Rights Action Delegates return from Haiti.
BELOW: we reproduce an interview with Anne Sosin, who helped found VIDWA –
VIZYON DWA AYISYEN � in Haiti.
This interview was done by Freddie Schrider of Rights Action while on an
educational delegation to Haiti in April 2006.� To learn more about Rights
Action�s work in Haiti or to plan an educational event concerning Haiti,
contact Freddie Schrider, Freddie@rightsaction.org, 202-783-1123.
If you want on-off this elist: firstname.lastname@example.org.� To provide tax
charitable donations [in the USA or Canada] for the work of VIDWA in Haiti,
Three representatives of Rights Action who joined an April delegation to
Haiti have returned after having a truly extraordinary experience there.
They were able to witness firsthand the problems and achievements of this
small island-nation which is the world’s first black republic, and which has
suffered under the burden of staggering poverty and overwhelming and
repetitive interventions and domination by the �international community�
since the late 19th century.
HAITI INTERVIEW: with ANNE SOSIN, OF VIDWA – VIZYON DWA AYISYEN
Q. WHEN DID VIDWA START, WHAT IS ITS VISION?
R.� VIDWA is short for Vizyon Dwa Ayisyen, which in English is Haiti Rights
Vision.� VIDWA is a health and human rights organization working in
solidarity with the most vulnerable sectors of the Haitian population in
order to advance their human rights.� VIDWA is particularly interested in
social and economic rights, with a special focus on the right to health.� We
see health as a fundamental human right and believe that by advancing the
human rights of the Haitian population, the overall health of the Haitian
population will be improved.� Our vision is not only to advance the right to
health and to promote other social and economic rights, but also to
accompany the emergence of a grassroots movement organized around these
VIDWA, established in late 2005, grew out of work begun earlier. It was
formed to provide an organizational structure to support the efforts of
Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, (KOFAVIV) or the Commission of Women
Victims for Victims, and also to apply some of the lessons learned from the
work of KOFAVIV to other areas of human rights work.
KOPAVIV was formed as an emergency response to the situation of women living
in poor neighborhoods during the 2-year period following the 2004 February
29th coup d��tat against President Aristide.� Following this coup d’�tat, we
saw a surge in human rights violations in these areas. While there was some
response to the violations, there was virtually no structure in place to
respond to women who were victims of gender-specific abuses, particularly
rape.� So women, who had been victims of rape from the period beginning in
1991, the year of the first military coup d�etat against President Aristide,
until 1994 when Aristide was returned to power, began to organize
themselves.� They asked, �How can we respond to this crisis?”
There were very few women’s organizations connected to women at the
grassroots level.� Groups that had been very vocal in denouncing abuses
while Aristide was in power became silent after the coup.� Moreover, there
was a sense that certain women victims from poor neighborhoods were not
welcome in these organizations � because of where they lived, because of
their impoverished economic status and because they identified themselves
with the Lavalas political party.
�COMMISSION OF WOMEN VICTIMS FOR VICTIMS�
So they made a decision to form a commission, which later became KOFAVIV,
the �Commission of Women Victims for Victims.�� Their first step was to
prioritize the needs of victims, knowing well that their resources would be
limited in creating a response to the ongoing rapes.� They decided that
medical care was the number one requirement. Secondly, they identified
psycho-social support for victims as necessary but knew that they wouldn�t
have the resources to provide it; they would have to find another way to
begin helping these victims.
Once the Commission was established, we were able to form a partnership with
a local clinic in order to provide needed medical care. Thanks to a private
donor, we were able to form a relationship with the clinic and sign an
initial contract to provide 3 months of medical care.� The medical care
aspect of the program gradually evolved beyond just being a response to
crisis situations to becoming a much larger initiative – establishing an
independent clinic for women victims. In February 2006, we secured our own
location and were finally able to set up our own small health center.
We also now provide psycho-social support groups as part of our program,
and, at last count, over 300 women were actively participating in them. The
methods we use for group sharing, developed by the organization Beyond
Borders/Limye Lavi, are called �Reflection Circles� and Espace Ouvri, �Open
Space.�� We haven’t yet been able to provide formal psychological support
for the women, but what we�ve found in our work with them is that, by
participating in the Reflection Circles groups, they gain confidence,
develop trust, and form relationships with other women who have had similar
experiences.� The groups have continued to come together during extremely
difficult periods, many times when almost no other groups were holding
meetings.� In 2005, during a period when shootings and violence were rampant
in the surrounding neighborhood, the women persisted in coming together for
We have also a developed a small micro-credit program in partnership with
the organization FONKOZE.� Approximately 125 women are active in that
COMMUNITY-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS WORKERS
Our group is somewhat special in that we work through a system of
community-based human rights workers, women, many of whom are survivors of
rape themselves and all of whom live in very poor neighborhoods.� The
community-based human rights workers are responsible for identifying victims
in their neighborhoods and then accompanying them to receive medical care
and other services.� We are in the process of re-enforcing their capacity to
do this work and have just provided intensive health training for them, in
partnership with Partners in Health/Zamni Lasante, with a focus on HIV/AIDS
prevention and care.� We�re also giving them training so they will be able
to facilitate group meetings and conduct health training for other women in
the program.� This system of community-based human rights workers is what
really distinguishes the program from other groups that provide services to
women victims.� We are able to reach a lot of women who would never receive
care and we have a real presence in poor neighborhoods where most groups
VIDWA – VIZYON DWA AYISYEN
In mid to late 2005, we decided that we needed to formalize KOFAVIV’s work
because we knew that without a formal legal status, we would be unable to
develop beyond a certain point.� We also wanted to apply lessons learned
from KOFAVIV to other areas of human rights work.� At this point, I had been
working on human rights in Haiti for two years, and I wanted to create an
organization that would focus more broadly on the issues of health and human
rights.� I have a great interest in strengthening the ability of grassroots
groups to fight for their rights– to organize around their rights rather
than around narrowly defined political objectives–while at the same time
conducting parallel advocacy work on these issues at a national and
international level.� Thus, VIDWA was formed in 2005.
