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Blog

The Jasper House Haiti blog is designed to share stories, updates and testimonies that raise awareness, create dialogue and bring enlightenment to those seeking to become more involved in the advocacy and abolition of injustice. 

 

After the storm.

Maria Atkinson

The beginning of October is a joyous time for many. The leaves begin to change color, crisp air slowly sets in, and the holidays are just around the corner. However, the start of this October brought anything but joy for a large majority of Haiti.

On October 4th, a category four hurricane swept across Haiti. The southern coastal towns of Dame Marie, Jeremie, Port Salut and Les Cayes find themselves left in shambles and disarray. Hundreds have been left homeless and destitute without much hope for recovery. 

Now, as cholera sets in due to the contamination of most drinkable water sources, even more lives are trapped in imminent danger. 

Incredible, local and grassroots organizations have come together to provide hope, resources and relief to Haitians facing utter despair. They are already mobilizing and reacting to create a way out of this real life nightmare. 

Jasper House Haiti is proud to know and trust a few of the organizations working to bring light and restoration for those experiencing real devastation. We are blessed that our town of Jacmel was not hit as treacherously as the southern coast, but we do recognize the severity of the situation. This is why we stand by the following organizations in their relief efforts:

Danita's Children

Little Footprints Big Steps

Water Mission

Singing Rooster

Recently, we made a plea for donations to assemble relief kits for the women in our program who did experience some damage to their homes, as well as flooding and other difficulties. 

Thanks to some incredible donors, thirty-two kits were made for our women filled with items such as rice, beans, oil, soap, shampoo, sanitary pads, combs and other toiletries. 

While we fully acknowledge the great need for immediate, disaster relief, this is not the long term solution. 

Long after news headlines stop reporting about the death toll, the damage and destruction left behind by Hurricane Matthew, Jasper House Haiti will still be here. We will still be fighting to restore, educate, and empower women out of prostitution, sexual abuse and exploitation, and extreme poverty. 

Currently, there are over thirty women in enrolled in our education programs, including the six who are living in our residential facilities. For some of these women, it is their very first time to attend school, and begin to learn to read and write. In addition to receiving an education, they have also been given the opportunity to take one of our three vocational training courses of either sewing, culinary arts, or art/jewelry making.

They are receiving a fresh start, and a true chance at a better life. 

The overwhelming needs of a life encompassed by extreme poverty do not go away with a bag of rice, a bottle of water or a pair of shoes. 

They slowly begin to decrease when individuals begin to be empowered to have a real opportunities that provide them the chance to find employment, financial security and sustainable means to develop a more stable life. 

Jasper House Haiti is forever committed to continue our mission to turn oppression, misfortune and tragedy into opportunities for empowerment and renewal for young women in Haiti.

But, we cannot do that without you. 

While a one-time gift to hurricane relief efforts is needed, choosing to make a long-term partnership with a program such as ours that is devoted to seeing lives renewed and transformed, turns your generosity into a tool that has the ability to make an impact for generations to come.

Jasper House Haiti is in dire need of an increase in monthly support. These commitments of $25, $50, $100, $250, or even more, given us the ability to pay our incredible staff, take care of our operational expenses, provide hot, daily meals, medical care, therapy and so much more to the women in our programs. 

We need you in our corner.

Will you consider becoming a monthly partner today to begin to change the life of a woman in need? 


Written by: Maria Atkinson - Founder/CEO, Jasper House Haiti

Read more of her writings on her blog, Going Forth.

Breaking stigmas. | Finding freedom.

Maria Atkinson

“I was 12 years old when I got pregnant”. These were the words that a young girl at Jasper House stated, and the further I assessed, the more details she provided about her experience dealing with traumatic experiences. She disclosed about going from one abusive relationship to another, and trusting a man who raped her in her own home every single day. My heart was shattered to hear this young woman’s experiences, but I was in awe to see how she carried herself with such grace and resilience. This young woman was just one of the few women in Jasper House that were dealing with trauma that has impacted their life in a negative way. 

I had travelled to Haiti often as a Haitian-American, but my trip to Haiti in November 2015 couldn’t be described in words, but felt with emotions. During this trip, I realized there was a large, problematic issue amidst the country when it came to recognizing the impact of mental health and trauma. I can vividly remember a young girl at Jasper House not being able to recognize that sex, which isn’t consensual, is rape. She felt shame and guilt for what had happened to her, and expressed some of her symptoms as nightmares, tremors, flashbacks, etc. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) exists in Haiti and there is a large portion within the Haitian community that does not address mental health and trauma.

