In 2014, a group of lawyers from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) traveled to three low-income communities, Saut d’Eau, La Chapelle and Boucan Carré, to announce the launch of their Civic Engagement Program (CEP). Through CEP, attorneys from BAI will train facilitators – who are chosen by their local communities – in human rights law and advocacy. Upon receiving this training, these facilitators will lead meetings within their communities to assess the condition of their human rights, and develop strategies for claiming them.
Mario Joseph, the Managing Attorney of BAI, introduced the program by posing questions about the status of human rights in each community. Each time he asked “does every school-age child in your community go to school?” and “can everyone in your community easily travel to a hospital and receive care?” the community response was a resounding “no.” But Mario continued to ask these questions in order to give rise to an essential conversation: a conversation about the human rights to education and health which are enshrined in the Haitian constitution. These conversations demonstrated that although the majority of community members already knew of the poor conditions of human rights in their communities, many community members didn’t know what recourses were available to remedy these poor conditions.
By training facilitators to provide human rights knowledge to their own communities, CEP helps to fill a significant gap in Haitian civic life. CEP empowers low-income communities with the tools to develop community solutions for community problems – an opportunity which few communities in Haiti are afforded. The launch meetings of the program already demonstrate how this empowerment works in practice.
After receiving Mario Joseph’s introduction of CEP, a number of community members in La Chapelle started a discussion about the composition of the program. “We should have one facilitator for each of the three regions in La Chapelle,” said one member, “one in the lower region, one in the center, and one in the mountain region. What do you think, Mario?” Mario responded, “I think that’s up to your community to decide. You all know best.”