Q. HOW DOES VIDWA SURVIVE�� WHERE DOES IT YOU GET YOUR FUNDING?
R.� Right now, most of our funding comes from small organizations and
foundations. Our women�s program is supported mainly by UNIFEM.�� We were
very fortunate to be selected as one of the region�s two recipients of the
UNIFEM Trust Fund to Eliminate All Forms of Violence Against Women. We are
implementing a two-year grant focused on the link between violence against
women and HIV/AIDS.� We�re also receiving support from Rights Action, the
Peace Development Fund, and the Quixote Center’s Haiti Reborn Program.� Very
recently, we received news that we will be getting a small grant from the
Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund.� We also get a little bit of support from private
donors here and there.� Right now it�s mostly foundation support that keeps
us alive but we�re in the process of doing a lot of fundraising right.
Q. IS IT A STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE?� DO YOU GO FROM MONTH TO MONTH?
R. We�re still really struggling and I think we�ll probably struggle for a
long time.� For example, we don�t have enough chairs in the office for
everyone to sit down on and we are in real need of a computer.
In the beginning, we decided we had to have a location, a space of our own,
in order for the organization to really establish itself.� We needed a
space, not only for KOFAVIV to do its work, but also a place for women to
come to meet and to work together. Therefore, we decided to take a risk and
use some of the grant money we received to rent a location for the
organization.� We knew that initially we wouldn�t have everything that we
needed and understood that we�d grow slowly and be able to furnish the
location only as we raised the necessary money.� I think that in the
long-term this will be better for our development as an organization because
it forces our focus to be on work at the grassroots level and it tends to
make us very deliberate in how we do everything.
Q. IF YOU HAD ALL THE FUNDS THAT YOU NEEDED EACH YEAR, WHAT WOULD YOU USE
A. In the short term, we would use funds to buy the tools we need to have a
functioning office.� In terms of infrastructure, we still need more chairs
so that we can have meetings where everyone can sit down.� We could use a
computer and printer, and internet setup.� After that we would use funds to
develop other programs, particularly a �right to health program,� and a
broad initiative we started on Cit� Soleil.
Q. WHAT IS THE CITE SOLEIL PROGRAM/INITIATIVE?
R.� The purpose of the initiative is to change the particular political
dynamic around and within Cite Soleil. This slum neighborhood is the poorest
area both in Port-au-Prince and in Haiti and it has traditionally been
exploited by a wide variety of actors — domestic and international.� Many
different groups want to gain control of the community of Cite Soleil for a
variety of reasons:� in order to get development money; to get contracts to
do projects there; and to use the population for their own political ends.
Very few groups, however, are interested in empowering the population to
become active in decisions which affect their community; neither are these
groups concerned with addressing the structural issues which are responsible
for the deplorable conditions in Cite Soleil.� We are trying to help various
groups within the community to organize around their social and economic
rights.� We’re also working to find ways for outside groups to support these
efforts in a manner that goes beyond funding. For example, we’re hoping in
the future to work with a public health group.
We�re also trying to develop a program on the right to health.� As part of
this work, we want to train grassroots groups to work as community-based
health rights workers within the public health system.� I think that many
Haitians know they have a right to health which goes beyond the political
sphere, but there is very little work being done to help them get actual
access to the care which they need.
At the same time, we need to work on the international aspects of these
questions by looking at what the global actors are doing. We can do this by
monitoring the forms of aid and assistance coming into the country and by
analyzing the impact of international policies on the realization or denial
of the right to health.� Eventually, we want to have a health commission
that will do the work here at VIDWA, in the same way that we have a women’s
commission.� So that�s one of my dreams � to have a really well-developed
health program that is active on both a national and international level.
My vision for VIDWA is long-term one.� We can�t do everything overnight and
I don�t want programs to develop too quickly.
Q. IS VIDWA SOMETHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE REPLICATED?
R. VIDWA itself is an organization, so we are not looking to replicate it
but rather to expand our existing activities and strengthen the organization
as a whole.� I would say that we would like to apply lessons learned from
KOFAVIV to other areas of work.