Press Releases

Meeting With Our Partner in Haiti

Posted on: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Haiti, Latin America and Caribbean, Earthquake, Human Rights Advocacy

Lisa Davis, an attorney working with MADRE, traveled to Haiti last week as part of a delegation of human rights attorneys with the Lawyers' Earthquake Response Network (LERN), a project of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), and met with MADRE's local partner KOFAVIV. Lisa had the opportunity to speak with the organization’s members and to see the organization in action when she visited one of the camps in Port-au-Prince where KOFAVIV is working. She shared this update below.

KOFAVIV is one of the more critical on-the-ground organizations having a real impact in Haiti. The organization is comprised of and led by women who are themselves living in the camps for people displaced by the earthquake. They are reaching out to other women every day to provide them with the resources they need to survive and crucial social and psychological support to make it through this terrible time. In particular, KOFAVIV provides support to women who have been raped.

Meeting Immediate Needs

When I was in Haiti, I was able to pass along contributions from MADRE members to our partner organization, KOFAVIV. The women from KOFAVIV worked quickly to distribute this support to women in the camps in the form of much-needed supplies, buying directly from local vendors (many of them also earthquake survivors who are just getting back on their feet with very small businesses). KOFAVIV gave 1,100 women clean water, pots and pans for cooking, buckets for washing clothes, soap and tampons.

You can’t overestimate the importance of these day-to-day items: How do you feed your children without a pot to cook in? How do you maintain your dignity without soap? There is a need for systemic change for us to address broader human rights issues in Haiti with our partners, and this long-term work is strengthened when we can help meet people’s pressing immediate needs.

Creating Community Space

The camps are so crowded that there's barely room to walk between the tents. There's no space for people to gather or meet, which breeds a feeling of isolation and despair and prevents people from organizing. KOFAVIV recognized this problem and set up an open-air tent where women can come together: to talk, to support each other and to begin to rebuild the social networks that are so crucial to recovering from the earthquake.

Providing Security

The camps are dangerous places for women and girls: they are terribly overcrowded, without safe housing, lighting or police. Worse, the social networks that normally provide protection have been destroyed. Women are raped in their tents, on the way to the bathroom and even in the bathroom because there's no way to lock a door.

In response, KOFAVIV organized a community watch system and trained a group of men to escort women in the camps at night. They distributed whistles, flashlights and cell phones to women and are teaching some basic techniques to help prevent rape.

KOFAVIV has a long history of providing rape survivors with direct support and services, and they are continuing this work in the camps. They have over 1,000 members in the camps, and women know that they can turn to KOFAVIV if they've been raped. The women of KOFAVIV will bring them to the hospital and the police station, they provide psychological and social support through a powerful model of peer support groups and they are now working with MADRE and LERN to seek justice for rape survivors. Women and girls with KOFAVIV provided testimony that local and international human rights attorneys will be able to use to address this ongoing abuse and impunity.

See photos Lisa took while in Haiti »

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