By: Nicole Siméon, Journalist
Thousands of Haitian children are left in the streets at a very young age and can be found in the capital as well as in towns throughout the country. They are usually abandoned without anyone taking responsibility for them and very often involve themselves in undesirable activities such as thievery, drugs, and prostitution. There aren’t many street children who have parents they can count on in the towns they are from and they don’t usually have a place to stay.
In Jacmel, a city 118 kilometers Southeast of Haiti’s capital, Port‑au‑Prince, this phenomenon is being alleviated since a study was conducted by Dr. François Ponticq and Martine Bernier in 1998.
The progress that has been made in dealing with this situation is not attributed to a miracle. A social‑cultural and artistic association called Ligue des Artistes Sans Frontières (Artists League Without Borders), known as LASAF, and located in Jacmel, has been assisting poor children especially those who find themselves in the streets.
One of the persons in charge of LASAF explained to us the path and interventions the association has been taking to help the children.
“The children need a proper context for their growth and stability,” said the person in charge, Pierre Antoine Jean, who is better known by his nickname Familus.
The work of LASAF essentially covers the vocational training of the children, in the areas of physical education, civic education, sexuality, and crafts, explained Familus.
LASAF doesn’t have the financial capabilities to take care of the children throughout the year. LASAF recruits children in the summertime and places them with various families for the summer and then sends them back for the rest of the year.
LASAF officially started operating in February 1995 without any help from the authorities. According to the person in charge, the association survives thanks to the help of a few personal friends and the assistance of PLAN International. From time to time PLAN International gives logistical assistance (such as public bus transportation and shirts) and food for the children. Familus said that because of this assistance the children are able to make field trips to cultural events.
“PLAN International does not have enough financial means at the moment, and therefore is not able to regularly support LASAF,” said Jean‑Marc Dieumerci, who is the manager of PLAN International in Jacmel.
The manager of PLAN International also said that in keeping with their vision of helping children and youth to participate actively in the process of community development, PLAN encourages foster children to reach out and help children in difficulty. Actually, in the scope of a development project around local crafts and paintings supported by PLAN International, the foster children together with more than a hundred children of LASAF have received basic training by one of the pioneers of the artist industry in Jacmel.
“The objective of this collaboration is to create an environment where children can express their ideas and develop their artistic potential,” declared Dieumerci.
The children use papier‑mache, assorted materials and local products to make their crafts. Their work has started to generate revenue that is being used to acquire materials for their work. They are working hard toward two exhibitions of their crafts and paintings, which will be held in 2001. The first exhibit will be held on the first of May, the annual patrons day of Jacmel and the other exhibition will be during the annual carnival. “These activities give the children the opportunity to earn their own money from their own efforts.”
Divided into many small groups throughout the Southeast department, the association provides services to 258 children in Jacmel, 159 in the area of “Zorangers,” 721 in total for the area of Cap Rouge which includes Clemès, Trou‑D’eau, Ka Fransik, Morne Salière, and 129 in Marbial and Fonds Melon.
The organization aims to “provide a notion of discipline for the children and to prepare them to fulfill their future moral and civic duties to their communities,” says the person in charge. LASAF also offers space where children can share their knowledge and can have healthy recreation.
“This explains why we stimulate the children and youth to develop techniques that will serve them later on to earn their living,” said Dieumerci.
New children are regularly integrated into the association, which responds sometimes to requests of families, who view it as an alternative for education for their children.
Often domestics, agricultural workers or merchants (“Madame Sarah” or small peddlers in the marketplace), the majority of parents don’t have the time to take care of their children themselves. The children, once left to themselves are often exposed to juvenile delinquency, or premature sexual relations, according to Familus.
As a non‑profit, the association which helps children and youth between four to twenty‑four years old, is seriously hampered by lack of materials and funds to implement its activities.
In order to respond to its obligations to the children, the association uses a public school, Exina Gilles de Ka‑Wolf, to hold its activities. Meanwhile, office space has been made available through the generosity of a friend who have lent them a room.
To continue without resources, the association is obligated to send older children away or to find jobs for them.
According to Familus, the goal of LASAF is to open its own residential and training centre for children. In spite of its regular activities, theatre, radio and television broadcasting, field trips, sports, and conferences, organized with the children according to an admiring parent, the work that the association accomplishes just a small fraction of what they could undertake, stated the person in charge.
A fruit tree nursery will be completed by the end of the year 2000. This initiative seeks to sensitize the children by giving them an opportunity to assist in ongoing efforts to protect the environment.
“It is sufficient to train children and youth on how to get out of the socio‑economic situation they have found themselves plunged into. The rest, they will do it themselves,” concluded Familus.
|This “Island Beat” article was produced with the financial support of PLAN International / Haiti,within the scope of the project “Child Rights and Participatory Media in Civil Society.”
| PLAN ‘s vision is of a world in which all children realize their full potential in societies which respect people’s rights and dignities. PLAN seeks to increase food security and family disposible income, which will enable families to improve their children’s welfare. Through its program interventions, PLAN will seek to strengthen the long-term capability of all community members to manage matters that affect the well-being of their children. This includes organizational, technical, financial and managerial capacities, and the ability to influence the priorities and quality of services of local institutions and organizations. PLAN also recognizes the importance of strengthening the long-term capacities of those institutions and organizations.