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Report released March 29, 2010

Often adults think that children and youth don’t have the capacity to express themselves or make good decisions.  I’ve been working with kids for a long time and I wholeheartedly disagree.  It makes me cringe when I hear adults making a big fuss out of something intelligent that a child or a young person says.

I’m not amazed anymore when kids say something profound or brilliant – I’ve come to expect it.  When trusted and given a comfortable space to say what they think, children and young people tend to bring critical insights to a situation, especially when it’s one that directly impacts on them and their lives.

So when adults are designing and implementing programs, instead of assuming that they know what is best for children and youth, it’s a good idea to actually ask them and involve them.

The “Children’s Voices in the PDNA” project (implemented by Plan with support from UNICEF) did exactly that:  experienced Haitian facilitators developed a child friendly methodology to consult with 54 groups of children and youth – almost 1000 kids in total – in 9 departments in Haiti to find out what they wanted to see in the new Haiti.  The resulting document in full can be found here, and is well worth a look-through.

The consultations focused on a few broad areas:

  • the impact of the January 2010 earthquake on children’s and youth’s lives and that of their communities
  • their visions for the reconstruction and long-term development of their country
  • their views regarding their present situations and future risks they may face
  • their ideas on how they would like to participate the future development of their country.

The project aimed at not only gathering opinions and ideas from the participating children and youth to feed into the PDNA, but to help them understand the PDNA process and how it would link into the long-term reconstruction in Haiti and impact on their own lives. Children and youth were also given the space to share ideas for accountability, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Participants were divided into age-based groups (5-10, 11-16 and 17-24 year olds) for the consultations, and their responses were recorded according to sex in order to ensure that gender-based information was available for future program planning.  The 4 main categories of the PDNA were included as well: social sectors, infrastructure, production sectors, and governance/security. In order to ensure a holistic approach when coming up with solutions, the root causes of vulnerability and risk were discussed.  Environmental hazards such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, and social risks like child trafficking, child protection, violence and abuse were addressed.  A summary of the children and youths priorities by age and sex is found on page 19 of the document.

Children and youth certainly had something to say.

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I want a different Haiti where we, the youth, have a chance to participate with the government; we can be part of the government and of all activities in the country. In the past, youth had been completely excluded; we need a new strategy or approach to achieve this end.” Boy in age group 11-16, Croix des Bouquets

I’m sure we’ll have a better Haiti with the participation of youth and children. Then, Haiti would become a beautiful country. Haiti cannot be rebuilt without the participation of children and youth, we are Haiti’s present, we will be Haiti’s future.” Girl in age group 11-16yrs, Croix des Bouquets

After the earthquake, I have seen a deprived youth. The country had assumed a thinking mind on behalf of Haitian youth. Because in my vision, I saw there was no future for the youth. We need to make men act consciously to facilitate equal distribution of things and to help every citizen according to his needs. My advice would be to decentralize the country, think of the whole country and rebuild the country consciously. Awareness is crucial to achieve a better distribution of international aid so it can benefit those most in need.” 22 year old male, Cyvadier / South-East

First, the focus group was a very good activity; everyone was involved and conscientious. Everyone had the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions freely. About January 12, I think everyone has his or her own way to live, understand and explain this event. But, there is still confusion and fear among people. They are traumatized and desperate. Now, we must reconsider, give room for everyone, listen to every person with positive ideas in the context of the reconstruction.” 18 year old female, Department of the West

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Permission for two of the participating youth to attend a March 30th Side Event called “A Haiti Fit for Children” and to participate in the March 31st Donors Conference (both held in New York City), was granted. Ironically, the youth were denied visas to enter the US.  In my last post about Haiti I asked “Will Haitian youth go missing again?” The answer is “yes.”  But at least we can hope that their voices in written form will reach the eyes and ears of decision makers and donors. I hope that they will listen.  Children under 18 make up around 50% of the population in Haiti… if they go unheard, that is a lot of missing voices.

If you are reading this blog post and you plan to launch an initiative in Haiti, I hope you also will take 15 minutes to read through the “Children and Young People’s Voices in Haiti’s Post Disaster Needs Assessment” to hear what these 1000 children and youth in Haiti have to say.

But not only that.  I hope that before doing anything on the ground in Haiti, you or someone that you are working with will directly talk with and listen to Haitian children and young people, as well as with their parents, teachers, community leaders, and others in the communities that you are hoping to help or support.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Will Haitian youth go missing again?