According to the DSM-5, PTSD is described as a Trauma and Stressor-Related disorder with exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. Furthermore, directly experiencing the traumatic event, witnessing the traumatic event in person, learning the traumatic events happened to a family or close friend and experiencing first hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of a traumatic event.

Many of the girls at Jasper House had an extensive history of childhood and adult sexual abuse, as well as that of being sexually exploited in Haiti. Many women with a history of sexual trauma have an internalized self of being shameful and disgusted with what occurred. In addition, sexual trauma can significantly impact a woman’s interpersonal style, such as difficulties establishing healthy friendships with other women, distrust and fear of men, and being vulnerable to being re-traumatized.  The difficulties survivors of sexual trauma experiences with self-perception include: distorted beliefs and thought patters, such as feeling responsible for the abuse, worthless, shame, guilt and damages. Not only does Jasper House provide safe housing for these women, but they offer an enrichment program and curriculum that confronts the challenges of mental health and sexual trauma. 

I am extremely proud of the work of Jasper House, and the opportunities for advancement it allows for the women. Many of the women were uncomfortable with addressing unhealthy relationship patterns and addressing their sexual health. During my week-long stay at Jasper House, I observed the women receiving sexual health education from a Nurse Educator. This allowed the opportunity for the women to reclaim their own body and the ability to be empowered and assertive. Jasper House has also hired a Licensed Psychologist who is clinically trained in trauma-informed therapy to help the women process their traumatic experiences. The services that the Jasper House provides is extremely important with reducing the stigma of mental health and trauma while promoting access to quality care and treatment in Haiti.  Jasper House is an extraordinary organization that is making an impact in the lives of these women and raising awareness on an issue that has been a silent matter for a very lengthy time. I am looking forward to the growth and influence Jasper House will make in the Haitian community and seeing the progression of access to quality and evidenced-based programs.


Written by: Marline François - A woman of faith, therapist, child abuse advocate, speaker and survivor. Marline's mission in life is to teach teen girls to thrive beyond the survival mode. She believes that your past pain can propel you towards your purpose.

Marline is the founder of Far More Precious Organization, a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides teen girls ages 14-19 with personal and professional development, enrichment programs and academic scholarships. She has over 10 years of professional experience in the social workand non-profit sector, backed with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Penn State University and a Master's Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. 

Currently, Marline works as a Sexual Trauma Therapist providing therapy to teenage girls.  She offers mentorship to youths in the community and facilitates support groups for survivors of sexual abuse. She has a passion for working with young girls and millennial women and helping them thrive towards success.

Learn more about she and her work at her website, marlinefrancois.com.

 

 

 

The many faces of prostitution.

Maria Atkinson

It's Friday night in Jacmel, Haiti. The bars and restaurants are preparing for busy evenings full of happy patrons ready to eat, drink, dance and be merry with their loved ones. 

The music is turned up full blast, and the moonlight casts a soft glow that reflects off of the shimmer of short dresses and skirts of young women giddily holding their boyfriends' arms. 

In the midst of the gaiety and merriment, just one street away a very different spirit looms. In the confines of much smaller and darker rooms, the local "cafes" begin to open for the night. Here, local men come to revel and drink, and buy a girl of their choice for a very small and negotiable price. 

They make their orders as if creating a meal a la carte. Tall or short, curly or straight hair, they choose girls as young as fourteen and fifteen years old as if they are flavors in an ice cream parlor. For a dollar or two they can use them for a few hours, or if they are willing to go as high as five or ten dollars, they can have them the entire night.

Cars drive past, headlights exposing what seems like nothing more than a corner bar. But, behind emotionless faces, behind the graffiti covered walls, lies young women caught in the web of exploitation, abuse and desolation. 

Several miles down the road, in a few neighborhoods over, a young, single mother finds herself alone with three children. After getting pregnant at the age of fifteen, her family kicked her out without a second thought. With only a third grade education, and now twenty-one with three small children, her options are extremely limited. 

Scared, alone, and without anyone to turn to, she provides for her family the only way she knows how.

Selling herself to men in her community for a few dollars here and there just to put food on the table and provide a place for her family to sleep - even if it is a concrete floor and a few dilapidated pieces of board slapped together to create a makeshift shelter. 

