Responding to Sexual Violence in Haiti’s Camps

6a00d83509bb2369e20133ed0581c6970b-800wi

Sara Siebert wrote us from Haiti after a particularly moving experience in one of the camps in Port-au-Prince. Her message tells of the crucible of contrasts Haiti is, especially since the earthquake. Violence and love, fear and courage, extreme pain and relentless joy all intermingle in a crowded camp of earthquake survivors.

Sara is our newest staff member in Haiti and was recruited to join Beyond Borders well before the earthquake struck in January. She came to us with tremendous expertise in developing programs to prevent sexual and domestic violence and support survivors of this violence and has more than 13 years experience working with large and small organizations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

With Sara’s leadership and support from the International Rescue Committee, Beyond Borders just completed two weeks of training for women leaders in three large camps. Here’s what Sara wrote:

“I just came from a particularly tough camp in Port-au-Prince today. There’s a zone within it where a lot of prisoners who escaped when the prison collapsed have been living. It’s not an easy place to be a woman.

When I first arrived a few weeks ago, I came looking for potential support people for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. I asked around about who was respected in the community—who did women flee to when they needed help? At first no one wanted to be involved. They said: ‘yes, women are beaten here all the time, and raped. We hear them screaming and there’s no one to help them. It’s too dangerous to get involved.’

But little by little, we found women who wanted to help and were not afraid. They had incredible spirits and guts and life to contribute. We invited them to training—several days of reflective training on peer counseling and basic community network building related to violence against women. Later, I went back to see what they had learned.

6a00d83509bb2369e20134803526ff970c-800wi

They showed off their skills in listening and non-directive options giving. Then we started to chat. They sang a song they’d learned, and we got up to dance. People’s capacity for spontaneous joy in the most unlikely places astounds me!

Other women came out of their tents to see what the joy was about. Then the women wanted to show us their homes, so we marched through the most dangerous part of camp. Big, tough guys watched as these 10 incredible women marched through their neighborhood like they finally owned it. We met their families and danced together.

Seeing the joy of those women who are unafraid to be joyful made other women start smiling—and that’s the miracle that keeps me going!”