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HOTLINE - week of May 30, 2011

Haiti: Indentured children find hope for new life; Climate change creates wide-ranging consequences.

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Haitian teems cooking
Haitian teens build their skills in a cooking class offered by CWS partner, the Ecumenical Center for Peace and Justice, which offers training and support for vulnerable youth in Port-au-Prince.
Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

Haiti: Indentured children find hope for new life

In a country where poverty and illiteracy are rampant, the children face enormous challenges – and their options are minimal. Roughly half of Haiti’s population of about 10 million is now under the age of 20, and tens of thousands of children and teenagers are living as indentured servants. Youths consigned to domestic servitude are called ‘restaveks,’ and there is little respite for them.

Mikency Jean, a 22-year-old native of the city of Cape Haitian, came to Port-au-Prince at age 11 to work as a restavek for her aunt. It was a job that proved difficult: 12-hour days of cleaning and cooking without pay.

Fortunately, Jean was able to find assistance through one of Church World Service’s partner agencies, the Ecumenical Center for Peace and Justice, known by the French acronym FOPJ. The organization’s building was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. But thanks to about $100,000 in support from CWS and its U.S. partners, the FOPJ center reopened in late 2010.

Jean is determined to improve her life and has taken cooking classes and training at the center, embracing a hoped-for vocation in cooking. She loves to make salads – her specialty – and she wants to work at a restaurant someday.

With training classes for cooks, masons, hairdressers, electricians and others in a comfortable, airy space, the center is like an oasis in the din of Haiti’s capital city. Nearly 400 students attend classes at the center, which serves not just restavek children and youths but also former gang members and teenage mothers, who receive training and support that is unavailable to them elsewhere.

Jean and her classmates know that the future remains uncertain in Haiti – with no guarantee there will be jobs for them – but they remain hopeful. “What’s most important is the knowledge and training I’ve received here,” Jean says, adding that the camaraderie and fellowship has also been important. “The things we get here, we don’t get anywhere else.”

With the support of CWS and its partners, says FOPJ head Polycarpe Joseph, the center’s programs are a great example of sustainable grass-roots development, giving young Haitians a voice in their future.

CWS Haiti Program Manager Burton Joseph agrees: “It would make a big difference if there was a center like this in every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince.”

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Climate change creates wide-ranging consequences

Water. Health. Food security. These vital needs are affected by climate change – and nowhere more critically than in developing countries already lacking in them. The codependent nature of climate change was the topic of the recent International Adaptation Conference in Washington, D.C., where national and international experts from government and faith-based relief and development agencies discussed best practices for helping the most vulnerable populations of the world deal with the impacts of climate change.

Climate change “no longer is manageable as a separate issue,” said Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change for the U.S. Department of State. “We can't treat it in splendid isolation.”

CWS Executive Director and CEO John L. McCullough moderated a panel on food security in the face of climate change. He stressed the importance of understanding the ways and extent to which climate change affects how communities produce food and how families secure sufficient food.

CWS integrates climate change adaptation approaches in all its development and disaster mitigation programs. Maurice A. Bloem, CWS Deputy Director and Head of Programs, advocated “dietary diversity,” in which household food production includes nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, with protein provided by small livestock and community fish ponds.

CWS strives to provide the world’s poorest communities with food security solutions that are not only sustainable and climate-resilient but, ultimately, income-generating as well.

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