Just for Girls

Just for Girls
Haitian girls learn proper hand washing techniques, including the use of antibacterial foam, at the YWCA in Petionville. Paul Jeffrey

Last year’s earthquake worsened everyday tremors of domestic violence and child abuse. Especially in the sprawling tent cities, families under tremendous stresses often break at their weakest point: the children.

“Parents have a lot less patience, because many lost their jobs in addition to their homes. Yet often the parents don’t understand how their behavior affects the kids,” said Melissa Coupaud, director of a youth center run by the YWCA in Petionville, Haiti. “There are all kinds of abuse, verbal and physical, because people don’t have the resources to overcome the stresses they face every day.”

Supported by United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving, the center runs an afternoon program for young girls, many of whom come from poor families without the resources to send them to school. Although the center is not a registered school, the girls have classes in French, English, religion and other subjects. They learn about their individual rights and about personal hygiene. Most importantly, they laugh together, something Ms. Coupaud said took time to happen. When the girls first came into the program last year, they were quiet and withdrawn.

“Part of what we do is help the girls build social networks, so if they have difficulties, they can help each other,” Ms. Coupaud said. “Even if they live near other girls, they are often so busy helping their mother with raising kids, doing laundry, cooking and washing dishes, that they don’t get time for themselves to be young girls, to have friends, to chat, to play.”

The YWCA program seeks to equip the girls with skills they can take home, back to the crowded tents where many of them live, to make space for respect and laughter in the middle of so much suffering. Although Haitians today still recall with horror the earthquake that killed so many and tumbled their homes to the ground, the survivors of the quake are also listening for sounds of life in the rubble, sounds of hope, like the sound of girls laughing.

The Rev. Paul Jeffrey is a United Methodist missionary and senior correspondent for response. His photos of the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor and other publications. The United Methodist Association of Communicators awarded Mr. Jeffrey the 2010 Donald B. Moyer Award of Excellence for his Haiti coverage.

Posted or updated: 4/30/2011 11:00:00 PM
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