Magdala Telfort (pictured) is a community mobilizer, working with War Child’s partner in Port au Prince, Haiti, APROFISA. She is a high school graduate who is hoping to become a nurse. But right now she has a very important job within her community. Womenand girls in Haiti have long been subject to sexual and gender based violence. In fact, rape was only recognised as a crime as recently as 2005. The rights of women and girls go unrecognised and the perpetrators of the violence do so with impunity. The situation has got significantly worse since the earthquake of 2010. War Child and APROFISA are working to address this problem with a concentrated outreach program, aimed at educating the population about sexual violence and what can be done to stop it happening. This interview was conducted in Port au Prince by Eleonore Chiossone of War Child.
Can you introduce yourself?
I work at APROSIFA in partnership with War Child. After I finished high school, I learnt computing. Since then I have been working to help get myself into nursing school.
Since May, I have been working in the gender-based violence program, here in Port au Prince. I am a community mobilizer. I go door to door conducting focus groups with people from the community and doing mass awareness on violence against women and girls.
Before this, I was already working in APROSIFA as host for Children “ESPAS pam” (“my space”) and I was educating children about violence and children’s rights.
Can you describe your work?
During home visits, I meet people individually. We talk about violence and its impact on victims. We also explain to people where they can find help if they experience any violent attack but the most serious are the cases of sexual violence.
When we meet a victim, the first thing we recommend is to go and see a doctor for treatment and a medical certificate. However, it is important not to force them to file a complaint but to accompany them so they can choose what they want to do.
The mass awareness is a way to make more people aware of issues of violence, which, since the earthquake, has been especially important, as there is more violence in the camps. It affects everyone – children, youth, adults. Mostly women, but men are victims, too.
In your opinion, what is the program’s impact on the community?
To begin with, the first person who was touched was me, because I really learned a lot. I now know the rights of women and the impact on a victim and what we must do immediately after an assault.
In terms of the community, it affects many people. People say they have learned a lot from the program. Before they did not know what to do when a person was abused, now they know how to help. People are asking us for training, so they appreciate our work.
What is the contribution of War Child in your work?
First as a young person who has finished high school, working for APROSIFA and War Child helps to answer my material needs. It is with money from my salary that I’ll pay for college. But my job also gives me great satisfaction.
Marie, the War Child psychologist, taught us many things, including how to spot people who have experienced violence. Working with War Child makes us more sensitive to the issue of violence and makes us stronger in our work. We have been trained to support victims and that gives us more confidence.
What are the biggest changes you have seen since the beginning of the project?
The biggest change was initially in me – I became more sensitive with respect to victims of violence. Today, I am more available to them, so they become more comfortable in telling me their story.
With the community, we can see that with the discussion and awareness raising, people understand each other better and are becoming more interdependent. They understand that where there is violence, there is suffering and where there is violence, there is no development.
The other major change was for the children. Through trainings and in-home visits, children are more protected against aggressors because we are teaching the parents to be more careful with their children.
What challenges do you face?
We meet a lot of challenges and threats. We must face the aggressors in the field. It’s up to us to sensitize them, so they become less aggressive. But often what we say shocks them. In addition, the fact that the community is more informed about the violence makes them more vigilant against aggressors and this doesn’t please the aggressors at all.
Despite these challenges, what motivates you to continue?
We need a big change, we need a better Haiti, a “Haiti of tomorrow.” Girls, children, adults need the violence to stop, even though we know it can not disappear because there will always be abusers. But we need to live better, live good, to know our rights. This encourages us to continue to fight violence,as long as God lends us life.