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St. Thomas Hosting YWCA World Leaders

Donnalie Edwards-Cabey, YWCA Virgin Islands president (left) and World YWCA officials Marie-Claude Julsaint and Reem Tawfio Najjar.The modest Sugar Estate headquarters of the YWCA of the Virgin Islands was alive with plans and discussions Monday morning: plans for an upcoming visit to Haiti and discussions of the capacity-building workshop held over the weekend.
The workshop, an essential tool in the V.I. chapter becoming a full member of the World YWCA, was being faciltated in part by Marie-Claude Julsaint, World YWCA’s regional director for the Caribbean.
Julsaint explained, "The workshop is a self-assessment checklist of where the group stands in meeting world association standards of good management and accountability."
It is an extensive and demanding inventory. For instance, Julsaint said, local groups must have a mission statement that is consistent with the purpose and values of the world association. The checklist includes everything from governance, financial management, communication, partnerships and alliances, and information and technology.
"Some of the items are essential, such as a mission statement," Julsaint said, "and others are desired indicators. Compliance requires a member association to meet 75 percent of the conditions of affiliation."
The impressive lineup of officers was augmented by Reem Tawfio Najjar, a World YWCA vice president from Jordan, who is on St. Thomas en route New York, where she will represent the YWCA at the 54th session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) March 1–12.
The V.I. organization, now what is called a "developing group," has grown since its inception here in 2007, with 30 members and a nine-member board. "Twenty-five percent of the board members are under 30," said local YWCA President Donnalie Edwards-Cabey.
The emphasis on youth in governance is one of YWCA’s tenets. "It’s very important to include the younger women in whatever we do," Cabey-Edwards said.
According to Julsaint, there’s good news on the horizon for the V.I. chapter. "We’re certain the V.I. group will be accepted as a full member when the World Council meets in Zurich next year," she said.
World YWCA has 14 groups in the Caribbean. Its regional strategy for 2009–11 includes leadership development and capacity building, with a concentration on creating safe places for women; protecting women against domestic violence, and developing programs to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS.
To this end, the world organization has an innovative program, which takes information on HIV/AIDS to be disseminated at local beauty salons. "Where else do women talk freely about what’s on their minds," says Julsaint. "They tell their hairdressers."
Cabey-Edwards agreed. "It’s a great idea," she said. "I’m going to contact a hairdressers association here to set up such a program."
Julsaint has strong Caribbean ties. She grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and left at 17 to attend school in the United States. Fluent in French and English, she holds a master’s degree in international relations.
She said she has not been to her native country since the earthquake.
On Wednesday she and Edwards-Cabey are leaving the territory for a five-day solidarity visit to Haiti.
With a somber expression, Julsaint said, "I have two uncles there and one cousin, and I lost another cousin in the earthquake. They live in a village in the north, so I don’t know if I will be able to see them."
The women will be met by Haitian YWCA volunteer Rachel Coupaud and other YWCA members. "The purpose of the visit is to be in solidarity with our sisters on behalf of the movement," Julsaint said. "I’ve been inspired by the leadership, strength and resilience of the Haiti members, but also sad as I imagine the country that I love and that I visited not too long ago as a member of the World Council of Churches … will look like a battlefield."
Julsaint said she is concerned about the rains, which came recently, with more to come. "After our visit," she said, "we can better assess the support that is needed and how we can assist in the reconstruction."
Coupaud wrote a moving letter of her experience in the earthquake. To read the letter, see related link below.

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