Hopeful youth and the promise of global change

When I reflect on my recent visit to Haiti, I cannot help but remember what a local man said to me, “In Haiti, there’s a mindset of poverty. You don’t see the hope.” But through my trip, I learned that your generous investments are not only helping to cultivate the sustainability that change roots itself in and grows from, but also nurturing change by giving sustenance to Haiti’s youth through hope.

To understand the importance of the mindset of hope, it’s critical to understand why, for so long, Haiti has been plagued by poverty and despair. Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. According to the World Bank, 59 per cent of the population lives in poverty and 24 per cent in extreme poverty, with rates much higher in rural areas and amongst women.

With approximately one third of the population under the age of 14, Haiti’s endemic poverty significantly impacts its children’s ability to thrive, for example: Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Americas. Unfortunately, many children who survive birth still die of preventable diseases because fewer than half of all children are vaccinated. Furthermore, around half of children don’t go to primary school and less than one-fifth go to secondary school.

Because of these conditions, Plan International has been working in Haiti since 1973 to help children living in poverty, as well as their families and communities. Our focus since the devastating earthquake in January 2010 has been on the long-term rebuilding of Haiti.  When I visited Haiti in June, I saw how Plan’s work is helping to create the sustainability that Haiti’s children living in poverty are growing real change from.

Caroline with her sponsored child

My sponsored child, Jovena, 6

During my visit I also saw hope. I saw it when I met my sponsor child, Jovena, 6, for the first time. Jovena’s mom had to drop out of school when she was young to support herself as a farmer, but Jovena told me that she dreams of becoming a nurse. Because of Plan’s child sponsors, Jovena and children like her across Haiti will have the chance to go to school, as well as aspire to and actually achieve better lives for themselves and their families.

I also visited the PAZAPA Centre for Children with Disabilities. In Haiti, children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable populations. Their disability often prevents them from getting to school and the stigma they face for living with disabilities often makes them invisible.  But at PAZAPA, children with disabilities receive treatment, such as correction of clubfoot, and education and training, such as trade skills like sewing; these opportunities help PAZAPA’s children imagine and realize bright futures.

A painting of the PAZAPA school

Similarly, in a country where a little over half of the population is illiterate, educational opportunities at schools such as the earthquake and hurricane resistant Morija National School are imperative. Built by Plan International Haiti in partnership with the Japanese government, the Morija National School teaches children vital skills that Canadians often take for granted, such as reading, writing and doing arithmetic. Education is vital not only because it helps lift people out of poverty, but also because it provides fertile ground from which they can advocate for their rights, such as the right to access health care and to receive protection from violence. When children can advocate for their own rights, they can hope for, and have a much better chance of achieving, a prosperous life in a supportive world.

There was no better example of this on my trip than the young people I met through Plan’s youth clubs whose purpose is to promote the rights of children in Haiti.  When speaking with teenage members of the youth clubs, I was struck by how they view their generation as different from their parents: filled with the promise of opportunity. I was also inspired by how the youth spoke about their belief that they can have bright futures and how they understand their right to things like economic security and education, as well as how girls and boys are equals.

Student talking to peers

Watson, a member of the Plan youth club, speaks to us

I am very grateful for my trip to Haiti, which was made possible by the generosity, commitment and vision of, you, our donors: it showed me, quite vividly, that together by supporting Plan, you are not only creating change by building sustainability, as well as opportunities for the improvement of children’s lives and the realization of children’s rights, you are also growing a generation of hopeful young Haitians.

This hope has implications beyond Haiti. Given that we currently have the largest number of youth our planet has ever seen, we must acknowledge that young peoples’ optimism is key because it feeds global change and helps it last for generations to come. It’s also key because youth are facing issues, such as the global economic downturn, that erode a positive outlook on their futures: the United Nations reports that global youth employments rate, which consistently exceeds that of other age groups, saw its largest annual increase on record in 2009; at its peak, 75.8 million young people were unemployed.

Your investments in Plan and our international work are crucially important: they are cultivating hope and creating a better world for all youth. We cannot afford to ignore the importance of this in realizing a fruitful world for everyone. Thank you for tending one of the most nourishing crops we could ever grow!