UNICEF Haiti #EndViolence

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Produced in collaboration with Alex Penwill for UNICEF.


Yvenique Bathard knows how to adapt to a country’s social contradictions. She lives in a city rife with violence, where paths lead from nowhere to misery. Her mother was 16 when she was born, her father was never around, and the stepfather beat up on her mom.

But Yvenique is one of the lucky ones. Her mother wanted her to have a better life. She got to go to school. She did well, she went to college. Her childhood experiences of physical and verbal abuse inspired her to work in this field.

“One of the things that is fundamental between people is forgiveness,” she says. “UNICEF helped me realize that the more you don’t want to forgive someone, the more damage you do to yourself. You have to be the change you want to see in the world, and you have to treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Following in the footsteps of such golden rules, Yvenique now boasts a resume of impressive professional breadth and depth - from writing radio copy to post-disaster mobilization, outreach to street kids, and advocacy for women and agricultural laborers.

When people think of Haiti, violence is often among the first things to come to mind. UNICEF Haiti’s End Violence campaign might argue that common perceptions of violence in Haiti - the gangs, the delinquency, the robberies - are symptoms of a bigger, more ubiquitous problem that pervades Haitian society.

The violence begins in schools and homes, where kids are physically chastised. It goes into the street, and ends up in people’s psyches as trauma, stress, and anxiety from ongoing violence and violent memories. The violence perpetuates when affected individuals impart their internal feelings on the family, friends, and colleagues around them, reinforcing toxic relations.

Yvenique recognizes her good fortune and has worked throughout her life to support others who have not been so lucky. “I have spent my whole life building a philosophy to help others,” she says - help them progress, help them find the right path, help them find the right way forward on their own. “I am with HAGN because they are supporting the girls. If a girl is educated,” she says, “there's a bigger chance her kids will be educated, too.”

Now project officer at the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network (HAGN), Yvenique focuses her work on gender-based violence, reproductive health, and entrepreneurial leadership. She says that the UNICEF trainings have improved her work at HAGN in several ways, making her more organized and professional - a better mentor who strives to make girls’ mentorship takeaways as permanent as they are worthwhile.

Her ‘participative methodology’ gets those who have been beaten down to open up and actively participate in group therapy sessions with music and singing and dancing. The girls build confidence, leadership, self-esteem, and the inspiration to dream and find purpose in their lives.

She says the UNICEF trainings have also helped her realize how much violence these girls grow up with, which helps her better guide the 44 mentors she currently works with. And perhaps most importantly, the trainings have helped to clarify her understanding of the violence she saw as a child, to confront that pain and to forgive, letting things go so she can be the role model she is today.

Now that she’s transformed herself she's all the more capable of transforming the lives of others, of empowering her own young son, and affecting society at large. When asked what in life she is most passionate about, she responds:

“Haiti, the people of the world, HAGN girls, the desire to progress at work, and to see widespread behavioral change in Haiti at every level: girls, politics, the education system, environment, economy, health, sanitation… if you progress on these things, violence will go down.”

All of this is inspired by UNICEF Haiti’s End Violence methodology: by changing how people perceive themselves, by empowering their purpose, you change how they interact with those around them and with the world at large.

UNICEF trainees also identify things that have hindered their personal and professional growth. They share these insights with others, work conscientiously to empower themselves, and find their joie-de-vivre so that they are better suited to help others.

In a nondescript building in Pétion-Ville, in the same city where she grew up in a home fraught with fighting parents, Sheila Milfort answers confidently when asked what strikes her most about the UNICEF Haiti End Violence trainings:

“A leader must always have a dream and a mission,” she says. “And the most important aspect of leadership is the courage to go after that dream, especially in Haiti.” Since being promoted to the head of coaches at YWCA, UNICEF has inspired her to pursue her goals, goals beyond anything she’s had before, and she now aspires to own her own business.

