The reality behind the TV images: Cross-cultural visits by Haitians with Afro-Caribbean and indigenous women

September 20, 2011

By Margie Thompson

Haitians talking with the Bribri women of the ALAKOLPA KANEWAKI Association

The Afro-Caribbean and indigenous women from the Caribbean coast and Talamanca highlands of Costa Rica had all seen images of the massive earthquake  in Haiti last year on TV, but to meet Haitian women and share the realities of their lives was a very moving and exciting experience for all.

“We are inspired by you and have learned so much from you,” declared Sonia Rodriguez of ASO Mujeres at an intercultural exchange meeting arranged by ESCRIBANA on September 17.“It is very important for us to know that women in other countries suffer discrimination and violence and are also doing something about it.”

Sonia Rodriguez is a leader in the Afro-Caribbean group of 38 women entrepreneurs from Punta Cocles, on the southern Caribbean coast.Rodriguez was speaking at a meeting of ASO Mujeres with the two Haitian radio journalists arranged by ESCRIBANA.

Sonia Rodríguez de ASO Mujeres addresses the group

Earlier that same day, the Haitians had traveled to the highlands of Talamanca to visit with Bribri women in Amúbri.  The journalists are visiting Costa Rica for a month in order to learn Spanish, but also to meet with a variety of women from different groups and cultures of Costa Rica.

Noemy Blanco Salazar, a young indigenous leader said that the exchange was a very good experience for the indigenous women as well, to show the Haitians “how we live, and our work with the projects.” 

Blanco-Salazar is president of the Association ALAKOLPA KANEWAKI (Women workers) of Amubri.  She said that although she and the Haitians come from different cultures, she immediately felt an alliance with the Haitians “because I am also Black, as well as indigenous,” so she understands at a core level the ongoing struggles against racism and discrimination, as well as sexism.

Meeting of Haitians with ASO Mujeres and otheres

The Haitian women were equally impressed with these intercultural  exchanges.  “It was a fantastic experience, to meet the women and see what great strength and capabilities they have with their projects and work,” said Marie Guyrlaine Justin, a feminist  community radio journalist from Haiti.  Justin is director of REFRAKA – Women’s Community Radio Network of Haiti.

Justin is one of two Haitian women who are spending a month in Costa Rica to learn Spanish, among other cultural exchange activities.  Justin, along with Sainte-Heléne Alcena gave a brief presentation in Spanish to the indigenous women’s group, after just seven days of language training.

¨Whatever their nationality, language, culture or position in society, women have a strong commonality with each other
through their strength and capacities,¨ noted Alcena in reflecting on what she gained from these experiences.

Taking a boat from Suretka across the river to go to Amubri

Traveling to Amúbri in the indigenous Bribri reserve was also a “great experience,” noted Justin, which required traveling by car through a tropical forest, then crossing a river in a long dug-out boat, followed by a bus ride on a dirt road.

“Before I felt a lot of fear” of the river, but by the time the group re-crossed the river to return home, she was feeling far more confident.

Justin said they also enjoyed visiting the indigenous radio station in Amubri, Voz of Talamanca (Voice of Talamanca).  The Haitian women have talked extensively of the importance of community radio in the aftermath of the massive earthquake, when the larger media were unable to broadcast.

Intercultural exchanges are very important in building solidarity among women among different groups both within and across cultures and countries, noted Rodriguez. 

And such solidarity is key to ensuring women’s full participation in local development.

Marie-Guyrlaine Justin at the radio controls for la Voz de Talamanca (The Voice of Talamanca) indigenous radio station

Ana Rosa Ruíz, of the ITEC concurred with the value of these visits.  “It was important for the Haitian women to see the other faces of Costa Rica, and also for the indigenous women to meet women from other countries who have suffered major disasters and other hardships.”

Ruíz works with the Bribri women’s group Association ALAKOLPA KANEWAKI (Women workers) who have created several local development projects including a computer and training center, organic agriculture and recycling.  The Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) has provided funding and technical expertise with the projects, coordinated by Ruíz.

Sainte-Helene & Noemy Blanca Salazar look at Haiti on a world map mural outside the Amubri school

The indigenous Bribri women’s group is called the Association ALAKÖLPA KANEWAK (women workers) is working on several projects including one involving organic agriculture to grown plantains for fruit, and then use the trees for wood for building.  Another involves recycling, creating saleable  products from discarded plastic bags.  They also manage the Training Center IRIRIA ALAKÖLP, which they built with the Institute for Technology of Costa Rica (ITCR), who also advise them with their other projects.

Maribel Iglesias addresses the Amubri group. She is President of the Eco-Tourism & Organic Agriculture Association of Telire.

Rodriguez noted that in her group of 38 women entrepreneurs around Playa Cocles, that women face a lot of discrimination in setting up small businesses, including getting loans from the banks–although women are a better credit risk.
The women of ASO Mujeres are taking training courses in business administration, accounting, leadership and self esteem offered by a variety of organizations including INAMU – The Ministry of Women of Costa Rica. 

These courses will help strengthen the women’s role in local development.


For more information: or write to Margaret Thompson at or Escribana at:

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