Children in Emergencies: Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

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Ending violence is not as simple as some people (and some famous-journalists-from-the-New-York-Times) might think. It’s not as easy as telling some personal stories of child victims of violence and getting people in the “West” to pay attention and care.  Ending violence against children will involve some very deep and profound cultural shifts that need to be owned by local communities who have decided that they want to end violence. Violence needs to be addressed on multiple fronts over time, taking into consideration very localized contexts that frame violence against children as an accepted norm, and that allow those who commit violent acts against children to continue with impunity.  Violence is not something in isolation of other currents running through a society, and much (most? all?) violence is rooted in unequal power relationships.

Next Sunday, I’m heading to Benin for a couple weeks to work on a project aimed at ending violence against children.  I’ll be training colleagues from Benin and Togo on setting up an SMS based system of collecting incident reports on violence against children and mapping the incidents out. This information should allow for better tracking and understanding of what kind of violence is taking place, and for more informed thinking about sustainable solutions/responses to the violence.

My colleagues and I will then train youth in 2 communities in Benin to use the system.  We’ll also train youth to do some basic audio and video testimonies. Our Togo colleagues will return to Togo to replicate the training with some youth groups there.  This is all part of a larger Violence against Children (VAC) project that has been ongoing since 2008.

One thing that I like about this VAC project is that it trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies.  As those who are experiencing this violence, it’s vital that children and youth are prepared and able to take part in stopping the cycle – it’s in their own best interest.  They also need a critical mass of people locally who are aware of the negative impacts of violence, and a system that can apprehend and mete out consequences for those who commit acts of violence.

After its 4 year running period, the VAC project will have trained some 200 children and youth on the causes, manifestations and consequences of violence; ways to communicate effectively with different audiences to get the message of stopping violence across; the use of cartoons, comics, social media, radio and television to talk about issues of violence; and how to respectfully yet confidently lead intergenerational dialogue around the issue.  After my 2 weeks in Benin, the youth, project staff and other participating community adults will (I hope!) be able to use mobile phones to collect information, pictures, videos and audio testimonies about violence in their communities to share locally, nationally and globally to speak to publics and decision makers.

As part of the preparation for the upcoming workshop, I’ve been reading through some reports and documentation about the project.  One report stated that all children participating thus far in the project have said that there has been a concrete reduction of violence in their lives. They have consciously broken the cycle of violence themselves and have been able to talk to their families and peers, who now exercise less violence against them.  Most of the youth in the participating groups have themselves been victims of violence, sometimes severe, at home on a regular basis.

The pain, the marks on my skin, swelling and wounds are the consequences of violence against me…I lose my composure and all ability to complete a task. Then there’s also the doubt, fear, stress, not wanting to talk about it and shyness. –  female participant, Togo

They in turn they were often also violent towards their siblings and their peers.  Participating in the project has strengthened their “be the change you want to see” mentality around violence.

“The knowledge I have gained from the project has helped me put an end to the violence that I used to carry out against my sisters, brothers, and sometimes other children. My parents have also changed – they are no longer violent towards me.” female participant, Togo

In addition to the personal changes at the level of the participants, the VAC project has built a civil society of youth who engage politically with their peers, families, schools and communities around issues of violence.  The youth have also made violence against children part of the public agenda by partnering with media sources who feed their media into mainstream channels.

Participants are fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children by educating other children and youth about the UNVAC study and how violence compromises their rights. They’ve been able to create alliances between youth and adults to advance their cause and youth have been able to share their experiences and opinions with high-level policy makers, including government officials and the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children.

This project is a great example of how engaging with young people can begin to offer solutions to very complex problems, and how looking at youth, and at people in general, as participants and stakeholders and subjects of rights rather than victims, or beneficiaries, or objects of pity can have much better and more sustainable results.

The United Nations Violence against Children Study examined the violence that children around the world experience on a daily basis and documented children’s own experiences of violence in their homes, school, communities, workplace and institutions. A Child Friendly Version of the report is also available.

The VAC project is co-implemented by Plan and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia in partnership with Curious Minds (Ghana), Child Protection Alliance of Gambia, youth and children’s clubs in all these countries, the African Movement for Working Children and Youth, and Planet Jeunes (a popular magazine for youth in West Africa).   Through the project’s work with children, youth, parents and communities, the achievements of the VAC project to combat violence against children are directly helping to realize the UN VAC Study’s recommendations. Several action plans developed by children and youth seek the support and commitment of the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children to continue lobbying governments for change. Young people engaged in the West African VAC project are a valuable resource for the UN Special Representative, ready to support her work in Africa and beyond.

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