I’m in Nicaragua this week for a regional meeting of youth leaders from 12 Latin American countries where the organization where I work (Plan) operates. Well, actually only 11 countries are present, since our 5 person Haitian delegation (2 adults and 3 youth) was deported immediately upon arrival. What I understand is that they were missing a special type of visa permit required by Haitians that the Consulate in the Dominican Republic should have issued and didn’t, and the Haitian youth paid the price by having their hopes dashed.
To me it feels like adding insult to injury, but I guess no one cuts anyone any slack these days. After 3 days running around, staff at our office in Nicaragua were unable to arrange for the team to enter the country.
I’m really disappointed that the Haitian team is not here this week because it would have meant a chance to hear first hand from the youth and my Haitian colleagues about their experiences over the past few months and to learn about how they have been participating in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) process in Haiti. The youth from the Latin American youth media network, “Voces” (“Voices”) here are extremely bummed as well. One aspect of their strategy for the next few years involves working in solidarity their Haitian peers to ensure that their voices and opinions are heard in the building and negotiating of the PDNA as well as in the post-PDNA process when promises and commitments will be monitored.
Around half of the population in Haiti is under 18, yet young people were not initially given a space to input into the PDNA process, even though it will decide the framework and funding for reconstruction of their country. In order to bring those voices into the process, Plan worked in partnership with UNICEF to consult with 54 groups of children and youth (around 1000 kids in total) across the country (West, North East, South East, Artibonite, Nippes, South, North West, Grand Anse and Central Plateau) to find out about their current situation and their plans and ideas for the future. Issues of gender, disability, vulnerability, access to services, disaster risk reduction, participation in decision making, and accountability mechanisms for the PDNA were considered in the consultations. Plan has been working in Haiti for several years and has an active local network on the ground. These consultations were a lot of work, but not impossible. (Read more about the process here.)
But the effort to fully involve children and youth does not stop at the consultation stage. Plan and UNICEF are currently working to ensure that the input from the children and youth will be incorporated into the upcoming donor conference in New York on March 31, 2010 where representatives from the Haitian government, international organizations and representatives from the World Bank will decide Haiti’s future. My colleague in the US office is working right now to try to secure visas for 2 youth to attend the March 31 meeting.
Interestingly enough, much of the input from the youth consultations fits right into the categories that will be discussed in these meetings: education, housing, telecommunications, transport, energy, boosting the effectiveness of government and macro economic recovery. If you ask me, it would be vital for decision makers to hear it. The most common point made by children and youth during the consultations was education and getting back to school.
Here in Nicaragua, the 40 or so youth from the “Voces” network who did make it through immigration to participate in our meeting this week have been following the Haiti situation since it began, offering solidarity and support from afar. The group is composed of young media veterans, all part of youth networks and media groups in their home countries. They have been doing local, national and global level advocacy work for years; some for 10 years, since they were pre-teens. They write blogs, host television and radio shows, publish newsletters, make videos, produce music, and are generally involved and powerful voices for their generation.
I really like their vision for supporting their Haitian peers’ primary efforts in getting a seat at the table and being heard by decision makers around the PDNA and post-PDNA reconstruction process in Haiti. They are planning to use their contacts in their own governments and ministries and their existing media platforms to bring the opinions and voices of their Haitian peers in “through the back door” so to speak. They want to advocate with their own country governments, youth commissions, Ministries, etc., to influence their positions so that when they interact with the Government of Haiti, they are doing it with opinions and positions of Haitian youth in mind. In this way they want to help the voices of their peers to be heard directly and indirectly on various fronts and from all sides.
On the ground in Haiti, Plan is working to find and revive all the youth media groups that were its active partners before the earthquake. These groups have been working in their communities and at the national level through various media around themes of importance to youth. In fact Caroline and Fritz, 2 of the youth that I have met in the past at other youth encounters are at the forefront of the children and youth participation in the PDNA process right now. These and other groups of young people can play a vital role in the post-disaster reconstruction process in many ways, including monitoring the gap between commitments made and commitments fulfilled.
The knowledge, motivation and spirit of the youth here at this regional encounter, are a real inspiration. I can only imagine how disappointed their peers are, back in Haiti, after all the preparation that they did to attend this week. But our regional media encounter is of much less significance than the March 31 meeting. How will the youth who are planning to attend that meeting feel if they are not allowed in. Why is their voice less important in that context, less of a priority than other voices? I’ve been in this world long enough to know the answer to that question, but it will never cease to upset me.
So here’s hoping that the 2 Haitian youth who are slated to participate in the PDNA Meeting in NYC are given a seat at the table and permission to attend the donor meeting and to enter the US. Here’s hoping that Haitian youth and their voices will not go missing again.
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