Jacmel, in Haiti’s South East and its surroundings are a picture of Caribbean beauty, with white beaches, azure-blue ocean, and dazzling sunshine. On the other hand and in the midst of this tropical treasure, children and their families struggle every single day to make ends meet.
I was recently in Jacmel to visit the Cine Institute, a Haiti-based organization that trains young Haitians who aspire to become film-makers. It is the only film academy in Haiti and it is bursting with talent. The partnership that brings UNICEF and the Cine Institute together is new and exciting in its approach because it seeks to place children’s voices at the center of storytelling. Our shared ambition is to put the spotlight on those who usually live at the margins of society, and yet who master every single day with bravery and imagination.
Weeks of scouting by the film-makers resulted in a whole list of prospective stories illustrating the resilience of Haitian children when faced with challenges. Edile (13) and Djolanda (11) were chosen for the video project that will be the beginning of a new storytelling philosophy. Their living conditions are a far cry from the principles that are enshrined in the International Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Haiti 20 years ago, declaring that children must have access to everything they need to survive and thrive.
Every child has the right to go to school and to play, they have the right to not be enrolled in labor. Yet while we can never condone that children are working, we must be aware that this remains the reality for thousands of children today. Awareness is the first step to change and UNICEF is working hand-in-hand with the Government towards a country where the words of the Convention become tangible. Edile’s and Djolanda’s stories illustrate that we must push further.
Who are they?
Edile stays with his father and his sister, who lives with disability. His mother left the family two years ago and has since re-married. Suffering from hypertension since having a stroke in 2013, his father is no longer able to work. To contribute to the meager family income, Edile decided to make some money by working three half-days in the neighborhood bakery.
With his small earnings, he manages to take care of his father and to put some money aside for schooling. It is tough, and he missed the last school year due to insufficient funds, yet he keeps trying, every single day, aware that education is crucial for his future. His dream is to become an agronomist. “So many people go hungry here. I want to feed the country,” he says. “I hope that adults who see this video will do more to bring all children into school.”
Djolanda’s father abandoned the family when she was very young. Her mother raised the girl and her brother on her own, on a very tight budget. Djolanda matured quickly through witnessing her mother’s struggles for years. She is concerned for her mom and feels that she must learn to help provide for the family. Every day she goes to school, giving her best to be the best. But she does not stop there. Persisting in her quest, she found a local association which teaches sewing classes for adults and signed up.
Every evening after school, Djolanda is learning dressmaking, surrounded by women in their 40s and 50s. She has been enrolled in the course for several months now and already made a number of dresses, including her school uniforms. Djolanda has two dreams: she want to become a nurse to help people who are sick, and she aspires to save enough money to build a house for her mother. “My mom is the only one who takes care of us. I am worried about her health. There is a lot of disease around here..”
Edile and Djolanda are just two of many, yet they exemplify the courage and hope that propel Haitians at all ages forward. They do not wait for help. And yet they have the right to get as much support as possible. To bring children like Edile and Djolanda further on the way towards education, health and happiness we must do whatever we can. Every girl and every boy has the same rights, no matter where s/he was born and lives. The story of poverty and inequality sounds different from their perspective; because the narrative changes – from misery to hope, inspiring action, not pity.
Please stay posted for updates and the finalized videos.
Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti