In this time of political immorality, economic chaos, and constant change, we need a fresh light to guide our way. We need inspiration, a reminder that real work starts locally, with individuals reaching out to the people they meet. So we turned to AMURTEL, a service and relief organization who works around the world with volunteers who not only help people out, but change the world as they do it.
AMURTEL Haiti: Homes & Education for All Ages
AMURTEL has had a presence in Haiti for over 25 years, partnering with local people to provide a children’s home, schools, clinics, literacy programs, reforestation initiatives, microcredit finance, and women’s leadership programs. The area around the AMURTEL center in Bourdon, Port au Prince, was especially hit hard by the earthquake in 2010; for so many who were already struggling with overwhelming poverty, the loss of family members, homes, and jobs was especially devastating.
Bourdon area of Port-au-Prince
The Children’s Home in the Bourdon area of Port-au-Prince offers a family for 24 children. Director Didi Jiivaprema is a musician and recording artist and the children love to play the drums and sing every day. Six of the children were awarded scholarships to a prestigious music school in Port-au-Prince. The music students come home from school each day and teach their siblings what they have learned playing in the orchestra and in music classes. That has just earned an additional 10 scholarships for the older children for the upcoming year.
Flooding several times a week has made this home and school building unreliable, and besides it is crowded – with just a couple bedrooms for the 24 children. Land has been purchased for a full children’s home about 90 minutes away and plans are in the works for the new compound.
A longtime AMSAI school in the same building has 475 students from pre-k to grade 2. AMSAI schools use a curriculum and educational philosophy based on Neo-Humanism – a philosophy that propagates love for all creation. The philosophy seeks to acknowledge the spiritual, mental, and physical aspects of a child through the methods of creative arts, supportive sharing circles, and yoga asanas. This educational philosophy is employed as a way of fostering compassionate caretakers and leaders in our future society.
In Port-au-Prince, AMURTEL works in five locations with 200 women and 1500 teens who are living in camp-like homes. The programs offer microcredit, education, and empowerment to families who were displaced by earthquakes and poverty.
Banan Area in The SE of Haiti
AMURTEL has worked for years In the Banan Area, which is in the SE of Haiti, near the border with the Dominican Republic. This a very deeply impoverished area, where refugees were forced across the border from the Dominican Republic.
AMURTEL has a large AMSAI school with 780 children.
Since the school was built for 300, money has been raised for 10 more classrooms. Their next goal is a high school for girls with a dormitory so that the students can attend during the week and go home on weekends. After that – their dream is of a women’s college offering training for jobs that are desperately needed by the local economy: teaching, nursing, web design, and agriculture for hot dry climates are fields being considered. It will be the first college in this very poor area.
1000 teen girls participate in AMURTEL-inspired Girls Empowerment programs. The teens set their own priorities and learning to make their own choices. It offers the teens opportunities for developing leadership and social skills, gaining an economic footing for their future. That helps teenagers avoid early pregnancy, stay in school, and focus on their education and career development.
Starting with 20 women just over 5 years ago, AMURTEL created a finance-based organization with much planning and research into best practices. MIKFAB (Micro Kredi Fanm-yo Viktim AMURTEL) invites participating women to work in groups of six so each can support the others. It provides training in business skills and non-violent communication to assist the women in being successful in their endeavors. The women’s groups meet together once a week, supporting each other as they face challenges in their endeavors to develop financial security for themselves and their families.
The program has been so successful and popular that 1000 women in the Banan area now work with the MIKFAB self-help groups..
Jeannine is 29 years old and has two children. She lives with her children and a few siblings in a small shelter in the camp Sitwon 1. She ran a small business before the earthquake in January of 2010, but lost all of her merchandise and had no capital to start over. She would not have been able to start again without the small loan from AMURTEL; in her case 8,000 HTG (about 200 USD). The loan allowed her to buy enough stock to open a small drinks stand, where she sells Tampico, the local juice, and various local sodas. As she stands beside the small fridge where she started her business, run right out of her single room house, she explains how without the loan she wouldn’t have been able to power the fridge or buy the initial supply of beverages. With the income she generates from her small business, she helps support her extended family and sends her children to school.
Venise is 31 years old and lives across the ravine from Jeannine in Sitwon II. She also lives in a small shelter with her two young children, watching over her stand of goods outside at which she sells everything from canned milk and rice to cooking oil. She has only participated in the program once – for a loan of 8,000 HTG (200 USD) – and explains that without it she would not have been able to recreate the business she had before the earthquake. Like many other MIKFAB participants, Venise has experience supporting her family by selling small products, and needed the economical push and support of an external loan. In addition, the training provided by the animators (facilitators) alongside the loan program (including seminars regarding financial management and non-violent communication) helped change her perspective on her children. She learned to look at events through their eyes, and consider how the earthquake might be affecting them, in ways different than it affected her.
Our coordinator, Ilda, shared one of the most moving stories I’ve heard so far:
“It came to one group’s attention there was a woman being badly abused by her husband in an area outside their village. They went enmass to confront the man, calling him out on his violent behavior, and threatening him with dire consequences if he didn’t stop beating his wife. He was shocked at the confrontation and agreed to their demands, which included signing a statement that he would no longer beat her. After the group left, he turned to his wife, who was not part of the Self-Help program, and encouraged her to join. He said to her, “These women are so strong and so powerful now, even though you aren’t part of their group, they came here and stood up for you. You too should join with them and fight for other women.” She in turn was so shocked and encouraged by this turn around that she went down to the village and asked to join. She is now an active part of the program and reports there is no longer abuse in her home.”
Acarya Ananda Jiivaprema, the director of these AMURTEL homes, schools, and women’s programs is a small, humble and caring yogic nun who local people have called “the Mother Theresa of Port-au-Prince”. Originally from the Canary Islands, Didi has worked in Port-au-Prince since 1997. In 2006 she expanded her AMURTEL work to the border area. You can find her music at Innersong.org and make donations to the Haiti projects through www.amurtel.org.