing the needs of teenage girls.  At Espas Pa Mwen, the girls can talk with their peers and explore their feelings with trained counselors. As a result, they are more confident and better informed, as a chat with the three friends reveals. 
 
Gina, perched on a table top, playfully swinging her legs, claims that she had no friends before she started visiting Espas Pa Mwen. She was not comfortable talking to other children or to the IRC social workers who would visit her at her parents’ home. Now she is talkative, engaging and hopeful. 
 
Kristina, an outgoing eighth grader, says that before she attended the counseling sessions, she did not know that she had rights — that all children have rights — or that women and girls deserve to feel safe and secure. Before, she says, she thought that if a woman was raped it was her fault, that women incite men by the way they dress. “Now I know that my friends and I can dress as we like and that violence against women is never okay.” 
 
Poised Roxanne, who mentors younger girls in the program, admits that before joining the program she was shy around other girls or picked fights with them. She says the first three times she visited the center she was afraid to talk — hard to imagine given her easy smile and presence in the room — but now her friends feel like family.
 
“Now I have the courage to talk to my parents about my rights, about the limits to how much work I should do at home,” says Roxanne. ”And about hitting — that it’s not the right consequence to not doing my chores.“
 
These lively centers around Port-au-Prince — the IRC also runs safe spaces in the Teleco and Villambetta settlements — are part of a larger IRC program designed to protect and empower women and girls.  They focus on girls most at risk from violence — including those who have lost parents, dropped out from school or work as domestic servants, as hundreds of thousands of children do in Haiti.
 
These IRC safe spaces and ongoing mentoring provide girls with the guidance and support they need during a crucial time in their lives. We want to help these teenagers grow into confident young women who will not merely survive the crisis in Haiti but thrive as the country reconstructs itself. 


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3 comments

Comments

I bow down hubmly in the

I bow down hubmly in the presence of such greatness.

It is not right for women to

It is not right for women to be abused and mistreated thankyou for your efforts. God Bless

everything haiti don't give

everything haiti don't give up keep working hard and when it time god going to change haiti just pray put it togrther like afamily haiti for life.

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