PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (June 29, 2011) — Rara music groups from Voudou religious communities empowered Haitians to protect themselves and their families in the ongoing fight against cholera at a recent campaign event.
Mobilizing members of the Voudou community is part of a broader Religions for Peace Haiti/ UNICEF partnership to combat cholera. Religions for Peace is a worldwide coalition of representatives of faith-based groups.
The event—organized by UNICEF Haiti—involved more than 2,600 people and focused on the departments of South, Grande Anse, and Nippes in southern Haiti. Organizers distributed t-shirts, bars of soap and posters with hand washing messages.
The event was organized by multiple partners including UNICEF, the Municipality of Les Cayes, Haitian Ministry of Health, International Medical Corps, and the National Confederation of Haitian Voodoo.
UNICEF also provided the Rara groups with management training support and information about preventing and treating cholera, on which they based their songs, slogans, and music.
At the event, using the theme "Ann pwoteje tèt new kont kolera" ("Protect us from cholera" in Creole), the Rara groups competed to receive awards for best chorus, the most enthusiastic dancers and singers, the best costumes and the ability to best communicate how to prevent cholera.
The competition leveraged the enthusiasm of the community-based religious musical groups to share cholera prevention messages through the music of Voudou celebrations. As of mid-May, there had been more than 5,000 deaths attributed to cholera, approximately 162,000 hospitalizations, and 300,000 cases reported.
The Haitian partnership was launched in December 2010 with the active participation of the interfaith council of Haitian Christian (both Catholic and Protestants), Muslim, and Voudou groups, which committed itself to using its influence and involvement to mobilize against cholera and for positive social change. This included launching large-scale activities to disseminate cholera-prevention messages during faith and inter-faith gatherings. The Rara Voudou competition was one of these activities.
Since the end of 2010 and with the support of UNICEF, Religions for Peace participants have been involved in many nationwide activities in the fight against cholera, including sensitization in churches, demonstrations of how to wash hands and prepare oral rehydration salts, and distribution of sanitation kits and soap.
Approximately 4,000 members of religious networks have been trained by UNICEF and its partners. The trainers, in turn, are expected to reach more than two million people throughout the country with cholera prevention and protection messages.
"Becoming involved with faith-based groups in Haiti is essential to effectively addressing threats to public health and safety and to ensuring children in particular are protected against cholera and other diseases," says UNICEF Representative in Haiti Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans.
Not unlike carnival celebrations, Raras use traditional as well as folk instruments, including wind and percussion, to energize and engage participants and bystanders alike. The influence and involvement of faith-based groups in rural communities provides an effective and necessary medium for disseminating cholera prevention and treatment among isolated communities and urban centers in Haiti.
Raras involved in the spreading of cholera messages are members of the National Confederation of Haitian Voudou (Konfederasyon Nasyonal Vodou Ayisyen, or KNVA), which represents organized Voudou groups throughout Haiti, particularly in rural areas. "Community action and involvement is at the heart of KNVA and is an essential part of the spirit of Voodoo," says Ilderice Nerat, a Voudou Priest and KNVA spokesperson.
"The event was a community-based event that built on existing capacities," adds Raymundo Tamayo, Youth and Adolescent Development Consultant with UNICEF Haiti.
"It showed that when we strengthen community-based organizations, particularly in less populated areas of the country, we can collectively get results that have direct impacts and benefits for Haitians, particularly Haitian children."
Mr. Tamayo says that working side-by-side with community groups such as Raras, as well as with national and international non-governmental organizations and governmental partners, "is essential in ensuring success in the fight and prevention of cholera, especially in the most remote areas of the country."
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