Reflections on a Visit to Haiti

Lucella Campbell, Senior Program Advisor

Although I've worked with IPPF/WHR for more than 20 years, last month was the first time I ever accompanied our supporters on an extensive visit to one of our Member Associations. It was my pleasure to travel with Jerry and Diane Cunningham to Haiti, and it was a treat to spend time with them on and off the job.

Although I've worked with IPPF/WHR for more than 20 years, last month was the first time I ever accompanied our supporters on an extensive visit to one of our Member Associations. It was my pleasure to travel with Jerry and Diane Cunningham to Haiti, and it was a treat to spend time with them on and off the job.

In the two years since an earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, the Cunninghams have provided consistent financial support that has helped see PROFAMIL through the struggle of rebuilding. The destruction left 750,000 women of reproductive age living in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and 15,000 in the city of Jacmel with limited access to methods of family planning. PROFAMIL has become a source of support not only for critical sexual and reproductive health services, but also assistance for women and girls who have been victims of gender-based violence. Thanks to donors like Jerry and Diane, PROFAMIL has opened new clinic facilities, and its medical teams continue to reach vulnerable people who were displaced.

Jerry and Diane got to visit PROFAMIL’s new pre-fabricated clinics and speak with several women who had come for a cervical cancer screening. PROFAMIL implemented a breakthrough screening innovation for detecting precancerous cervical lesions with the naked eye. Unlike the pap smear, which requires a return visit, this visual inspection method allows the provider to detect and treat cervical lesions immediately. It is a particularly useful method in rural and low-resource settings, where making an additional visit can pose a barrier for treatment. The Cunninghams were pleased to observe the outcome of this new initiative, especially since PROFAMIL's ability to train staff on visual inspection methods was made possible by their generous funding.

A highlight of our trip was being allowed to sit in on an Espas Pa Mwen meeting. Espas Pa Mwen is a youth empowerment program for girls that PROFAMIL facilitates as a part of the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network (HAGN). After the earthquake, a coalition of international and Haitian organizations came together to ensure girls' needs would not be overlooked. HAGN is committed to protecting and empowering vulnerable girls, so they may safely navigate the volatile post-earthquake environment and break the cycle of poverty.

At the meeting we attended, a fourteen-year-old girl spoke with genuine feeling about the difference PROFAMIL has made in her life. “This is the only place I ever feel safe,” she said. “I can relax and make friends here. I learn things here that I could never learn anywhere else.”

HAGN is appreciated not just by the young girls participating, but also by their parents and the community at large. It provides girls with a safe space to spend time with their peers, learn about their rights, and obtain the support of trusted adults. As we walked through the door, the girls greeted us with a welcoming song that left a lasting impression on our hearts long after we left the meeting space.

After a full round of visits on our first day in Haiti, our ride home through bumper-to-bumper traffic caused our driver, Alix, to veer off the main road and onto side streets. The pothole-filled shortcut bumpily moved us through makeshift campsites, and we got a glimpse of Haiti's vibrant street life. Jerry was surprised to learn that the earthquake did not cause the poor condition of the roads, which is one of the ongoing challenges faced in the country.

Our nights in Haiti were no less interesting than our days, thanks to our very gracious and well-travelled host. Morgan regaled us with the most interesting stories of Haitian life and the colorful experiences he'd had on almost every continent. Being world travelers themselves, Jerry and Diane heartily dived into conversation with Morgan, while his wife, Carole, served the most delectable dishes.

We are so fortunate that the Cunninghams' interest in our work contributes vital resources for those in need. Their dedication includes gaining a more intimate understanding of how our shared vision—a world where every single individual has access to quality reproductive health care—can be realized throughout the region. The visit was successful in providing an up-close look at the challenges PROFAMIL faces and the critical difference donor support makes in vulnerable communities.


Related:
Happy Anniversary! PROFAMIL Haiti Celebrates 27 Years

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