Bringing jobs and dignity to youth with disabilities
"I’m thankful to the IOM, which taught me that I could work," says Julaine Noelus, holding her 10 month-old baby in her left arm. Her right arm had been amputated when she was 16 following a fall from a donkey; after that, Noelus had thought she would only ever be able to do housework.
Instead, she and 24 other young Haitians were drafted into a pilot project by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to employ youth with disabilities. The project is part of a joint UN programme financed by the MDG-Fund to improve social cohesion and reduce tensions in violence-prone communities by creating jobs and boosting incomes.
Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, already struggled with high levels of youth unemployment and violence before the 2010 earthquake in which more than 200,000 people lost their lives, 1.5 million were displaced and crucial infrastructure was destroyed.
The lack of work and the living conditions in temporary settlement camps have created new vulnerabilities and security threats. Displaced people, particularly women and children, are facing renewed risk of crime, exploitation and sexual and gender based-violence.
The joint programme aims to reduce these vulnerabilities by employing youth and women in environmental projects and in earthquake reconstruction efforts, such as rehabilitation of roads and canals, soil conservation, road paving, electrification and the construction of pedestrian and public spaces.
So far, 31 projects have provided incomes to more than 63,000 day-workers. More than 7,000 people have been employed for more than two weeks. A third of the beneficiaries are women.
A critical element of the programme is that the projects are identified by the communities themselves and are aligned with the municipalities’ development or risk-mitigation strategies. Noelus and her fellow-workers are members of a local NGO for people with disabilities, which contacted the IOM to secure work for its youth.
The team planted fast-growing wild grasses and other vegetation around a village for displaced persons on Haiti’s northwest coast, which have helped prevent erosion and preserve arable land. "With the money I earned, I paid the tuition of my 5-year-old son," said Noelus.
But far more important than the money, according to organizers, is the impact that the project has had on this vulnerable group. Many beneficiaries say that the experience strengthened their self esteem, dignity and honor, and has had a positive influence on their relationship with society.
"Many of them lived a sheltered life,” says Louissaint Constant, president of Noelus’ NGO, which has 280 members. “Sometimes it was the parents who were embarrassed and hid them from the view of society, sometimes it was the disabled youth themselves who felt embarrassed by the gaze of society. Today, they socialize better because they are conscious of being useful.”
Studies of the joint programme’s impact show that 96% of its beneficiaries say the initiatives have reduced violence and lessened the vulnerability of their communities. Spurred by the positive results of the pilot project, an Irish NGO has reproduced the project for a second nearby village.
“Conflict prevention and social cohesion through local community empowerment and institutional capacity building” is a collaboration between the government of Haiti and five United Nations agencies (UNFPA, UNESCO, IOM, UNDP, UN Women).
The programme is part of the MDG-Fund’s global effort to help countries achieve the poverty-reduction Millennium Development Goals, focusing particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.
Click here to read about the MDG-F's work in Haiti.
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