It's a home, and there, inside the tiniest of spaces, she can shut out the world, shut out the nightmare of her reality and she can feel safe.

Travel just a few miles more, and you'll find yet another travesty. At age sixteen, she was kicked out of the orphanage that raised her in Port-au-Prince for "aging out." With her mother dead, and a father who ran away to the Dominican Republic years before, her options were more than limited. She heard a cousin in Jacmel could maybe find her a job and a give her a place to stay, and that seemed the only thing to do.

Leaving behind everything she had always known, she left the city to find new life in a place she had only heard of in stories and seen in photographs. 

Yet, upon arrival, her dreams and hopes for a new life and a fresh start were crushed when her cousin abruptly announced she could only stay for a few nights. 

Disheartened and discouraged, she sought comfort in the arms of a past lover. Within weeks, it was discovered she was pregnant, and conveniently her lover was no where to be found.

Alone again, and this time, pregnant, she felt empty and worthless.

Until she met another man.

This man was older, much older, and seemed kind. He promised to care for her and the baby, too, once it was born.

This was it. The answer she had been praying for.

Her rented her a small home nearby to his. He brought her food and even paid for new hairstyles and clothing. The baby was born, and he covered all of her medical expenses and needs.

However, soon after, her dreams were quickly shattered once again. 

She soon discovered that kindness always comes with a high price. In return for accepting his benevolence, she found herself bonded to him. 

Her took care of her, and in turn... she was his property.

In the midst of all the horror and pain she found the ability to hold on to hope. She had her daughter, and her daughter would keep her going, and be the shining hope that one day, the nightmare would end.

Please God, if you're out there... please don't let this be the end.

These stories are all examples of the very real and raw reality for many, many young women in Haiti. Each of these testimonies are taken from bits and pieces of stories and accounts I have come into contact with over the past two years of working in this field in Haiti.

The faces of prostitution in Haiti take many shapes and forms. 

Yet, one of the largest challenges faced when attempting to address and combat issues such as these, is how interwoven prostitution, sexual abuse and exploitation is into the very fibers of Haitian society.

It is wildly accepted that with sex comes some type of exchange. Prostitution is difficult to outline and identify because the lines here are so very blurred.

Many people would argue that these women want to be in this type of lifestyle. That they enjoy having sex for money and if they wanted to leave, they would. 

Others would say that the young girl in the last story has found an ideal situation being taken care of an older man who provides everything for her.

Despite opposition that may be received from rival opinions, there are women who recognize the severity of their situation. Those who identify the pain and abuse they are experiencing every, single day, and who desire a way out.

This is who we exist for.

We exist for the sixteen-year-old who was kicked out of her orphanage and now finds herself entangled with a man old enough to be her grandfather.

We exist for the single mother trying to feed her young children and has no where else to turn.

We exist for the eighteen-year-old girl who thinks that working in a "cafe" (brothel) will let her becomes like the girls she sees in music videos wearing sexy clothes and driving expensive cars.

We exist for the fourteen-year-old who was raped by her cousin, and now finds herself pregnant with a family who is ashamed of her.

For all young women who find themselves in the various situations that leave them hopeless and abandoned, feeling worthless and unlovable. For the ones who cry themselves to sleep, and pray to God to make another way for them.

Your prayers are not in vain, your tears are have not fallen to shallow graves.

We see you.

We hear you.

We are here for you.

Jasper House Haiti is a bridge that provides young women such as this the opportunity and ability to find hope, and rediscover their worth, purpose and value. 

Working in a brothel, being trapped in an abusive relationship, or having to sell yourself to survive does not have to be the end of the story for these women.

There is now a chance for a new story to be written.

The pages of their books do not have to read anger, pain, suffering and sadness, but rather restoration, hope, healing, joy, freedom and empowerment.

New beginnings can start today.

Will you join us?

Right now we need an increase in monthly support to be able to open our doors to more women and provide them the opportunity to begin again. 

Click the link below to make a one-time or recurring gift that will provide the resources and means to help save and change a life. 

Together, we can work to rewrite history and let more women in Haiti know - this is not the end. 

The rest is still unwritten.


Written by: Maria Atkinson - Founder/CEO of Jasper House Haiti. 

To read more about her journey and passion, check out her blog, Going Forth.

Photos by: Melissa Marshall