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When we see images of places of conflict, we tend to see destruction, rubble, and chaos - and it’s true, conflict causes all of these things.
However, we sometimes do not see the life that is going on around conflict; the people that are living through it. When it becomes unsafe for people to be the focal point of the imagery, we lose their stories. We begin to see only guns and gangs, rather than the people living their lives against a backdrop of uncertainty and violence.
Haiti is in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, following the uptick of violence and clashes between rival gangs vying for territory in Cité Soleil, in the capital Port-au-Prince, earlier this year. Between the 13th and 17th of July, it is estimated that 185 people were killed - some gang members, many innocent people caught in the crossfire.
Six months on, the situation is even worse. Due to blockades of fuel, food and drinking water deliveries and an outbreak of cholera, nearly 20,000 people in the densely populated Port-au-Prince are facing “catastrophic famine-like conditions”. An estimated 155,000 people in the capital have fled their homes due to escalating violence. And, according to the United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, 60% of Port-au-Prince is now controlled by the rival gangs, who are increasing their use of violence and sexual attacks.
Youths make up a majority of Cité Soleil, and for many, joining a gang can often seem like the only option for means of survival, leading to a vicious cycle of poverty, conflict and fear. However, there are a number of groups and organisations helping young people to make positive changes in their communities, and to share their stories.
A different view
One of these groups is the Comité Consultatif de Jeunes (CCJ), or Youth Advisory Committee. The CCJ was set up as part of the “Seeds of peace: Haitian youth committed to building a better society” project, or “Semans Lapè”, funded by the Peacebuilding Fund of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Concern Worldwide runs the project alongside two local NGOs, SAKALA and Lakou Lapè, to promote the participation of young people in Cité-Soleil, Bel-Air, and Saint-Martin in peace-building activities on a community, governmental and international level, and to provide them with a place of expression. The group's mission is: Defend peace and youth integration and participation for positive and sustainable change in Haiti.
Against a backdrop of violence that is robbing them of a normal adolescence, the CCJ created a photo exhibition to show their realities. Each image was taken by a member of the youth group.
As well as showing the day to day reality of overflowing trash and lack of hygiene in the city due to blockades, we also get to see the joy and creativity flowing in the neighbourhoods - from dancing, to enjoying the sunset, to gaming with friends.
Beatriz Armada, Concern Haiti’s programme manager who works with the youth group, explained: “The photo exhibition was born as a need for youth in Haiti to find different channels to express their experiences, emotions and ideas around the armed conflict that affects their lives. These pictures show how armed conflict impacts young people’s lives, but also how young people are leading positive changes in their community and especially their own vision of the ‘ghetto’ as a place of conflict but also of beauty, solidarity and potential.”
All of the pictures were taken in areas affected by armed conflict. Members of the CCJ said: “Although it was not easy for us to take these photos, we managed to do it with the strength of our courage.”
These pictures show how armed conflict impacts young people’s lives, but also how young people are leading positive changes in their community
The group added: “The exhibition focuses on various themes such as nature, sports, social cohesion and everyday life in our communities to show different realities that we face, and also the importance of collaboration and youth integration in peacebuilding.”
The exhibition was initially planned to be shown publicly in Port-au-Prince, but sadly, the escalation of conflict made this unsafe at the current time. However, the CCJ are hoping this show of their work will happen in the future.
This photo exhibition is a combined effort by the members of the Youth Advisory Committee (CCJ). Photos taken by: Lourdina Alexis, 17, Vladimir Belizaire, 19, Fednerson Belle Fleur, 18, Gamania Ceide, 28, Beleck Junior Constant, 25, Wood Wyclef Dautruche, 20, Duval Dormeus, 25, Florgera Dussap Etienne, 24, Wood Markenlay Eustache, 22, Marc-Kens Hasard, 25, Jane Sarah Innocent, 25, Fanfan Moise, 32, Leandro Monvil, 21, Joana Noirant, 23, and Geraldson Simon, 18.