“Haiti is a country that has many problems in this area, so it was necessary for us to have well-trained personnel that understand these problems,” said Inspector General Jean-Yonel Trecile, international liaison for the HNP.
Trecile said the objective is not only to increase the dismal representation of women in the police force, but also to increase understanding, especially in a police force that’s seeking to be more sensitive to gender issues.
Trecile believes more Haitian women police on the streets and in police stations will encourage more women to report crimes.
“Women in Haiti suffer a great deal from mistreatment [and] rape,” he said. “They don’t report these things to the police because they are afraid, or when they get to the police station the person attending them is a man.”
Samantha Lefevre, a 22-year-old trainee from Port-au-Prince, is among the most animated in describing how she hopes to change the HNP when she returns.
“There are a lot of police in Haiti that are in their offices, but they’re talking, eating and doing other things,” she said to laughter from her companions. “We have this determination to change these offices into great offices.”
No longer shy
The 10 Haitian women who arrived in Colombia on January 30 were described by classmates and instructors as a shy group that had difficulty speaking Spanish, adjusting to the food and even wearing the standard issue boots.
“They’ve lost their shyness,” said Capt. Diana Rojas, commander of the Santander Group of 242 students of which the girls are a part. “Now, you see them full of energy, running, speaking forcefully.”
Judith Germain, a 24-year-old from Hinche, said her perspective on life changed when she felt her university classroom in Port-au-Prince shake on Jan.12, 2010. The devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 300,000 made her more reflective and patriotic. She decided to be part of the change in her country.
“The Haitian police to me are a good police,” she said, adding that her cousin and brother are in the force, and her brother is her role model. “He’s a police officer who is very responsible in his job. I think the only thing the Haitian police lack are experience and specialization.”
Lt. Col. Yackeline Navarro, director of the Sumapaz school, said Colombia is committed to Haiti for the long-term, adding that the school had space for 50 students. While 42 qualified, an INL spokesperson in Washington said the decision was made to take 10 for the pilot program.
Another INL spokesperson could not confirm if the program would continue beyond the current 10 students, saying that they “don’t anticipate” it will. INL officials reached in Port-au-Prince were not authorized to comment on the program.
The Colombian police commissioner, León, said that while helping the sister country of Haiti is a presidential priority, the economic assistance provided by INL is a key component of the partnership. INL’s funding pays for the transportation, equipment and living expenses of the trainees while in Colombia, while Colombia absorbs the cost of providing instruction. Should the program continue, Colombia is considering receiving more Haitian students, to include women and men.
At the Sumapaz school, perched on a hill and surrounded by verdant green mountains, the Haitian trainees said that in learning to take responsibility for themselves, they have gained the confidence to take responsibility for others.
“In Haiti, I will have to lead other people,” said Sophie Poulard a 25-year-old from Pétionville. “I think that if somebody is responsible for herself, this person can be responsible for 10 people, after for 20, for 100, for 1,000 — for a country.”