Friday, 23 September 2011

Eating and going to school: A young woman’s dreams

Elene lives with her husband and her daughter in Port-au-Prince. The nineteen-year-old talks about her education, her misery and her dreams.
“I had heard of the centre, that it receives children whose parents don’t have the possibilities to provide everything for their children”, says Elene, a friendly and soft-spoken person. „My husband and I both live in misery because we don’t have jobs. It helps us a lot that our daughter Jessica can come here”. The nineteen-year-old is talking about the social centre of the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Santo. Jessica and the other children go to the centre every day at eight in the morning and stay until two o‘clock in the afternoon. The children receive three meals, which is a big financial relief for the family.

The two-year-old Jessica attends the SOS social centre for free, but for her parents, even the bus fare to get her there is often too high. Photo: Sophie Preisch
But that would not be the only benefit for the family. As Elene points out, the linguistic and mental growth of two-year old Jessica is also at stake. The girl first started attending the social centre about four months ago. But her parents can’t bring her here every day. “Getting here and back in the morning and again in the afternoon costs at least 50 Haitian Gourds (equals 1,2 USD) for transport and diapers. Sometimes that’s more than we can afford”, she says. “My husband Luis would work do anything, take any job to give us food... there simply isn’t any work.”
Elene grew up with her father and her step-mother, later she lived with her mother until she got pregnant at the age of sixteen. “My mother got angry, and threw me out. But my husband did everything to care for me“, she says. “I love my mother very much. And now I know that she was right. It is so important to finish school! Now, that I understand, we get along well.“ Most support she receives from her husband; “we have a very strong relation“, she says.

Education has always been a central point in Elene’s life. She recounts her childhood by narrating who was paying for her schooling. First she and her siblings lived with their parents, but then they got divorced and her father took the children to live with him. He paid for school until he could no longer afford it. Elene was sent to her stepmother‘s aunt and she paid for school until she died. After her death the girl lived with her own mother, but she was not able to pay for school either. A man offered to pay for school and her mother agreed. It was 12 December that year, on Elene’s birthday, that this man made her drunk and raped her. He still wanted to pay for her schooling, but she refused. Later, Elene got to know her husband, who payed for school until she got pregnant. Fifth grade was the last class Elene finished. Today she dreams of continuing her education.

Many adults in Haiti have never completed any kind of education. In its social centres, SOS Children's Villages offers a variety of courses in professional skills and vocational training. Photo. Sophie Preisch

But this is a dream, she says, far away from reality. When she got pregnant, her husband earned money by buying and selling scrap iron. “He can’t do that anymore“, she says, “he doesn’t have the money to buy the iron in the first place”.

For the long term, the family strengthening programme can also help Elene and her family to get back on their feet economically. “In the centre they offer classes for cosmetics, tailoring and handicraft, for instance... when the next classes start, I would like to participate“, she says. Furthermore, the programme is planning to initiate a microcredit-programme which can help mothers and families to start a small business.

Elene, Jessica and her daddy are struggling to make it through as a family. But they're clearly making progress. Photo: Sophie Preisch
When asked for her wishes and goals she laughs out shyly. “Oh, I have a lot of dreams“, she says with a sparkle in her eyes, “but things are very difficult. Especially now that we don‘t have work. I know how to braid hair, but I would need some tools to do so. I can get along a few days without eating, I grew up in poverty and got used to it... but I would like Jessica to have food every day.“