By M.P. Nunan
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 14 September 2010 - They came so their voices would be heard.
|VIDEO: UNICEF's M.P. Nunan reports on a forum for youth participation in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
Fifty young participants at UNICEF’s ‘Children and Youth Participation Movement for a Transformative Agenda for Children,’ an event held recently in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, were able to voice opinions as never before. They addressed issues including social, environmental and economic concerns, as well as the role of young people in Haiti’s future.
The Participation Movement will take the shape of a series of debates, forums and conferences to allow Haitian young people a chance to express their hopes – and demands – in the weeks ahead of its November presidential election.
Noting that it is currently an election period in Haiti, many young participants stressed the need for local and national leaders to hear the voices of children and to include them in their decision-making.
|Chrisline, 17, attends sewing class at the Lakou centre for street children and youth in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The city recently hosted a forum on youth participation in Haiti's future.|
“Our leaders need to know about the conditions Haitian children are living in now, so in their political programme they can bring them assistance,” said one young participant, Luxon Julien.
“We are determined to prevent the over-exploitation of minerals, deforestation and erosion,” one speaker, Marie Moise Louissaint, told an audience during the event. It’s time, she added, to end both “pollution and ignorance.”
UNICEF Representative in Haiti Francoise Gruloos-Ackerman said the organization was motivated to create the forum in part by simple facts: nearly half of Haiti’s population is under 18 years old – some 4.3 million adolescents and children overall.
“Now we have 19 candidates for the presidency,” said Ms. Gruloos-Ackerman. “We also have a [government] commission that is working for the reconstruction of the country,” she added, referring to the country’s massive earthquake on 12 January. “We thought that we have to help other partners and the government to bring adolescents and young people together to give them a voice, give them a role to play in the reconstruction of their country.”
The devastating earthquake awakened a strong political awareness in many of Haiti’s young people. The country’s needs were put into sharp new perspective.
Hanly Calizaire, 17, is a Boy Scout and one of the speakers at the launch event. He said he looked around at other members of his generation, many of whom were affected by the quake, and didn’t like what he saw.
The youth of Haiti, Hanly told the forum, have spent too much time excluded from decisions that affect them. “We, the young people, say ‘no’ – it cannot go on like this. It has to be changed.”
He then presented a list of suggestions for the government to do more to generate employment, including extending micro-credit for small businesses and making it easier to find jobs through employment offices.
Ready to act
Ms. Gruloos-Ackerman said the amount of enthusiasm demonstrated by the young people was “amazing.” One young man, she noted, repeated a statement that UNICEF staffers had heard from young people before. “He said, ‘You all say that the children are the future – but we are the present. So it’s now that we have to act with you,’” Ms. Gruloos-Ackerman recalled.
“They were really pleased with this forum,” she added. “And a little bit frustrated also – because we spent only two or three hours together, and they wanted to do more.”
Haiti’s youth deserved to be praised for their generosity of spirit, said Haiti’s Minister of Youth, Sports and Civic Actions, Evans Lescouflair, who also attended the event. Young people had reached out to help many during the January 2010 earthquake and in earlier Haitian disasters, including its many hurricanes.
But Mr. Lescouflair also admitted that the situation of young people in the country remains precarious.
“You represent the most vulnerable demographic in the country – even if you are the most generous,” he told the forum’s young participants. “You’re facing economic problems, challenges achieving professional qualifications, unemployment and difficult access to basic social services … so I’m asking you to be conscious of your civil and civic responsibilities.”
Across Haiti, many young people are ready to take up the call to action. “If they give us our chance, we’ll turn Haiti back into the ‘Pearl of the Antilles,’” said Hanly.
Earthquake in Haiti