Monday, April 27, 2015

Edlyne Verna, MPA, Director of CUASVAHH

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Edlyne Verna, MPA Executive Director of CUASVAHH, and Coordinator of the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Oversight of the City of Jacksonville. CUASVAHH is a non-profit working to end sexual violence and homophobia in Haiti.

Tell us a bit about Christians United Against Sexual Violence And Homophobia in Haiti.
We are a non-profit organization of people from many Christian faith traditions, cultures and racial groups committed to the end of sexual violence and homophobia in Haiti.  We welcome and value the unique contribution that each Christian tradition and our diverse experiences/backgrounds bring to our work. We grow from the ways we learn from each other to serve the people of Haiti and debunk the harmful teachings of hatred brought by certain foreign missionaries in Haiti.

We believe that our religious values of equity and freedom from discrimination and harassment mobilize us to affirm the dignity and worth of every human being and to uphold the right of each person to live without fear and threat of violence.

We believe that the teachings of certain Christian traditions have been a source of pain, confusion, discord and violence for the Haitian people. Thus, we ought to become a source of strength and healing for those facing sexual violence and homophobia.

We believe that the teachings of our Christian traditions obligate us to work towards an end to sexual violence and Homophobia globally but most specifically, in Haiti.

We believe that it is possible to transform individuals, families, communities and institutions through education and the power of our faith traditions.

We believe that the voices of survivors of sexual violence and the LGBT community in Haiti are primary sources of knowledge and direction for our work.

Are you open to any other religion or faith? 
Yes, of course. Haiti consists of 80% Catholics and 16% Protestants  that is why we focus on Christianity but our faith enable us to accept and welcome all other religion or even atheist and agnostic who are like us against sexual violence and homophobia.

Why was CUASVAHH founded?
CUASVAHH was founded as an answer to the increased rapes and sexual violence towards women; the flagrant and condoned culture of pedophilia; child molestation and incest in Haiti; the normalcy of rape culture and the harmful tendency to blame the victims.

America is a melting pot and one of the countries with the most diverse immigrant population; Haitian represent close to a million people from that population. For example in Florida the last census has shown that cities like Gables is consisting of 33% Haitians, in New York the percentage is also high.

To better understand the culture in Haiti when it come to sexual violence let me share something with you. A common joke in Haiti goes as follow: a older man said to his friends “ man, instead of having one 30, I’d rather have two 15” and the friends would laugh and agree. What this older man is talking about is his preference for 15 years old children instead of a 30 year old woman. This story alone paints the picture perfectly. Haitian men are not punished for dating anyone under 17 and poverty makes the situation worse. Pedophilia is rampant, a 30 year old with a 15 year old is pedophilia! Now ask many Haitians and its a different story.

Haitian culture regards Incest often as a family matter, to be dealt with privately and more often than not, victims do not have a voice. We do not have a 911 or any other number to report these crimes. Nobody comes to the rescue in these situations. There is no official number to call for help during the ordeal or after. The UN has attempted to work locally to establish some sort of support system, unfortunately the number does not work and theses organizations only provide limited services to one sector of the population, the poor. Children and victims of the other sectors of the population are left with no where to turn at all. If the victims remain in the situation, they are often blamed because for the majority of Haitians, the psyche of a victim/survivor remains an enigma. Haitians are not aware that incest can happen anywhere to anyone, by perpetrators who are often pillars of society and members of their own family.

Rape is perceived as a person’s inability to control his/her desire, not as a power issue.
There is no shame for the rapist in certain situations such as a man forcing his wife, his girlfriend and/or a drunk female into intercourse. The term “flagrant deli” requires that in order for a perpetrator to be prosecuted, the rapist must be caught red handed in the act. Rape is rampant in the tent cities, during home invasions and kidnappings. It is also very present in the homes, in the schools and in the churches.

Unfortunately, there are no rape kits done at the hospitals, and attempt was made to introduce then by many foreign organizations but they horribly failed, and coming forward with incidences of sexual violence, is often detrimental to the victim/survivor due to the views of Haitian society. Often you would hear: “she asked for it”, or “this little girl is promiscuous” , even when grown men are dating a young female child; and little boys are way too afraid to even hint that anyone has violated them.

When it comes to homosexuality: Most uneducated and some mis-educated Haitians gladly equate pedophilia to homosexuality. This idea or belief  seems to be repeatedly accepted throughout Haiti, further putting fear and hatred of homosexuals in the heart of the people.

