Washington, D.C., April 22, 2009– The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has launched an inspirational U.S. campaign called “I Too Am Haiti” to heighten awareness about the hundreds of thousands of children who are the victims of trafficking, forced labor and other forms of exploitation in Haiti.
“The exploitation of children is a stain on human dignity,” says Jimmy Jean-Louis, the actor known as “The Haitian” on NBC’s hit series “Heroes.” “It is within our reach to create a better future for these children.”
Jean-Louis, who is PADF’s Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti’s Children, noted that these human rights abuses do not have limits.
“We’re talking about children as young as 7 or 8 years old who are the victims of exploitation,” he says. “They should be riding bikes and going to school. Instead, they are kept out of school. Some children are exposed to violence. Others are forced to live in horrendous conditions.”
The U.S. State Department reported in 2008 that: “Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.” The State Department estimates that as many as 200,000 children are the victims of this specific type of exploitation.
People are encouraged to call (877) 572-6544 or visit the website http://http://itooamhaiti.org to learn more or make a donation.
PADF Deputy Executive Director Amy Coughenour says the U.S. government has renewed its interest in Haiti and is looking at how it can effect change there. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the island on April 14.
“Secretary of State Clinton’s visit and commitment of resources are important steps,” says Coughenour. “As individuals, we can play a part. The good place to start is by changing the lives of exploited children.”
Building Haiti from the Ground Up
Coughenour says I Too Am Haiti is the first in a series of specialized campaigns that are part of the non-profit organization’s larger “Building Haiti from the Ground Up” initiative.
“To help people better understand how they can help Haiti, we made a strategic decision to present the country’s challenges in a series of campaigns,” Coughenour says. “Together, these issue-specific campaigns will raise awareness and resources that will change the lives of Haitians.”
In addition to exploited children, other issue-specific campaigns in Building Haiti from the Ground Up initiative will include community-driven development, job creation and reviving agriculture. The I Too Am Haiti campaign will run for approximately six months.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where approximately 80 percent of the population of 9 million lives in poverty. Of that, more than half live on a dollar a day.
PADF is one of the largest non-governmental organizations in Haiti. With nearly three decades of work on the ground, PADF now manages a large portfolio of activities ranging from community-driven development to protecting human rights. In the past year, it helped nearly 1 million Haitians.
Langston Hughes Inspiration
I Too Am Haiti concept is inspired by Langston Hughes moving poem “I, Too, Sing America.” “The campaign draws on the rich history of Black America’s struggle to overcome exploitation,” says Interlex President & Chief Creative Officer Rudy Ruiz. “I Too Am Haiti will leverage the power and relevance of that struggle to motivate African-Americans to support exploited children so close to home.”
The campaign includes outreach to Congress and the Obama Administration to generate support for PADF’s efforts, which include supporting 50 shelters that provide a safe haven for exploited children, advocacy on their behalf and training of community groups to identify abused children. Jean-Louis will participate in the Washington, D.C., briefings.
PADF is a non-profit organization established in 1962 to promote, facilitate, and implement social and economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the past year, it had more than 4.5 million beneficiaries in 18 countries. Its headquarters is in Washington, D.C., and has field offices in Colombia, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. www.padf.org