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"All my activities are suspended, again"

Since September 2019, Haiti was facing lockdowns and unrest due to massive protests. Schools were closed from September to December. Then, COVID-19 hit the already fragile situation and girls like Barbara: "Even if you have a plan or goals, you can't really reach them. It's like you are no longer sure of yourself, what you have planned, what you want to become". 

Barbara, 22, lives in the commune of Croix-des-Bouquet, in Haiti, a few kilometers from Port-au-Prince. The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on her daily life, particularly her education. This is making her anxious about her future and her goals.

After confirmation of the first two cases of COVID-19 by the country's health authorities, on March 19th, all schools and universities were closed. However, nothing was working since September 16th 2019, when massive protests against the increased cost of petrol products, the high cost of life and corruption sparked in Port-au-Prince. The events, which lasted for over 8 weeks, lead to a complete lock-down of the country and entirely halted the socio-economic activities during the civil-unrest.

The education sector was also hit as schools remained closed for the most time between September and December 2019. “To stay in touch with my friends at the university, we created a WhatsApp group to share our ideas on the country's problems, resuming lessons and advice on how to stay safe at home”, says Barbara.  “But it was very difficult to keep in touch and be on the same level because of lack of electricity and poor internet signal”, she admitted. 

There was indeed less power than before in her community which already had only four hours of electricity per day in normal time.

The weeks which followed the unrest in December 2019 and January 2020 were characterized by a tensed situation as demonstrating groups issued daily calls to resume the “Country Lock” operations. The period was also marked by heightened insecurity due to an increase of urban violence and kidnappings. Despite the return to normal of most economic activities, the socio-political climate remains unstable and fragile.

According to the United Nations, acts of violence remain numerous in Haiti and continue to multiply: ordinary crimes, kidnapping of people, hijacking of vehicles, robberies and violent attacks by heavily armed gangs, among others. The number of intentional homicides reported in 2019 increased by 42% compared to the previous year, with 910 recorded cases involving 1,081 victims (including 61 women), a ratio of 9.34 per 100,000 citizens, compared to 6,67 in 2018 and 7.91 in 2017.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic, a new lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic, added to the effects of the country lock and the difficult socio-political situation, has a considerable impact on the education of girls and young women like Barbara, leaving them out of school.

Barbara lives with her grandmother and her aunt, with whom she has a very good relationship. During these difficult times they exchange jokes, watch movies/series together, for lack of anything better to do. 

"The day I learned that the virus was in Haiti, I was coming back from university," said the young woman. The first thing that came to my mind was: “what if my grandmother and aunt were infected? What would I do? ", she says.

“My fellow students and I are still trying to keep in touch via the WhatsApp group despite the difficulties. I also tried to study at home, but I could not continue to study because it is difficult to stay focused with everything going on in the country, the pandemic and socio-political problems."

"These situations are really overwhelming, it's like, your life is missing something, and you are missing something. Even if you have a plan or goals, you can't really reach them, it's like you are no longer sure of yourself, what you have planned, what you want to become". 

 

Coping with new challenges for Haitian girls

This pandemic raises concern about the challenges for children, especially girls, ranging from disruption of education, increased risk of sexual violence and risks to mental health. 

To help girls and young women like Barbara, Plan International Haiti emergency response plan focuses on distributing food kits to the most vulnerable family, and preventing and combating gender-based violence in a context where the lockdown and economic difficulties place women and girls at risk particular at  home, by raising awareness through radio, sound truck and social media.

As assistant secretary of the Youth Advisory Council, Barbara received training on leadership, community participation among others, "I like being a member of the group, it helps me to have experience, especially when I go out in the field ", she says.

The organization also works in a particular way to strengthen reporting and referral mechanisms at community level to allow survivors to benefit from adequate support by using a reporting mechanism adapted to the context and conducts awareness campaigns on COVID-19 pandemic to help children and young people to have access to quality information on the disease, its symptoms and prevention methods and install washing hand point.

When asked how to support and protect girls and young women during the COVID-19 crisis, she replied: “The times we live in are extremely difficult and sensitive. We need a lot of attention, for our sexual and reproductive health and psychological supports. Children experiencing this kind of situation for the first time need a lot more attention, they need this to be explained to them, to be told about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on their lives as well than on their families”.