Pedophilia is a disease, it is a crime and is damaging physically and psychologically to innocent children, boys or girls and sometimes also involves even infants. On the other hand, homosexuality is an “etat d’etre”,  a consensual relationship between two adults  and doesn’t hurt anyone.

This subject of Sexual Violence in Haiti is too broad to cover here for the purpose of establishing CUASVAHH history. We have discussed it in depth in our trainings, webinars and future discussions on our website and Facebook page.
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A large part of your work is educating Haitians in Haiti. Why is that important for our diverse community here?
To respond to the need of the 907,790 Haitian immigrants living in the USA which consist of 52.7% of non English speakers, including only 48.7% of the total population who can read and write.  The information provided by American organizations about Sexual Violence, Hate crimes, homophobia and “rape culture” is not within their reach. We are here to fill up this gap by not reinventing the wheel but rather by using all the available information out there and make them relevant to the Haitian population. We have seen an increase of sexual and violent crimes against woman by Haitians here in America. CUASVAHH understood that lack of education on the matter has a lot to do with it. We have decided to work proactively and educate all Haitians in Haiti and here in the states about these important issues.

 73% of Haitians in America lives with extended family which often includes temporary visitors from Haiti.   What happen there do impact us here. 34% of the Haitian population in America is under the age of 14 potentially living with immigrant parents who were raised within the rape culture, homophobic ideals, and acceptance of gender inequality. We believe our work can break the cycle and empower the future American generation to be fierce advocate against sexual violence and homophobia and not becoming victims.

What methods does CUASVAHH use for educating people?
Only 15.7% of Haitian immigrants hold a higher education degree, and are capable of fully use the information available on the subject in America. You must keep in mind that the Haitian population in the US consist of more 51.3% of people who can’t either read or write, We have resolve this problem by providing them with videos and trainings in creole. The Powerpoint presentations in English and french is a way to reach the rest of the population. Having videos with images in creole breaks all social barriers. The taboo subjects of incest, child molestation and rape, rape of men by men and/or woman, spousal rape etc… are not discussed openly and disseminate properly. Victims in Haiti do not have much help, our school system do not provide counseling or training to their staff to respond to allegations of incest, rape or molestations nor Haitian churches.  
In addition to the tragic loss of life, what impact did the Haitian earthquake and subsequent involvement from outsiders have on Haiti?
After the earthquake rape was rampant in the tenet cities women and children were not safe anywhere. The United Nations as many reports on this and the subject is week documented. But the LGBT population also suffered greatly and little was done to protect them. During the days following the earthquake the blame game started and you have the 700 Club who claim on TV that the earthquake was caused by the presence of voodoo practitioners in Haiti, and others started talking about homosexuals in Haiti bringing the destruction there. These missionaries, as they serve the poor/needy Haitians with white rice on one hand,  are with the other hand, serving an interpretation of the Bible and God that is full of hatred, calling for homosexuals to be put to death. This is not the Bible or the God I know, this is not the Bible and the God you know. God is love and in the Ten Commandments,  “Thou shall not kill” or “love your brother as you love yourself” is  too often forgotten.

The organization, CUASVAHH was also founded as an answer to the increased violence and murder of  homosexuals in Haiti. Being a homosexual in Haiti is not illegal and all people are protected by the Haitian Constitution against such violence. But certain police officers found a Caveat in the law concerning “Moral” and discriminate against them anyway.

Many people like to claim that homosexuality is not part of their culture; many Haitians perpetuate this idea and believe that homosexuality is borrowed from the United States of America or from other developed countries. This is, of course false, because in the first place, homosexuality is not a cultural phenomenon but a biological occurrence.

The Haiti of  yesteryear had always embraced its homosexuals even if they were to live on the down low. The level to which society would embrace the individual would of course, be intertwined with the social class to which he/she belongs. This is Haiti for you.  The wealthier you are, the more accepted you are.

On the other hand, homosexuality was always a taboo subject in Haiti; it was never openly dealt with or discussed. Yet, everyone knew of the homosexual man around the corner making the best food, the musician who played his instrument so beautifully, the singer with the sultry voice, the makeup artist so handsome that you ought to look at him twice, the two single old ladies around the way raising their nieces/nephews, the fabulous hairstylist whose hands are magical, or hot spots where the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) community would meet. Haiti was never unaware of its homosexuals.

