Change Starts With Us!

By Sahita Pierre-Antoine

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to interview Islindy, a Board Member of the local chapter of the YWCA here in Haiti. Although she grew up in the States, Islindy has been involved with YWCA-Haiti for quite some time. She spent this past summer in Haiti to provide some hands-on support to the organization. Here is a redacted version of our conversation.

Sahita (S): Why did you join the Y?

Islindy (I): I’ve always been passionate about what the YWCA stands for and the work that is being done in Haiti. I really admire the Y-Haiti curriculum. Centered around self-esteem, empowerment, and education, we equip our girls with the necessary tools to become leaders and make change in their communities. Our slogan is “Se avè’m chanjman komanse” (Change starts with me!) and I can really stand behind that statement.

The first time I came here for a visit and met the girls and the youth leaders, I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of, it was where I needed to be! Over the years, I’ve seen the girls grow and blossom, I’ve witnessed changes in their mentalities and their behaviors. That’s a testament to our mission and to the impact that we have.

S: So what are you doing in Haiti this summer?

I: Well, my mission this summer is two-fold. On one hand, as a Board member, we are updating our strategic plan, assessing where we are and where we want to go in the next few years. On the other hand, I’ve also been helping out with the Summer Camp. It’s always interesting coming back and seeing the girls grow. The ones I met as young girls are in their teenage years now, they have boyfriends! So I’ve been thinking a lot about what we teach them and how they practice it. For example, have they understood the important messages we discuss around safe sex practices, around abuse in intimate partnerships? I want to make sure that our girls are strong, confident women and understand their value and their worth.

S: What is the YWCA-Haiti Summer Camp?

I: The Summer Camp is an annual activity that gathers around 120 girls for about six weeks. In order to avoid idleness, the Camp offers fun and educational activities. We talk about real issues – like sexual and gender based-violence, human and women’s rights, developing personal goals, financial literacy– but we also play games, sports, do arts and crafts, and really help them learn values like tolerance, solidarity, respect, honesty, etc. We talk about difficult topics but also everyday things, because these small conversations can make such a big difference.

S: You talked earlier about the different changes you see in the girls; can you give me an example?

I: Of course! My poster girl for the Y is Jeanette[1] who I met 6 years ago. As a survivor of a recent trauma, she was very anxious, reserved, couldn’t speak up. Now, at almost 20, she is so much more confident. She told me how she now knows how much she is worth; how that they used to tell her she was ugly and she was nothing and she let those words hurt her. Now she knows that is not true. She participates in every workshop; she’s even moderated some activities! She’s become more herself, and that is a beautiful thing to witness.

S: What do you hope the legacy of the YWCA will be in Haiti?

I: I want our girls to be agents of change. I would love for the Y to expand our activities beyond Pétion-Ville and reach the girls who are from the rural areas, with access to little or no opportunities for personal growth. I want our work to have a real impact on the situation of women in Haiti, and I want our members at the forefront. Change really starts with us!

[1] Name has been changed

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