*The United Nations Foundation continues to support Haiti in its recovery and rebuilding with a special focus on the safety and support of girls. As part of this work, the UN Foundation’s Women and Population program helped fund “Girls United: Haiti Through Our Eyes,” a program that helps Haitian girls displaced by the 2010 earthquake confront their trauma using visual media, including art, photography and writing.*
When a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti in January 2010, the lives of many of Haiti’s women and girls changed almost overnight. Hospitals, schools, and other public buildings were leveled, and social services were almost instantly disrupted. Many people lost their homes and were forced to live in crowded camps. The chaos took its toll. Currently, nearly half of the Haitian population presents signs of post-traumatic stress or acute stress disorder.
Our program — “Girls United: Haiti Through Our Eyes” — allows Haiti’s girls to use writing, photography and art as a tool for healing. Right now, our team of artists and specialists are in Haiti helping girls living in the camps find their voice in transforming their experience. Through written and spoken narrative, we hope to help the girls confront the issues they are facing and see their stories as valuable experiences for rebuilding their communities. At the end of the project, we will create an anthology of their work that will be exhibited in Haiti.
Today, we just finished our first day of the project with the young women in Port-au-Prince — Haiti’s capital which was hardest hit by the earthquake. The 70 girls ranged in age from 12 to 26!
During one of our sessions, I asked the young women how they would explain what united meant to them. One girl shyly raised her hand and said, "To me, united is putting our minds together in order to work together.” One of our translators added, "It is also, communicating together." We then joined the two responses to come up with a definition of unity: Being united is putting our minds together, communicating together and sharing our hearts with each other.
Girls United is definitely helping these girls share their hearts with each other. We asked the girls what they hoped their lives would be a year from now. One 12-year old sat with her pen, patiently waiting and saying nothing. We soon realized she was illiterate, and then, we offered to write her response for her. We heard the girls share their plans of being nurses, cosmetologists and computer specialists. When the young girl’s turn arrived, she said, “One year from now, I want to be in school and I will be able to read."
That afternoon, as the girls did an art project with scrap metal, they waved me over to show me their work. I saw gardens, homes, flowers, trees — emerging from what was once a flat piece of metal. As they showed me these images — the worlds they see in their minds — I saw smiles, pride, and trust emerge from their once reserved and attentive, but serious faces.
We saw these smiles again as the girls moved on to photography. For most, this was the first time that they had held a camera in their hands. I felt their excitement fill the air along with the bright flash! None of us could help but smile as we watched girls grow right in front of our eyes — and in front of the lens of their cameras.
It was indeed a day of transformation: transforming images, transforming perspectives, self-transformation within the girls, and transformation for our team. What an amazing day!