There is a saying in Haitian Creole that "fanm se poto mitan, meaning that women are the pillars of society. They run the household and on a daily basis, provide a way to support their families' needs despite severe odds.
As a way to gauge interest and need in our communities around work and vocational opportunities our Executive Director Kathy McAllister and our Board Chair Toby Simon met with a group of women and then a group of men for a series of focus groups. We wanted to know what current opportunities exist for community members to earn a living in our founding site of Destra. We also asked about if they had the opportunity what type of training would they be interested in. Destra is a remote fishing village so much of our discussions centered around fishing.
The groups were led by local staff while Kathy and Toby observed, took notes and occasionally asked for further clarification. There were many opinions and a few surprises which is what we were looking for. It is so crucial for us to stay in touch with our communities needs and desires. They know best what can be successful in their area and we can help foster their plans to come to fruition.
Here is some of what we heard in response to the questions what opportunities exist for work in the area and gender role perceptions.
The women agreed that they would like more effort and activity for commerce like a small boutique or store. They do think that women can do the same work as men. There is more development and more opportunity for women to work than in the past. But with rising inflation things are harder. One comment we heard was "before you could make money by investing 200gd now you cannot." When asked how people in the village would react if they did a non traditional job we got this response, "people do not live for other people so other people cannot prevent other people from doing what they want." And I loved hearing one young woman say "With a goal you can reach farther."
The men consisted of 90% fisherman. They admitted that they would welcome other opportunities to learn a trade such as plumbing, carpentry and auto mechanic. Women take an active role in selling the fish caught at the market. If they had a freezer than they could make more money because they could sell anytime. Other ideas that they had for women to make money were setting up food stalls to sell to people who would come to the village to buy fish.
The consensus was that women would like more opportunities to invest in commerce and start small businesses. Although some currently sell the fish their husbands catch, they are also interested in learning how to fish. They thought that the men in the village would not be supportive of their wish to learn to fish but that was not what we heard from the men, who said they would be proud for them to learn. There were mutual concerns over the safety of women fishing as it can be difficult and dangerous work.
As an organization we will take what we have learned and use it to shape our next round of program design. The includes addressing our alumni population and how they can increase their earning potential.