Changing Communities One Door at a Time

09/01/2015

Photo of Suzar with other committee membersPhoto of Suzar (on the right) with other disaster preparedness committee members

Suzar Philippe, member of an Oxfam supported preparedness committee, writes about her work to prepare communities for disasters.

My name is Suzar Philippe and I am a member of the local disaster preparedness committee in the Northeast Department of Haiti, in an area known as Ouanaminthe. I am one of 10 women leaders part of the 30 member volunteer committee. The 10 women hold different positions ranging from communications, logistics, finance, to disaster response. I am in charge of all activities related to finance. The community elects each of the 30 members and the term for each member is subject to renewal every two years. 
 
Oxfam provided the women leaders of the committee and myself with support to do door-to-door sensitisation activities. Even before starting the activity, myself and my other women colleagues had to convince the local elected officials that these activities were worth the investment and time. We explained to the officials that we are protecting our neighbourhood that we are leaders and we have a voice. We can’t afford to underestimate the importance of informing everyone on how to protect themselves and their families in the event of a disaster. Thankfully, local officials understood accepted our reasons for embarking on this activity.
 
During a period of three months, all 10 of us, went to each home in a rural area with a population of about 1,000 people and spoke to everyone in the household. We walked to remote areas, not easily accessible even by a car or motorcycle. The journey was not easy, but our determination to share information about what to do during hurricanes or when it rains gave us the courage and motivation to continue. One of the pieces of information we shared was that when it rains, the community should not throw trash in the streets as it will prevent the water from properly circulating. We told them to secure their documents (land titles, birth certificates, etc.), to find a safe place to put their livestock.
 
There were people along the way who didn’t want to speak with us. Some asked why 10 women were walking around. We found people who were not interested in listening to us, but we tried to find a way to connect with them and shine a light on the issues. 
 
The best part was that we would sometimes hear people talking about what they learned and spreading it through word of mouth. Some of the other tangible results we have observed since these door to door sensitisation activities are that my women colleagues are more confident and really honing their public speaking skills. Often times in meetings they would be reluctant to speak up, but now more and more they are expressing their views more assertively.  It was difficult for many of them to participate as their husbands would question where they were going. I would receive many phone calls from their spouses who wanted to verify that indeed their wives were participating in the activities with me. After a few weeks, their husbands stopped calling me and had more trust in what we were doing. 
 
When I asked Elise why she remains involved, one of the women leaders who participated in the activities and handles logistics for the committee, she explained to me that: “I have a generation to take care of.  If I do it for someone then that person will spread the information and others will do the same.”
 
It is that unwavering spirit of community that binds us together and keeps us focused on the equipping our compatriots with critical information to build  stronger communities.