The Haiti Adolescent Girls Network

Islindy Merius is from the YWCA of Haiti and was also a participant at the recent North American and Caribbean Young Women’s Leadership Confrence .

According to a recent World Bank report only 14% of teachers in Haiti are actually trained in sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) and even this training is considered poor by world standards.  On July 17th the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group took part in a programme set up to help shape the future of Haiti’s educational system.  The Haitian American Caucus held its third annual teacher summer training institute (TSI) in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. This year’s theme was “L’Union Fait La Force; Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century.” The focus of the 2013 summer institute was to provide teachers with the tools necessary to shift the educational paradigm in Haiti.Image

The YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group is part of the larger Haiti adolescent Girls Network which is dedicated to the empowerment, safety, health and well-being of adolescent girls in Haiti. The group began in 2010, in response to the increased rates of sexual violence against girls in post-earthquake Haiti.   After three years of implementing, the network has developed a successful model that changes the trajectory of vulnerable girls’ lives through the mentorship and assets based approach of educating girls on the subjects of sexual and reproductive health (SRHR), financial literacy, gender based violence and leadership.

This year 13 girls from the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam were chosen to work together with the organiszation Enpak, in theatre training to help present at this year’s Haitian American Caucus Teacher Training Institute. Currently, Haitian curriculums on sexual and reproductive health and rights are limited, often beginning when girls have already begun menstruation, and both boys and girls are already sexually active.  The objective of this presentation was to provide teachers with information on the importance of educating girls on SRHR, and more specifically talking to them about menstruation prior to its onset, in order to give girls a solid base, a positive experience, and an association with SRHR from the start.

The girls worked hard to present a skit showing the difference between the experience of a girl’s first period without having prior knowledge of the subject, and the experience of a girl’s first period after having been equipped with solid knowledge based on puberty and menstruation.  This skit was based on research conducted in Haiti on girls’ experience of menstruation.  According to a study done withinin 4 secondary schools throughout post-earthquake Haiti: 27% of adolescent girls in Haiti did not have any information on their period prior to its onset, 43% of adolescent girls believed their first period was a symptom of an illness and 18% agreed with the statement “I thought I was dying” the first time I had my period .  On the contrary, when girls have knowledge of what is happening within their bodies, their experience is often one of excitement and the realiszation that they are becoming young women with the ability to reproduce.

Due to the leadership of the mentors in the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group, the girls are now talking about a subject that is sometimes considered taboo, but isyet critical to the understanding and perception of women’s health.  In a country where women’s health is often neglected, this baseline information is critical to the future of women’s health.  Based on their own understanding of this topic after learning about it in Espas Pam, these 13 girls were given the opportunity to pass on their knowledge they have gained and share it with future teachers; while at the same time demonstrating that learning can be interactive and fun.  This topic brought up a plethora of insightful questions from teachers that attended and all were interested to get their hands on the sexual and reproductive health material in Haitian Kreyol, which is currently being created by the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network.

This forum was an example of how paradigms and minds are changed one step at a time.  While the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network works with some of the most vulnerable girls in the community, this forum was an example ofshowed how, when we work with the most vulnerable girls and educate them, not necessarily in a traditional setting, they are then empowered to share their knowledge with those that who will then pass this information on to the youth of Haiti, that who make up the majority of Haitian society.