Darline has been a leading force behind the Girls' Empowerment and Mentoring (GEM) Program. She is the supervisor, and the program provides vital education and essential and life-changing access to resources, safe spaces, mentorship and dialogue. Wynn had the opportunity to chat with Darline this past fall, and she shared her thoughts on what GEM means to her.
Darline is generally light-hearted and quick with a joke or smile. She is a loving, single mother to her daughter Isnicha and a devoted and integrated member of her community. While her usual manner is easygoing, when discussing the GEM program, its successes, its challenges, and its potential, she speaks in passionate and urgent tones.
Darline spoke with conviction of too many girls becoming pregnant too early, too many young women forced into situations of powerlessness and with nowhere to turn.
“You have a young girl, 14 or 15, no one at home, maybe living with a neighbor, maybe with no living parents, and she meets a man who can help. So…she thinks, ‘sleep with this man, who pays my school fees, or… maybe I will have no school fees. Refuse the invitation to visit a local beach with this man who has offered to help my family…and I risk losing that support.’ In that moment these girls see this as their only chance at life, and sometimes they have nowhere to turn, no one to ask advice, and they feel they have no choice. We have to have a conversation about this, we have to provide other paths, other options, safe spaces. We have to fill that space.”
“Does this happen a lot?” I asked. “Girls of that age are put in these positions often?”
“Honestly yes, it happens way too frequently.”
Later in the conversation Darline’s voice cracked as she spoke of a teenage girl who recently died while giving birth at the local clinic. She spoke of her own daughter - her hopes and dreams for her, her wish that she understand who she is and what power she possesses.
As we wrapped up our conversation, Darline described a meeting on the street with two girls from the GEM program. It was the end of the summer, after the GEM summer program ended and before the school year had begun.
"When does GEM start again?" they asked Darline enthusiastically.
Darline, kidding with and testing them, replied playfully, "GEM? Oh, I don't know - you think we should even do it again? I don’t know if it matters much, really.”
Their reply: "Oh! Are you kidding? Don’t say that Miss Darline! Don’t play around, you know we must have GEM again this year! How are we going to change our society if not?"
That's a real story, their words, not mine. Two young girls, on a dusty road in rural Haiti, asking “how we are going to change our society without GEM?”
This week, Darline and other members of the GEM team are in Jacmel receiving training on girls' empowerment and how to continue the success of GEM. In Darline's next post, we will introduce you to her daughter and let you know why she feels so passionate about the work she is doing.