Self-sustaining citizens

By Michael Grondin

University of Calgary social work assistant professor Carmen Logie has been leading an initiative in Haiti to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and educate women on mental health and social work.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and has the highest rate of HIV per capita. According to Logie, the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 also added to local struggles. The initiative trained eight local women in Leogane, the epicentre of the earthquake, to be community workers.

The project began in July 2011. Logie visited Haiti six times in the course of a year to monitor the program’s progress.

“Since the earthquake, Haiti’s social, economic and health infrastructure has collapsed, and we really didn’t know very much at all about the situation regarding HIV in post-earthquake Haiti,” said Logie.

Phase one of the initiative was funded by a Grand Challenges grant of $100,000. Grand Challenges Canada is an organization that promotes innovative solutions in the developing world.

“We trained women who were displaced — women who lived in tents after the earthquake — to be community health workers and to do HIV and STD education with 200 other women,” said Logie.

Solar-powered tablets were also used to showcase surveys and educational material to locals.

“We worked individually with the women. We also created a video that we put on tablets. There was a six-week program of weekly women’s meetings where the women gathered together and learned about different issues,” she said.

Logie said one of the main goals of the project was to promote sustainability and capacity among locals.

“I think it’s very important to work on projects that build capacity with local people. We were hiring and training local women so they can then become leaders in their community,” said Logie. “They can then become educators and work to help other people.”

According to Logie, surveys conducted after the program showed promising results.

“I’ve been analyzing the data and developing plans to scale the project up. We’ve found that we’ve reached our main goal, which was to increase HIV knowledge in Haiti,” she said. “We achieved many of our secondary objectives to decrease depression and increase condom use.”

Logie has been presenting her findings to post-secondary institutions, including McMaster University, Dalhousie University and the U of C. She will present her findings to the Grand Challenges Foundation this December for an additional grant of $1 million to expand the project.

“When working with marginalized people, you need to also focus on the whole person and helping them in all areas of their life, and give them tools they can use,” said Logie. “We didn’t just focus on HIV. We also focused on healthy relationships, communication, mental health and coping with trauma.”

Logie will be seeking help from the U of C community to expand the initiative.

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