By Katherine Wallis, Gender Protection Program manager in Haiti
As the three-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, approaches this weekend, we look from the past to what God is doing here and now. Although the grief remains, we also see growth, progress, and hope.
We see the reconstruction of roads and buildings, improved access to medical care and clean water, communities carrying tons of plastic bottles on foot and by boat to recycling centers, and we see the Haitian church praising God in the face of all the hardships and trials the last three years has brought. Their attitudes can be expressed in a line from a popular Haitian worship hymn: “You are always here. You are faithful God.”
One of the projects working to bring hope to earthquake survivors is the Restoration of Hope and Dignity for Women in Haiti.
In a country where violence against women and children was already a recognized problem, the earthquake separated thousands from their communities and family supports, making them even more vulnerable to gender-based violence. In response to this endemic challenge, our project staff has worked for the last six months to empower Haitian church leaders to recognize and respond to these issues in their communities and to analyze related scripture that has been used to justify such violence.
The project also utilizes the radio to deliver messages on gender-based violence prevention and services in Haiti. This week a conference was held for 83 Haitian church leaders at one of the Caribbean nation’s beautiful beach resorts.
One leader who was invited to the conference by a church Samaritan’s Purse has been working with for the past six months said, “Before yesterday I thought that when a woman experienced sexual violence it was no big deal. I thought the church only had to fight the devil. But yesterday I learned that we have to fight sexual violence too. Thank you for showing me that.”
He, along with other church leaders who attended the day and a half conference, received information regarding gender-based violence prevention and awareness. In discussion groups, they shared their own personal histories and stories and explored the root causes of violence against women. They then developed action plans that their congregations could implement to address such causes and networked with other churches from different locations to discover how they could support one another’s efforts.
At the closing of the conference, one of the pastors stood to read a declaration developed by thechurch leaders. The declaration included their unified acknowledgement of gender-based violence as a problem in Haiti and a commitment to address it in their communities. They concluded the declaration with the following: “We, as Christian religious leaders, proclaim with one voice, in unity, to commit to work every day so that women can find the physical, emotional, and economic security to thrive. We dream of living in a society where all people feel free to live their lives without constraints or fear.”
Tomorrow we will grieve all that was lost in the earthquake, but we will also follow the example set by our Haitian brothers and sisters this week at the conference and praise God for all we have gained.
As we see men standing up and committing to honor and protect their wives and daughters, and as we see women speaking out and breaking the culture of silence that has surrounded gender-based violence for so long, we know that there is a bright future on Haiti’s horizon. We see that God is here and that He is faithful.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11