In Haiti, "tout moun se moun" -- every voice counts
December 4, 2010 by Roxanne Paisible
|IRC teams in Haiti have not only been helping people to recover from the earthquake, but also empowering them to participate in the rebuilding of their country. Photo: Gerald Martone/The IRC|
When I was in Haiti just over a month ago, people were talking about two things: cholera and elections. Posters of presidential and parliamentary candidates were plastered all over the capital Port-au-Prince – on billboards, trees, walls, cars, storefronts and on practically every corner imaginable.
Although they were still reeling from January’s devastating earthquake -- and were now dealing with a fast-spreading epidemic -- every Haitian I spoke with was paying close attention to the upcoming presidential elections.
When Election Day finally arrived last Sunday, Haitians lined up en masse at polling sites throughout the country to choose a new leader they hoped would give Haiti a fresh start.
However, the day brought nothing but frustration for the many people who, amid widely-reported confusion, found themselves unable to vote. After years of feeling powerless, they found that, once again, their voices weren’t being heard.
This long-standing sense of disenfranchisement is why my IRC colleagues in Haiti – most of whom are Haitian -- have not only been helping people to recover from the quake, but also empowering them to participate in the rebuilding of their country
For example, during my visit I took part in a workshop with community leaders from Villambetta, a camp the IRC manages in Port-au-Prince. The purpose of this workshop (and others like it we’ve planned for the coming months) was to start a conversation about the future of Haiti – and to help people recognize that their government is accountable to them.
The workshop started off with my colleagues who were facilitating the session asking the community leaders how they would envision a “new” Haiti. Several people raised the issue that all Haitians -- whether they live in Port-au-Prince or in rural areas -- should have access to jobs, quality education and other critical services. One explained that the capital is densely populated because people who live in the countryside move there when they cannot find work. Rural development could help to alleviate the overcrowded living conditions in the capital, he suggested.
As a Haitian American, it was interesting to hear from my fellow Haitians what their hopes and aspirations are for Haiti. As they spoke, I wrote down their recommendations so that they could be incorporated in the IRC’s advocacy work with members of Congress and other U.S. government officials.
My colleagues then went on to emphasize that one important way for Haitians to participate in the rebuilding of their country is through voting -- and ensuring that others in their communities will do the same.
This workshop was just one of the many ways the IRC is making sure that the people in Haiti who feel the most powerless, such as the homeless earthquake survivors living in tents in Villambetta, are included in decision-making that affects their lives.
We’re here to help people realize – despite years of disenfranchisement and despite all the challenges they face -- how critical it is for them to be civically engaged and active participants in their country’s reconstruction.
No matter what the outcome of this week’s elections, we are committed to the idea that “Tout Moun Se Moun” (“Every voice counts”).
Community leaders from the Villambetta camp in Port-au-Prince who took part in the IRC workshop
Photo: Roxanne Paisible/The IRC