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In Their Own Voices, Haitian Youth Promote Resilience

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

More than half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 20. That’s why our program in Cap-Haitien, Timoun an Aksyon, is empowering young people to become leaders in their city’s resilience to disasters. 

Dense and growing, Cap-Haitien is a port city on Haiti’s north coast. Hurricanes, floods, storm surge, earthquakes and tsunamis have struck with ruinous intensity. These events will certainly recur, and efforts to prepare must adapt in light of the pandemic. Tropical Storm Isaias that crossed Haiti last week is just one example.

Downtown Cap-Haitien is exposed to the sea. That’s a public market at the photo’s center.

Timoun an Aksyon’s new COVID-19 Action Team is learning the science behind natural hazards and teaching others how to stay safe. 

The team consists of girls and boys from several scout troops and GeoHazards International’s Garmalia Mentor-William, M.D. at the helm. Advisors are from the Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Teams, and the Department of Civil Protection. Here is their strategy:

Clarify facts about COVID-19. Seeing the lack of basic knowledge about COVID-19, the young people recorded simple messages explaining how to prevent catching or spreading the virus, and to do this even during hurricane or earthquake evacuation. Older team members engaged shoppers at busy public markets by playing the recordings and answering questions. The messages will also air on radio and sound trucks.

At the public market, answering questions about COVID-19 and other disaster threats.

Place safety tips where many people see them. Neighborhoods are dense in Cap-Haitien, and few residents wear masks or keep a safe distance. Many must ride the bus to work. The team put up hundreds of posters and flyers, designed by youth, with tips for staying healthy. People asked for flyers to take home. A tip for this hurricane season: “Remember to put masks in go-bags as we put food in them.”

Posting flyers on heavily-used buses. Note the handheld radio playing safety messages.

Distribute free masks in busy public markets, the park, and beaches. Officials advise wearing a mask in crowded areas, but the public generally distrusts disposable imported ones (fearing contamination). Others feel they cannot afford masks as Haiti’s political/economic crisis drags on. That’s why the team handed out washable, locally-made cloth masks. Demand is high. People wear them with a smile, saying that it’s better to act than just talk.

Providing a washable, reusable mask made locally by small producers. 

Install hand washing stations. Clean water and soap are not readily available in the city’s public places. Taking action, the young leaders put hand washing stations at prominent locations. These are quite popular. A partner organization is keeping the tanks filled. One of the messages: "Handwashing is not only for coronavirus but to kill ALL germs."

Clean water and soap for hand washing is a first for this public market. Jean-Brunel Pierre of GeoHazards International, left, supports the installation.

Produce a video for their peers. Living through crises, children may lack a sense of control. To address this, young people wrote and produced a video in which students discuss COVID-19 safety, such as how to wear masks and disinfect. Aimed at a youth audience, the video will be shared on social media.

Host a youth radio program. Schools are temporarily closed, and social outlets for youth are limited. The COVID-19 Action Team will soon start a weekly radio show that features young people and how they are coping in the pandemic. Hearing others who share knowledge can inspire young listeners to make informed choices and feel that they can make a difference, too.

“COVID will not be eradicated soon, thus masks and physical distancing will be a part of life.”

Most residents trust advice and masks that they receive directly from their community, especially from young leaders who promote safety for the good of all. “Disasters are not punishment, we only need to be prepared,” these young people say. 

“This is what GeoHazards International stands for. We think about what is most needed and work in a timely fashion,” said Garmalia Mentor-William.

Want to hear more? Join us for a virtual conversation with Garmalia Mentor-William and Hari Kumar, GHI South Asia Coordinator, on August 4 at 5:30 PM Pacific Time. Click Here to Register

Best wishes to you,

Veronica Cedillos, President & CEO

We are grateful to the Moran family—the generous funders of Timoun an Aksyon.

GeoHazards International 

Haiti · Dominican Republic · India · Bhutan · Nepal · U.S.A.


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