Sonia Pierre’s unflinching activism in the Dominican Republic doesn’t stop at the border where Haiti and the Dominican Republic meet.
Pierre was one of the very first responders after the earthquake. She tried to take a plane from the Dominican Republic with material aid the very next day and realized there was no air traffic. Two days later, she was driven to the border and then had to walk.
On the ground trying to provide emergency aid in Haiti, she says, “We quickly realized how much more there was needed to be done. We needed to respond to the emotional impact, those wounds that you can’t see.” Pierre has been working in the crisis/recovery mode and restoration of the spirit since the second day after the earthquake.
As one of the founding members of the organization Dominican Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), Pierre and MUDHA have worked for more than 20 years to improve the quality of life and promote the human rights of Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic.
Post quake in Haiti, she, MUDHA staff and volunteers from the Dominican Republic concentrate their work on those who live in the region near Leogane, the heavily damaged quake epicenter. Twenty miles south of the capital, this is an area out of the main aid loop; most international attention goes to population-dense Port-au-Prince.
For months, MUDHA’s staff lived in the ruins of an orphanage working with those children and two other orphanages while also focusing outreach on women in the tent camps. “They are the most vulnerable in times of disaster and are key to mending the fabric of society and rebuilding our country, ” Sonia says.
In the intervening months, MUDHA has trained 47 young volunteers from the Dominican Republic to do follow-up visits with displaced people in the camps, to treat and provide medication, and run workshops on hygiene and safety. They’ve also participated in recreational activities with youth, staying in touch with some of them. Sonia says that for the first time there is friendship and solidarity among youth from these two countries.
Almost 10 months after the earthquake the work of MUDHA continues. Sonia and the MUDHA staff realized on speaking with the women that 70 percent had been sexually assaulted. This secret is buried for fear of shaming the families. The MUDHA staff did some trust exercises and the women began opening up to each other asking how they could support each other. They decided to distribute whistles, which they blow every time they suspect an attack — as a warning and as a deterrent.
Local women have participated in various training and leadership programs. They’ve learned how to make soaps and conditioners for possible sale. They’ve participated in jewelry-making workshops.
In early summer, MUDHA purchased land in the city of Leogane and constructed some simple plywood structures for a center. Named the Women’s Community Development Center — in creole, Asosyasyon Fanm Pou Developman Kominote, the center serves as a safe space for a coalition of local women’s organizations to meet, exchange ideas, learn from each other, and provide various health and economic empowerment trainings.
In continuing development, it also gives shelter to young women and children who previously lived in orphanages, some of whom lost their parents in the earthquake. The center provides an environment that supports ambitions to go to school, learn new skills, and resist exploitation. MUDHA staff stay there also.
Leogane was in the path of the Hurricane Tomas and experienced severe flooding.
Sonia Pierre passed through New York before the hurricane and spoke at a fundraiser for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), one of MUDHA’s strong supporters. She also gave an update to participants with MUDHA’s Brooklyn-based partner organization Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees (HWHR), which is having a collection drive for their specific needs.
MUDHA has requested certain items particularly for women and young girls. These are: small sized women and children’s pajamas, girls’ training bras (children’s dept.), women’s bras in small sizes (30AA, 32 AA, 30B, 32B), all sizes brand new packaged boys’ and girls’ underwear and small- and medium-sized only women’s new underwear, toiletries, soap and hygiene kits, school supplies (care packages, notebooks, pens, and pencils, markers, etc.) and anti fungal agent-vaginal creams-miconazole like Monistat and diarrhea medication such as Kaopectate. Also Aquatabs.
The daytime drop-off for these items is at the office of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees 208 Parkside Ave., 2nd fl., Brooklyn, 11226 – call ahead, 718-462-0791. For more information, visit www.haitianwomen.wordpress.com .
When Sonia Pierre left New York, she took suitcases of items collected. Three barrels of items collected were packed this week for shipment. The need is great and on going.