Rays of Hope in
the City of Sun

"All my children have left the house and I have been very lonely. This made me feel secluded, sad and sick. After taking this course I feel great and I live without stress and now I would change nothing. Thank you everyone," expressed a Haitian woman after completing an Art of Living Course in Cité Soleil in the northwest of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Cité Soleil, meaning "city of sun" in French is, in fact, the Northern Hemisphere’s largest slum and is considered one of the most dangerous areas in the Western Hemisphere with a long history of terrorization by armed gangs. Though part of the richly endowed Caribbean Island, people living here are mostly poor and live in unsanitary conditions. The area has had a long history of violence, illiteracy, and sexual assault against women. In early 2011, a non-governmental organization called Aid Still Required (ASR) focused on bringing awareness to forgotten issues and supporting sustainable projects, reached out to the Art of Living to do a joint project for women welfare.

The International Association for Human Values (IAHV), sister organization of The Art of Living, had been working with Haitian youth for more than four years through its Nouvelle Vie program. The Art of Living has a strong record of accomplishment in bringing positive transformation to the lives of women – those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) including rape victims in Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. IAHV committed certified trainers to conduct the Art of Living courses as well as a local support team.

We Advance Women’s Clinic, a movement to advance the health, safety, and well-being of women throughout Haiti, became another partner in this initiative. With help from Donna Karan's Urban Zen Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, We Advance agreed to provide security and also arranged the tent facility for the course.

The successful first step

In August 2011, this collaborative group organized the first ever-special Art of Living course for women in Cité Soleil with resounding success. Most women in Cité Soleil work long hours as laborers. So there was initially some scepticism about the attendance for a 4 day workshop. The outcome was startling; more than 100 women turned up for the course despite stifling heat, wind and dust and attended all the four days with extraordinary enthusiasm.

Physical and mental healing

The women had touching experiences to share. Most had chronic waist pain due to the nature of work as labourers and many reported reduced pain after doing the Sudarshan Kriya, a rhythmic powerful breathing technique. Andre (35) shared, “Before the course I had a bad heart, and now after taking the course and practicing the pranayamas and the Sudarshan Kriya, I am feeling more relieved. Even the monthly pain in my waist has gone away. This wonderful technique is a remedy for all of my illnesses”.

Apart from the physical pain the Art of Living course also helped some women to come out of personal trauma. Stefa (25) laughs as she confesses that she thought that the whole thing was a joke for the first two days. It was on the third day that she realized the significance of what she had received.

On time…with no clocks

The attendance at the fortnightly follow-up sessions was heart-warming, with nearly 100 women showing up. In a community with no clocks or calendars, this is nothing short of a miracle! It also highlights the positive attitude of these women and strengthens the belief that this program is not just an event, but is the beginning of a remarkable journey of empowerment.

"I have always heard about the things that are taught on this course but I never wanted to implement them in my life. But you taught me how to apply this in my life. And now I do apply all these techniques in my life. And it makes all the difference in my life," shares of one these lively ladies.

Women are the building blocks of society and empowered women bring about the creation of a strong and nurturing environment. To bring about long-lasting social changes in areas such as Cité Soleil, it needs the concerted efforts of many groups including pivotal roles by the women in each household. This is a step in the direction of positive transformation and better lives.

Making the future even brighter

Further energized by the benefits seen in the first phase of the Art of Living program, the group is designing ways to expand the reach into Cité Soleil and other Haitian cites such as Las Cayes and Hinche and is also planning to offer courses for men.

About the collaborating organizations

International Association for Human Values: Human Development Programmes to uplift the individual spirit, Socio-economic Development Projects for sustainable solutions and Forum for Dialogues to create and leverage.
Aid Still Required: Champions the cause of forgotten people and issues and has objectives of finding sustainable and innovative solutions.
We Advance Women’s Clinic: Committed to provide free gynaecological and medical care including special initiatives such as rape counseling to the Wharf Jeremie community and awareness about hygiene.
The Art of Living: Has been working in Haiti since 2007 for Haiti Reforestation project and provided disaster relief during the Haiti earthquakes in 2010.