Haitian LGBTs, when too apparent or flagrant, were often ridiculed and harassed if they were from the wrong social class. Now they are stoned to death, burnt, killed, persecuted and vilified as pedophiles and criminals. Their situation has gone from bad to worse. With the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 2010 and the new developments regarding LGBT rights, certain international missionaries have found the perfect targaet to spread fear and hatred in Haiti. Homosexuals are blamed for the earthquake, and they are blamed for everything that is wrong with Haiti as they are perceived as an abomination to humanity.

Does CUASVAHH do any work with recent Haitian immigrants in the US? Or is the work focused on Haitians in Haiti?
Yes, we do work with recent Haitian immigrants but as a new organization we are still building our relationships with other established businesses, churches and community leaders to inform them and educate them on what we do. Through our facebook page we target Haitians here in the USA and provide them with presentations on subject such as how to protect your children from predators, where to find help if you are a victim etc.. As I said earlier we did not invent the wheel we are a member of Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, and we are also a supporter of RAINN ( Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) where we find a lot of our information. We also have in-house Medical Doctors, Therapists, researchers and psychiatrists among other professionals who provide us with research, presentations and best practices for our trainings.

Nevertheless we mostly focus on Haitians in Haiti, because like Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education on sexual violence is not being done adequately and efficiently in Haiti. WE distinguish our self by providing free DVD, videos and even in person trainings to any grassroots organization in need of them.

We have established a Pastoral care department with the sole purpose to empower, educate and support congregations in the formation, training and integration in their teachings against sexual violence,and homophobia.  We do not discuss dogmas yet we focus on the Bible teaching of love, acceptance and tolerance.
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CUASVAHH also does a lot of work on educating about sexual assault. How do you educate people on this topic?
We have a team of researchers/ writers who prepares powerpoint presentations on different issues. We also, with their permission, make relevant to Haitians information found in established US Organizations dealing with these issues. We ask for experts in their respective field to donate their knowledge by providing CUASVAHH will information that can be translation into Videos, Trainings and powerpoint presentations. Live trainings and articles are also posted on our website. When you are dealing with a population that is comprised of  a large number of non-literate people having  trainings and videos in their own language is the only efficient  way to educate them. Flyers, websites etc… will not work for all.
We travel to Haiti and conduct week long trainings for churches, schools and grass root organizations. We have community volunteer who we train to answer the many questions that arise during our seminars.

Here in America, we relay heavily on social media and people like you to disseminate the information about our trainings. EVERY WE DO IS FREE OF CHARGE. All of our employees are volunteers, survivors of sexual violence and many non-Haitians.

We hope in the future to be able to shoot short movie, PSA, documentaries that depict these situations and help us educate a larger part of the population. There are plenty in English but as of now CUASVAHH do not have the ability or technology for voice-over, subtitling etc…
How do interested people get involved with CUASVAHH?
We are made mostly of volunteers, therefore anyone that has something to offer  is welcome it can be from creating a powerpoint,  a PSA, a documentary, whetting a script; or Helping us develop of our website, integrating a chat room, a e-kerning software for our trainings, translating the website in french, helping with trainings, and even donating  their time to edit part of the website, donating money to support our trainings to Haiti. Anything that can help us walk into a class room or community center in Haiti or here in the US and educate our children about safety and letting them know that they are not alone. We also welcome victims that are open to share with us their story, we know how healing it can be for a victim to see herself in a survivor.
Liking us on Facebook, or twitting about us is also great. The economical fiasco that is ongoing in Haiti right now is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to human right violations which are the norm in Haiti. WE ARE OPEN TO ANY HELP. WE LOVE YOUNG ACTIVISTS, INNOVATORS etc..
We are open to suggestion from anyone. you can email us at everna@cuasvahh.orh or  We also have a toll free number 888-735-3536.

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Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Lastly I would like  to quote two of Mandela’s quote, the second is a CUASVAHH adaptation. He says:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Child sexual abuse is a combat that we all must undertake because it destroy lives.

“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. Even when economic freedom is very important in making victims less vulnerable. The proper education  can contribute to nation-building and gender reconciliation. Haiti is today extremely divided in every sectors, sexual violence is common, rape is rampant and gender gaps prevalent. CUASVAHH is steadily but surely introducing education and training on sexual violence and homophobia that enable our people and most importantly our children, women and men, and LGBT to exploit their similarities and common goals of a non-violent society, while appreciating the strength in their diversity and harboring tolerance.

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