Family Planning in Compounding Crises: How One Provider is Working with Young People in Haiti

Marie Denise Jennyfer Isemai is a 29-year-old midwife with extensive experience in adolescent youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) in Haiti. She’s affiliated with  The International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP) and is also the country’s Youth Focal Point with FP2030. Jennyfer has been at the forefront of AYSRH in Haiti since 2018.  

As a midwife, Jennyfer meets women and girls before, during, and after pregnancy and delivery every day. Apart from her already busy work life, she is also very engaged in AYSRH advocacy within the community. Her passion in this domain came about as a result of the very limited sexual and reproductive health/family planning information and services available to young people in her community.

The earthquake and resulting cholera outbreak of 2010 in Haiti had a devastating effect on the country. This has been further aggravated by political and economic instability. Citizens face insecurity, kidnappings, theft, and economic hardship. The country has been without a president since the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. The already challenging situation in this country has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Jennyfer’s experience, the utilization of family planning, especially by adolescents, appears to be low. In Marmont, Jennyfer says the number of pregnant adolescents visiting the facility where she works is at an all-time high. Adolescents often do not use contraceptive methods, even if they’re accessible and free of charge, partly because of misinformation and taboos. Instead, she sees many adolescents who use family planning only after their first pregnancy – although some say they had wanted to delay or avoid pregnancy in the first place but didn’t use contraception.

Jennyfer said to better reach young girls before they’re in this situation, family planning providers need to stop thinking in silos. Women, and especially young women, never just want to prevent pregnancy. They may want to prevent pregnancy so they can stay in school, or start a career, or something else – the goal is the something else, and preventing pregnancy is just one step toward reaching it. As a provider herself, Jennyfer wants to break down those silos, and  change the way of thinking among adolescents. She hears girls think they don’t need to use a contraceptive method for one reason or another, and she wants to make them understand that they can use family planning to reach their other goals. In her work, Jennyfer is pushing aside all obstacles to change the narrative in her community. She is a strong family planning ambassador in Haiti. Daily, she offers comprehensive sexual and reproductive health counseling and services to the women and girls who come to her health facility. Through this platform, she has received positive feedback from these women and girls.

She is also meeting with young people through social media, using Facebook and Instagram to engage young people on AYSRH. She is also conducting comprehensive sexuality education in schools and in churches within her community.

Jennyfer said she hopes the future FP2030 Latin America and Caribbean Hub will support her to reach more young women and girls, because she’ll be able to work more closely with the local office. Previously, Haiti worked within the FP2020 Francophone Africa portfolio, but now advocates in Haiti will have a hub much closer (the location of the Latin America and Caribbean Hub will be announced later this year).

“I know that I can count on the hub to support my initiatives and I am really looking forward to this. My objective is to have a considerable impact on AYSRH and with the hub I will have the support I need to make this happen.”