April 15, 2010

April 7, 2010 - Port au Prince, Ayiti

I just came from a displaced camp in Port au Prince that is a pretty tough place. There is a zone within the camp where a lot of the prisoners went, who escaped when the prison collapsed. It’s not an easy place to be a woman.

When I first entered the camp a couple of weeks ago, I came looking for potential support people for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. I asked a lot of questions about who was listened to and respected in the community—who were the people women fled to when they needed help? I talked to the women who were named by others as those people who could help.

I got more and more discouraged, because one by one, the first 8 I talked to didn’t want to be involved. They said: yes, women are beaten here all the time, and raped. We hear them screaming and there is no one to help them. Sometimes they come to us, but we don’t want them to. If we don’t know them, we turn them away. It’s too dangerous to get involved because their husband might be one of the “vagabonds”. Little by little, we found women who were not afraid and wanted to help. They had incredible spirits and guts and life to contribute.

They mostly didn’t know each other, but we invited them to training. We held several days of reflective training on peer counseling and basic community network building related to violence against women. Yesterday was the last day of formal training, so today I went back to check out how they were thinking about things now and what they had learned. They did role plays to show how good they’ve become at listening and non-directive options giving.

Then we started to chat. They started to sing a song they’d learned from other women in training, and we got up to dance. People’s capacity for spontaneous joy in places that don’t make it seem possible is astounding to me. Other women looked and laughed and came out of their tents to see what the joy was about. Then the women wanted to show us their homes, and we marched through the part of the camp that so many had considered to be too dangerous to help survivors in.

Big, tough guys stood among children and families, looking on as these 10 incredible women marched through their neighborhood like they finally owned the place. We met the families of the participants, and we danced together. And here is the miracle that keeps me going: seeing the joy of those women who are unafraid to be joyful, other women started smiling.

THAT is what I get to do for a living. How lucky am I?

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