Kingston Charity Teaches Haitian Gangs to Heal in Cite Soleil

By Merideth Smith, Kingston Herald January 31, 2013

Gangsters giving first aid to fellow residents of Cite Soleil – the notoriously impoverished district of Port-au-Prince in Haiti – might sound unlikely, but it’s now a reality due to an innovative project developed by the “Help Tammy Help Haiti” charity founded by Kingston resident, Tammy Babcock.

During her many trips to Haiti, Babcock had puzzled over how to help the Haitians of Cite Soleil escape the allure of gang life, where many young men lacking food and personal safety are drawn to gangs as a way to fill those needs.

That concern led to the idea of enlisting young men into a first aid training program, which satisfied two goals: providing much needed medical care to the community, and allowing for an alternative to gang life.

The First Aid for Peace initiative puts rival gang members in the classroom together for one month. Their children are also provided with a head start program during this time, which provides schooling and one meal a day (photo).

When the first class graduated on September 23, 2012, the group had formed lasting friendships – reflected in one instance, as Babcock described, when a graduate lost a friend to gang violence and turned to a former classmates (and rival gang member) for comfort.

As the third anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake passed, Haiti was once again in the news when Canada’s International Co-operation Minister, Julian Fantino, announced that the Canadian International Development Agency would suspend funding new projects due to the slow progress of development in Haiti.

That announcement received additional attention when Kingston-native Don Cherry wrote on his @CoachsCornerCBC twitter account “Maybe it’s just me. But Canada gave Haiti 49.5 million dollars last year. Are we nuts?”

Cherry later elaborated by saying he would rather see the money go to the over-burdened Canadian health-care system, adding that “Charity begins at home.”

The outspoken hockey commentator’s opinion drew wide-spread attention from both supporters and those who disagreed with his take on how Canadian charity dollars have been used in Haiti.

Help Tammy Help Haiti began after Babcock’s first trip to Haiti in 2008. She fell in love with the people of Cite Soleil and began developing projects to help them in lasting ways.

The charity focuses on sustainable projects, with its first endeavor – a water tower built in July 2009 – using the existing water system to provide safe drinking water to the residents of Cite Soleil.

The tower was built with money donated to the charity and residents who use the water are charged a nominal fee that only covers tower maintenance and a wage for the operators. Many other water sites in Cite Soleil are run as businesses and charge much more.

Help Tammy Help Haiti also built a medical clinic in June 2012 and is now working to build a community centre nearby.

Babcock says they plan to start a first aid course for women in March and are in the process of selecting candidates now. Designed for mothers with young children in mind, this course will teach first aid and CPR with a focus on hygiene.