Stand With Us In Haiti

By Malya Villard Appolon, Goldin Global Associate, Haiti

We are raising our voices on the 10th anniversary of a date Haitians will never forget – January 12, 2010 - when Haiti experienced one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history, an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale. In 7 seconds, thousands of lives were lost, and the survivors were left screaming in confusion and wondering at the fate of loved ones. Women were left without husbands, children without fathers or mothers.

In the days afterward, the toll rose to over 100,000 dead, countless wounded, and 1.5 million more displaced from their homes and communities. For women and girls in particular, the physical and emotional devastation never ended.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitian citizens were suddenly pushed into displacement camps with scant governmental or international aid, so that chaos and systemic violence against women resulted. We still live in daily fear of assault on our lives and well-being.

After the earthquake, I saw and experienced the violence against women lost our own homes and lived in informal tent cities that sprung up in its wake. My own house collapsed, and I personally lived in a makeshift tent in the Champ-de-Mars park, witnessing everything that happened. Before the earthquake, Champ de Mars was the largest public park in the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, and it became a tent city for the displaced.

THE COMMISSION OF WOMEN VICTIMS FOR VICTIMS (KOFAVIV) was founded before the earthquake, in 2004, with 5 women including Marie Eramithe Delva, Joseph Solange, Ruth Jean Pierre Elena Fevry, and me. We were all victims of sexual violence and massacres who decided to join forces to fight to get justice for other women as well as for their children. Because the families of the victims have never been able to get justice, we decided to fight for other women to get justice one day.

As we were experiencing all sorts of violence after the quake, we had to put in place strategies that involved men in patrolling the camps to stop the violence, developing whistleblowing methods, and establishing male-to-male accountability for prevention. We also were involved in a lot of domestic and international advocacy.

Even today, there are still people scraping by in encampments with names such as Villam Beta and Camp Tokyo. Displaced women and girls are still subject to all forms of violence: physical, sexual and economic. Sadly, we have lost many young girls without parents who have died due to the disease and violence that often accompany prostitution.

We are asking the international community to intervene in Haiti at this moment because we see what the women are experiencing is another disaster, where they cannot go to work or to the markets due to a rapid increase in criminal gangs that filled the vacuum left by the lack of a functioning government. Women are forced to stay inside with their children. There is no work, no accessible health care or education. Trapped, women and girls have died with their babies in their wombs. These gangs have taken over almost all areas in Haiti, and the most vulnerable in this situation is women.

We are doing what we can.

We are teaching women martial arts and working with trusted men who volunteer to provide safety and raise awareness. We have taken these programs to some of the hardest hit communities in Haiti: the Village de Dieu La Saline, Grand Ravine, Cité Soleil, Martissant, Bel Air, among them.

Ten years after the earthquake, too many women and girls are still feeling the aftershocks. We are stepping up, but we need the international community to stand with us.

Update from Haitian Global Associate

KOFAVIV - Malya Villard-Appolon Partnership Update

Although still trying to gain political asylum during her extended stay in Philadelphia, PA, our Global Associate Malya Villard remains active with the day-to-day operations of the organization (KOFAVIV) she co-founded to combat gender-based violence in Haiti.

Providing her leadership and advice via a remote office out her temporary home in Pennsylvania, Malya has adapted to the challenges of keeping in touch with her colleagues by using Skype conversations and other technology. It is through those means that Malya was able to update us recently on how she and her colleague Earamithe continue the mission of KOFAVIV.  

Some of the men that will make up the Sensitization Agents providing safety to their community, undergo further training in the classroom.
Photo Credit: KOFAVIV

Training is the Key

In her report to us, Malya made it clear that the ongoing identification and training of those men within the community who can be most trusted and depended on to provide a safe environment to the women in the camps, is one of the most important steps to their program being successful. Malya and her team on the ground in Haiti seek out the male agents who can be best trained to share the information and workings of the project with both men and women living in their neighborhoods and communities. They in effect are relied upon to become members of a 'teaching tree' and the most recent numbers indicated by Malya show that over 2,000 persons have been reached and have a first-hand familiarity with the practices of the project – in short, they know how to prevent violence against women and support victims through their recovery.

A young man in the Sensitization training takes part in the instruction activities.
Photo Credit: KOFAVIV


[quote]The reduction of the violence in whatever forms must be effective to have a society that may benefit of all its rights and dignity. More and more, the KOFAVIV mission is being enacted by both men and women who are the best tools to reeducate the society."[/quote]

- KOFAVIV co-founder Malya Villard-Apollon


Much can be done with little resources – but much more needs to be done ... 

Throughout their report, Malya and Earamithe could not understate the importance of having the support and awareness of our own network at the Goldin Institute, in continuing to provide the security of the KOFAVIV offices and the security of women made most vulnerable to all forms of violence. There has been great progress made in reducing the violence and sexual assaults to women and young girls thanks to the project that these two women began in the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake. However, a recent visit of a local camp (Delmas 33, or the Siló Camp, which is located north of Gerald Bataille Street) demonstrates the need for more work to be done and more support needed. 

During their visit, it was discovered tható Camp was not drawing electricity from available sources. The local coordinator of the camp, appointed by the state, decided that it was best to remove the camp from the electrical grid to avoid potential electrical fires. While this in itself may be a needed preventative measure that could save lives by eliminating fires, the most immediate impact is that the camp is blanketed in complete darkness after sunset. As we have learned from Malya and KOFAVIV, the highest number of attacks happen in areas that are underlit. It makes sense, the less light, the more emboldened an attacker will be to commit a crime (it's this simple reality that made the flashlight provided at the camps, one of the first and most effective tools against sexual attackers). Malya and her team have purposed a street-light installation that could be done safely and at minimal cost, but providing the safety against violence that far surpasses the return on the investment.


[quote]We also visited a village called Grace Village, where there are 4 areas and each zone has a name; Peace, Love, Hope, Union ...  it is a village well organized but also does not have any lighting."[/quote]

- From Malya's report


Training the Trainers - Members of the Sensitization Team that will provide safety within their communities.
Photo Credit: KOFAVIV

Malya's latest update also provided specific numbers showing the effectiveness of the KOFAVIV call center providing immediate help to victims. She also shared the agent scheduling that will continue to ensure there will be adequete coverage for those agents on-the-ground doing the very real work of protecting women against violence.

Find out how you can keep the mission of KOFAVIV going and click here to become more involved.