Voices for Haiti: Sonia (Solange) Pierre
“I am a Dominican woman and the daughter of Haitian immigrants,” says Sonia (Solange) Pierre, whose parents entered the Dominican Republic under a work contract.
Pierre was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and today is the director of Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA), a grassroots organization that primarily works in bateyes, communities located on former sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic that are home mostly to people of Haitian heritage.
For 27 years, MUDHA has worked in these vulnerable communities to empower Dominican and Haitian women and children. The organization provides services such as HIV/AIDS prevention and other health ministries, legal guidance to migrants, and education for Dominican Republic-born children who lack legal documents. Recognizing that it is impossible to learn on an empty stomach, MUDHA provides the students a daily meal.
MUDHA is also working in the tent communities in Haiti that were set up following the January 12 earthquake. “United Methodist Women was one of the first organizations to support us after the earthquake,” says Pierre. “That aid was instrumental and allowed us to offer women emotional support. Haitian women were affected not only by material and human loss but also by psychological trauma. They now live in difficult times, with rape, robbery, and physical violence prevalent against both women and children. After 10 months of this, many women feel hopeless—it has been hard for them.”
MUDHA creates trust by building networks of solidarity among the women. Organizing nearly 300 women in small groups of 20, the organization led a discussion of the affects of the earthquake, societal implications of the disaster, and hygiene issues before broaching personal security. Says Pierre, “Women are finally starting to open up and deal with the emotional crisis. We have psychologists on hand to help the women process the scars and pain that they did not want anyone to know about.”
According to Pierre, most of the women who live in the tent communities face violence, but they are reluctant to discuss it. In Leogane, MUDHA works with the police to file complaints of violence and provides them with gas money so they can patrol the camps. Women are equipped with whistles and are encouraged to use them when they are in danger, a program that has led to the capture of 17 aggressors. Pierre reports that since these measures have been put in place, violence in Leogane has decreased by 80 percent.
Interview and photo by Melissa Hinnen, communications director, UMCOR, during the General Board of Global Ministries Mission Travel Study to Haiti.