Darline Richard, with her daughter Elis Naika
Over the years, working in our communities of Petit Trou, it's been difficult to hear about the struggles facing women and girls living in rural Haiti. We’ve heard stories of the violence women experience at home and seen the difference in opportunities that exist for men versus women. We know the situation is an intersection of complex social, cultural, economic and historical factors that has no easy solution. Last year, we launched a new program to address this inequality by targeting girls between 10 and 18 years old. We noticed there was a disproportionate number of girls moving to the later levels of their schooling compared to the amount of girls who started pre-school. We know through UN studies that, in the Caribbean region, each dollar invested in education for youth provides a return of 12.7% for each additional year of schooling. This benefit is even higher in the case of teenage girls with access to secondary school (18% return per year). As we continue to support access to quality education in the Nippes region one of our main goals over the next five years is to increase the number of girls who complete grades 1-9 at St. Paul’s school from 15% to 50% and have an equal impact at the national school in Petit Trou of young women completing high school.
By investing in teenage girls, an objective being echoed by larger international institutions and government agencies in Haiti, we are investing in the entire community. On July 11 for World Population Day, the United Nations in Haiti reiterated its support to invest in youth, particularly in teenage girls, as a key priority to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Development Agenda. In an interview with a main new source in Haiti, UN expert in development Marielle Sander asserted, “To advance economic growth and development in Haiti, it is really important that each teenage girl has the right to have control over her own body and over her future. A pregnancy by choice, not by chance". A national statistic that could also reflect the situation in Petit Trou estimates 11% of adolescent girls in Haiti have already had at least one baby. She emphasized that investing in adolescent girls’ rights and empowering them to plan their families is essential to benefit from possibilities of economic growth.
And we know that empowering girl's education WORKS: study after study after study shows that globally, the more education a girl gets, the healthier and wealthier she will be as an adult woman in her community. Increasing education for teenage girls correlates to decreased death during childbirth, increased neo-natal survivability, increases to age of marriage and to age of first childbirth, increased quality of their children's nutrition, increases in general employment, and decreases the pay gap between men and women.
Colorado Haiti Project's Girl's Empowerment and Mentoring (GEM) Program consists of three main activities. The first is to provide extra educational support and mentoring to girls vulnerable of dropping out through clubs called Safe Spaces. Female teachers from the area are providing additional time and energy to be mentors to 50 girls at St. Paul’s and 50 girls at the national high school. Another function of the clubs is to provide opportunity for peer-to-peer support to overcome problems unique to girls in this rural context. Secondly, there is education and outreach to girl’s families and the broader community. Community gatekeepers and change agents are receiving materials and training to prepare them to deliver messages around the importance of investing in girls education and key themes around gender based violence and sexual and reproductive health. Lastly, there will be scholarships for continuing education and role modeling for young women. Young women chosen to receive the scholarships will be expected to return to the community for at least 3-5 years, and promise to work as mentors with young girls at St. Paul’s and the Petit Trou High School. It has been estimated that for every dollar invested in the training of midwives, there is a 16 fold return for the economy. For this reason, we want to support women who are considering professional education in midwifery as well as teaching, nursing, accounting, and other technical skills including agriculture and computers.
In closing, allow us to introduce you to Darline Richards. She is a young woman from Petit Trou who has proven potential and a deep desire to help her community. A few years ago, she became a scholarship student supported by CHP, and is currently studying to become a pre-school teacher so she can one day return to her home and teach. She is also an enthusiastic supervisor and mentor for the GEM Program. She stated her community has wanted to address the serious problem for girls but hasn’t been able to until now with the support the Colorado Haiti Project. She says “GEM is essential because it gives girls another vision and dream for their lives. Support groups and extra education will help the girl’s mature more and give them more structure in their lives. Having 16 year olds pregnant in the community is very sad for us. We need a program like GEM; it is very important for our community.” We stand committed to supporting our friends in Petit Trou grow the leaders of tomorrow and doing what we can to ensure women and girls have an equal access to opportunity.