These were the words of Esther Pierre, a representative of Haitian children’s rights organization FOPJ, after participating in an exchange visit with other organizations in Brazil.
In March of 2012, three representatives of Haitian children’s organizations traveled to São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, to participate in the annual exchange meeting of the program “Solidaridad que Construye Justicia con Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes" (Solidarity to Build Justice with Children and Youth). This program unites organizations from five countries that are working for the protection of children’s rights, an initiative that has been supported since 2005 by the ecumenical organization Church World Service. The Haitian representatives were leaders of two Haitian organizations, ASR Network (meaning “Down with the Restavek System” in Creole) and FOPJ ("Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice" in French), which fight to end the so-called “restavek” system of child domestic servitude in Haiti.
As part of the exchange meeting, the Haitian delegation shared with representatives from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Brazil their analysis of the current situation in Haiti and their work in protecting the rights, dignity and well-being of children in the country. "Having the chance to participate in this meeting gives us the possibility not only to talk about our work, but also to discuss our challenges and problems with other experts from the region", said Rosemond Jean Louis, vice president of the ASR Network.
After taking part in the last two days of the program meeting, the Haitians representatives remained in Brazil to visit with civil society organizations in the important industrial city of São Bernardo do Campo, including the Workers Unions of São Bernardo do Campo and the municipal Department of Social Welfare and Protection, among others. "We were amazed by the warmth and hospitality of the Brazilian people. But above all, we were surprised by the respect and attention that everyone paid to us. The Workers Unions, in fact, promised to include this visit and the issues that came out in their national agenda," commented Jean Solomon, President of the ASR network.
Brazilian organization Projeto Meninos e Meninas de Rua hosted the Children´s program annual meeting and they were also in charge of organizing the agenda of the Haitian representatives while in Brazil. This organization was founded in 1983 by a coalition that included members of the Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches along with members of the women's and human rights movements. The Haitian delegation visited the office of Projeto Meninos e Meninas de Rua, talked with a group of young people involved in the organization´s activities and learned about their methodology, approach and unique history. One of the highlights of the visit was when the Haitian delegation visited the office that the project has in Mauá and saw a wall with posters depicting important moments in the history of Brazil. One of these posters was titled “Haitian Influence” and discussed how the Haitian slave revolution in 1804 inspired Brazilians in their battle for liberty from European colonial powers. It was a reminder to all that these two countries, which seem so different and distant, in fact have much in common, and that people from distant lands can influence and inspire each other in the pursuit of a more just society.
"For us it is very important to host our colleagues from Haiti,” said Marco Antonio da Silva Souza, general coordinator of the organization. “Due to the influx of Haitian immigrants that have arrived in Brazil, mostly after the earthquake, many people have been talking about the situation in Haiti without really knowing what goes on there. This is why we believe it is very important for us to hear the Haitians describe their reality, because it allows us to find ways of collaborating in a more effective way with them."
The Haitians also visited and engaged in intense dialogue with professors of the Methodist University School of Theology, as well as with over forty social sciences students from the University of Santo André. In addition, they met with parishioners of a Baptist church, and members of the Islamic Center of São Bernardo.
All those who participated in the exchange were impacted by what they learned. Before returning to Haiti, Esther of FOPJ pointed out that she was taking with her "eleven ideas to strengthen FOPJ work in Haiti.” Rosemond of ASR Network highlighted how important it would be for children and young people from Haiti to have the chance to have a similar experience and to see another reality. "We truly thank CWS for having supported this exchange, and for having trusted in us to organize it,” concluded Marco. “Now we must make these seeds sown in both lands bear fruits."
This visit was the latest in a series of meetings and exchanges, supported by CWS since 2008, between Haitian and Latin American organizations with the aim of strengthening the organizations and their staff through peer support and learning.
For more information CWS organizations and programs in Haiti contact Aaron Tate, email@example.com.
Photos: Margot de Greef