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Empowering Haiti’s Younger Generation to Lead

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In Haiti, where 70% of the population is under the age of 30, supporting children and youth to play an active role in society is crucial to the future development of the country. I recently had the opportunity to visit one of Oxfam’s projects in Haiti that works directly with children and youth. Children Becoming Citizens, a civic engagement project funded by Entwicklungshilfe KLUB/Aid for Development Club, aims to empower young Haitians to become effective leaders in their schools and communities.  Every Saturday, six hundred children and youth aged from six to fifteen participate in activities ranging from arts, sports, cultural excursions, and group discussions on themes such as protecting the environment, gender equality and solidarity.  Four schools in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and local community based organisations currently participate in the project. I met with Oxfam’s partner organisations to discuss the impact of the project on the students.

The first person I spoke with was Jean Bertin Adolf, the principal of one of the schools in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune in the outskirts of the country’s capital, which is participating in the project. Since the start of the project, Jean has seen noticeable changes in the students’ self awareness and in their interactions with others. He told me that: “Now, when children come into a classroom, they make an effort to try and pick up rubbish before class starts. Before, they did not even notice the trash and made no effort to keep their classroom and its surroundings clean. The project activities have changed the way the children interact, how they work and play together. There is more solidarity between them than before.  I hope the project can continue and even expand to reach more children in the future,” continued Jean. Moreover, Jean explained to me that: “More girls are playing basketball now than before; it’s really important that girls and boys are encouraged to play whatever sport they want to.” Promoting gender equality through sports is just one of the ways that the project aims to break down gender stereotypes and promote equal opportunities for all.

Another partner, Jean Renald Murat, whose organisation is directly implementing the project,  expressed the same sentiments as Jean. Renald explained how the children participating in the project behave better now and interact differently. After participating in excursions organised by the project, children who took part shared their experiences and learning with other children in their schools who did not participate.  For example, Renald told me that after one of the excursions at a popular history museum in Haiti, the Musée du Pantheon Nationale, one of the children said to him that when he is older he wants to see his name on one of the exhibitions. For Renald, this is a sign that this child is already thinking about his future and how he wants to contribute to society.

In addition to the support and leadership local schools and organisations provide to the children and youth, the Haitian Government Ministry of Youth, Sports and Civic Action is directly involved in the project. I had the opportunity to meet with Brutus Michelet who works for the agency’s civic engagement branch and whose department has provided the project with experts on sports and civic engagement to help run the activities.  “When it comes to providing civic education to young people, the impact is not for today, it’s for the future. As soon as young people start to learn new things, like the topics covered by the project, they start to change their behaviour. The Haitian youth do not receive enough guidance or support and I hope that initiatives such as this project will continue. Personally, I will continue to do what I can to ensure that the government allocates enough resources to civic education, because it is my duty as a citizen to ensure this. I’m waiting for and expecting a change in this country for youth. If this project had started 10 years ago, we would see a different kind of youth today in Haiti.”

My conversations with Oxfam’s partners affirmed the importance of working with Haiti’s younger citizens in order to help inspire, lead and guide a future generation of civic leaders. By nurturing the talents and creativity of children and youth today, these young citizens will be equipped with the necessary skills to contribute to and transform their communities.

Ciara Cribben

Programme Quality and Fund Development Adviser Oxfam Great Britain

 

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