Students from a Prince George elementary heard a firsthand account Thursday of the challenges women continue to face in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Marie-Ange Noel, from LaVallee de Jacmel, Haiti, spoke to a group of students from Grades 5 to 7 at Immaculate Conception school.
As a social worker, activist and coordinator for the organization Fanm Deside, Noel shared of the many struggles faced by women in her native country.
Making up 53 per cent of a population of 11 million, the status of women in Haiti is becoming more difficult as they are often violated, abused and marginalized in the areas of health, education and the economy.
« It’s still very much a patriarchal society, » Noel said.
« Women are still subject to all forms of discrimination related to their gender. »
Haiti has long been built on discriminatory principles and in rural areas, girls often do not have access to education and are left to do household chores at home.
« Very often women and girls enter into prostitution to help support their families, » she said.
And women are often playing the role of both mother and father as many are unable to enter the work force leading to situations of extreme poverty.
Students at the school were struck by the harsh realities of life in Haiti and were eager to ask questions.
« I am so happy to have such a young audience because learning starts when you are young, » Noel said.
« When I was young, I saw the situation and I knew I wanted to help. I thought I must fight for the rights of women and children. »
And joining Fanm Deside (Women Decide) seemed to be the answer for Noel.
Founded in 1989, the organization has offered shelter to women and girls who have been victims of physical and sexual violence.
Many efforts have also gone into improving the economic situation of women by giving them access to a micro credit and mutual solidarity service, which in turn provides them with knowledge and tools surrounding agriculture and livestock.
The organization has also seen an increase in reporting of violence perpetrated in their communities.
‘We put pressure on institutions and often men are unhappy. But I’ve always tried to defend myself and others. I am motivated to help women until they are free, » Noel said.
A Canadian Catholic organization, Development and Peace, has been working with Fanm Deside since 1999.
« By having Marie-Ange visit us is a way for us to give back to our members and to give them something tangible, » said Dick Mynen, co-chair for Development and Peace for the Diocesan Council in Prince George.
« It’s important that people see how their contributions are being utilized in other countries. »
Development and Peace has approximately 13,000 members who continue to raise awareness regarding issues from agriculture to education as well as advocacy for peace and human rights in more than 70 countries.
The organization’s theme this is year is « Women at the heart of change. »
« It’s so important to keep solidarity and to feel we are working together to see how this solidarity can be continued.
We are so thankful for all that Development and Peace has done especially in helping women and families in rural communities, » Noel said.
Development and Peace has been active in Haiti for nearly 45 years.
Following the violent earthquake that struck the island in 2010, the organization developed a five-year reconstruction program covering humanitarian aid and continue to help in areas of infrastructure, reconstruction, food democracy, equality and the defense of human rights.
« Together, we can help keep the dignity of the people while helping make our bigger dreams more concrete, » Noel said.
Members of the public are invited to meet with Noel at the following local events:
March 11 – after 9 a.m. mass at Christ Our Saviour Church on Austin Road in the Hart.
March 11 – after 7 p.m. mass at St. Mary’s Church on Gillett Street.
March 12 – 10-10:45 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church on Cathedral Avenue in Westgate.
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