Before the trainings, this dream - not to mention her leadership, patience, and humility, which are vital skills for counseling girls and other coaches at YWCA - was buried deep inside the scar tissue of her youth. But UNICEF’s End Violence campaign, and especially the training module on managing grief, helped Sheila acknowledge that she was still troubled by violent memories of her youth.

It was not only the verbal and physical abuse between her parents, which Sheila attributes to the difficulties she had at school as a kid. It was the repressed grief she carried around since her mother died in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and her father’s death at the hands of disease not long after, that UNICEF Haiti’s End Violence grieving module helped her to address.

Healing her psychological scar tissue in a positive, healthy way based on some of the methods she learned at UNICEF trainings, Sheila has consciously worked to overcome the violence in her past; has improved her confidence, self-esteem, and emotional intelligence; and has, in turn, increased the professionalism of the guidance she gives to others who have suffered violence in their own lives.

If she had been able to use UNICEF’s tools for nonviolence and healthy relationships while her parents were alive, Sheila continues, she might have better responded to her father’s domestic abuse. Her childhood family may have been more positive and pacifist because of the patience, humility, and “all-human” perspective of UNICEF Haiti’s End Violence methodology. These are skills and capabilities, not just character traits, that she might have employed as a young girl to lead her family to a better, brighter way of being - with courage, a mission, and a dream.

Lorismé Alexandre never knew his father. His mother passed away when he was three years old. The woman who raised him, Dr. Nadine Burdet, is the founder of an organization where Lorismé now works as youth animator - Foyer L’Escale - helping extract abused children from the restavek system of forced domestic labor. Passing his good fortune forward, Lorismé guides kids who are not as fortunate as he was, but who are lucky enough to have come through the doors of Foyer L’Escale.

In Haiti’s “restavek system”, rural mothers send their kids to live with people in the city in hopes of giving them a better education, more opportunity, and a better life (with homelife economically overextended as it is). The mothers are often misled, or the hosts change their minds, and what actually await the children are forced domestic labor, exploitation, and abuse.

Having attended many UNICEF End Violence trainings, especially since the 2010 earthquake, Lorismé says that he’s learned to better manage his own emotions. He appreciates everything about the training sessions, relishing in particular the trainees’ relationships and the peer groups that focus on managing sensitive issues so that he can better guide at-risk kids through similarly difficult and sensitive situations.

“What I’m most passionate about is doing something that I really enjoy and that pleases other people,” he says, “...working with these kids and everyone saying how well I’ve done with them.”

Utilizing what he’s learned at the UNICEF trainings has helped Lorismé better understand kids in domesticity: he’s more aware of the trauma they’ve suffered, their reactions to that suffering, and how those reactions escalate during adolescence when youth are most likely to run away from abusive situations and join groups of street kids. This often means delinquency, gangs, homelessness when, with the right guidance, these kids could be leaders of their communities.

“Each person is a leader and these trainings help awaken the leadership that remains dormant in many people,” Lorismé says. “The trainings also help ease stress and pressure; we stay calm and maintain our professional effectiveness,” he adds.

From the trainings, Lorismé now better understands the stark differences in self-esteem that exist between children who grow up in good families as compared to those who are treated well in restavek domesticity, compared to those who suffer exploitation and abuse.

UNICEF Haiti invited Sheila, Yvenique, and Lorismé to participate in the End Violence training sessions because they and their fellow trainees work directly with kids who suffer from long-term effects of violence as well as those who experience violence every day.

Many thanks to UNICEF Haiti’s End Violence campaign trainings, the leadership that was once latent in Sheila, Yvenique, and Lorismé has now blossomed into its full potential in their personal and professional lives. They are now stewards of positivity responsible for perpetuating UNICEF methods so that vulnerable, at-risk, and abused children connect with themselves via their dreams for the future and their purpose in life, bolstering their own psychological health and wellbeing so that they are evermore capable of helping other people in the future.