Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blake Middle School Skypes with Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti was over one year ago, and since then hasn't been free from further tragedy. Flooding, a cholera outbreak, and political unrest disrupted relief efforts and prevented Haitians from rebuilding their lives. While we can't fix all of the problems in Haiti in just a year, it is certain that the world has not forgotten about Haiti.

Throughout the country's struggles, students at Blake Middle School in Massachusetts raised awareness of conditions in Haiti and fundraised to support Plan programs operating there. To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, nearly 750 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade joined on a Skype call with Haitian youth and Plan staff. Students gathered in their school auditorium to ask questions about the livelihood, education, and conditions of their peers in Haiti. Some even practiced their French, asking questions in Haiti's official language.

While we were hoping to connect with a youth group in Croix de Bouquets, difficulties in internet connection and electricity made it difficult to communicate back and forth. Instead, we connected with Maureen- a Communications Assistant working for Plan Haiti. Maureen was very kind and generous with her time, and answered all of the questions our youth had about life in Haiti.
Some of the more popular questions that Blake students asked were:

Blake: What do you do for fun? What sports do you play in Haiti?
Maureen: Soccer! Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Haiti. Other than that, youth like to play video games, hang out with friends, play games. Same as kids in the United States.

Blake: Do you feel like the world has moved on from the earthquake in Haiti? That people aren't paying as much attention anymore?
Maureen: We felt overwhelmed with support from the rest of the world. Everyone came, there are so many volunteers. There is so much being done here- a lot more to do, but we just really felt the support and care from the rest of the world. A lot of people are living in tents, which is not a good condition and doesn't protect from the rain and keep people safe. But I don't feel like people have forgotten about us, not at all.

Blake: What is your favorite food in America? What do you normally eat in Haiti?
Maureen: American food- probably a cheeseburger. [Maureen was born in Haiti, but spend the majority of her life living in the United States. She's no stranger to American food!] In Haiti we eat a lot of rice and beans, plantains.

Blake: What can we do to help?
Maureen: Support. Support is really the biggest thing. We just really appreciate knowing that people are still thinking of us and supporting us. Thank you so much.

As stated by Jim Emerson, the Country Director for Plan Haiti,
"Disasters have a way of uniting people across geographies and cultures, and often bring out the best in humankind. In the days following January 12, 2010, the whole world embraced Haiti with an outpouring of support... [Plan is working] with the people of Haiti to build a country that promises a better future for its children, one in which they can reach their full potential and where their rights and dignity are respected."
Click here to read Plan's Haiti Report 12 months after the disaster.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Child Marriage Bill Fails in the House

Last week, the Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act failed in the House of Representatives. Given that the bill was supported by both Democrats and Republicans- and had passed unanimously in the Senate- the result was a disappointing surprise.

A 15-year old girl gets married in Pakistan.
Many from the poorest families are married
even younger.
If passed, the bill would have authorized the president to provide assistance to prevent child marriage in developing countries. It would have mandated that Obama's administration develop a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage, and integrated child marriage prevention programs in current development work. Additionally, forced marriage would have been included in the State Department's annual evaluation of countries' human rights practices.

What happened?
Prior to the vote, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sent a memo to the Republican Party whip objecting to the cost of the bill. Instead, she introduced her own version of the bill which she indicated would cost only $1 million. However, the bill fails to include procedures for implementing the legislation which critics claim would significantly limit its impact. (To read Representative Ros-Lehtinen's "Dear Colleague" letter, click here).

After this letter went out, hours before the original bill was voted on, an additional alert was sent to Republican representatives urging them to vote against the bill, stating that the bill may support funding for abortions. However, the bill did not contain any funding for abortions and federal funding for abortions is prohibited by law. After these two letters went out, many Senators rescinded their support of the bill.
Said an enraged Senator Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip who introduced the Child Marriage Bill,
"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world... Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill."

What’s next?
While the bill failed this Congress, the efforts brought support from around the globe from individuals and organizations who remain committed to addressing child marriage. (Read this article by Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, or this article about child marriage in Zambia.)

Plan remains committed to this issue and protecting the rights of girls and boys. Child marriage is a violation of children's basic rights to a safe childhood, education, good health, and the ability to make decisions about their own lives. Feel free to comment below about your reactions, and how you'd like to take action on the issue.