Welcome Babies: A Long History of Resistance

Quality education for all

Starting in the early 2010s, access to quality education for all has been at the heart of ATD Fourth World’s priorities. In this series, you will learn about the work done by ATD Fourth World teams in the field of education, including early childhood education.

Regular publications showcasing ATD’s educational achievements will be published regularly in the coming months. These accounts tell the story of ATD Fourth World initiatives and their collaborations with children, families, and communities.

We will explore teams dedicated to supporting specific aspects of children’s lives and development. One team aims to reinforce family ties, another assists with children’s schooling and academic success, while another contributes to the cultural enrichment of neighborhood children…

Each of these narratives threads together to form a vibrant framework for a society that can offer quality education for all.

The first section of accounts is devoted to the work of the ATD Fourth World teams empowering parents to build self-confidence (Family Reconnection in Burkina Faso, Welcome Babies in Haiti). A second will be devoted to cultural projects that strengthen the educational responsibilities of communities towards children (Story Garden in Gallup, USA; a community artistic project in the Hochelaga district of Montreal, Canada; a Reading Club in Guatemala City; a Street Library in the Central African Republic). The final section will be devoted to projects that strengthen a school’s capacity to exercise its role with children in poverty (Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil).


Welcome Babies: A Long History of Resistance

For over 20 years, the Welcome Babies early childhood education program and the community-building efforts of families in the southern neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince around early childhood have been a cornerstone of the commitment and work of ATD Fourth World in Haiti.

The Welcome Babies team offers a space for young children and their families. This community dynamic, with parents as primary partners, supports children up to 3 years old in their psychomotor, health, nutritional, and emotional development.

Since the mid-1980s, the Welcome Babies program has persisted, particularly in the face of the challenging upheaval that Haiti has experienced in recent years.

By adapting to these circumstances, the ATD team in Haiti continues to provide families with a safe space centered around sharing knowledge, experiences, mutual support, pride, and joy. The team also structured and formalized a program for families with children suffering from malnutrition. This program offers tailored nutritional support and pays special attention to the early stimulation of these children.

As Régis de Muylder1 explains in Revue Quart Monde,

  • “Regarding the crucial stages of early childhood, ATD Fourth World gives space to the lived experiences of families in extreme poverty. Thus allowing them to teach and learn from others. Each participant can contribute, creating a mutual exchange of knowledge. This approach enables families to gain control, which is crucial for those in extreme poverty who lack resources and whose living conditions compromise the smooth progress of the early stages of childhood. If parents can overcome obstacles and experience success rather than failure, this strengthens them throughout their lives and the lives of all family members and the community.”

In this month’s education series, Louisamène Joseph Alionat, a team member since the inception of the Welcome Babies program, recounts the success story of Cecilia and her daughters, who received beneficial support from the program. Starting in 2008 and over many years, Cecilia has demonstrated a transformation made possible by community involvement centered on early and long-term support.

What Welcome Babies teaches us

Since its inception, Welcome Babies has held a special place in the hearts and minds of ATD Fourth World members internationally. It consistently and fundamentally represents the assertion of each individual’s equal dignity and distinctive value, both daily and over the long term.

Welcome Babies is unique because it protects the lives of the youngest, who suffer the most irreversible blows from war and poverty.

The interpersonal dynamic of Welcome Babies means the dignity of each participant is respected and can flourish. This becomes crucial in situations where extreme poverty or armed conflicts lead to the perception that certain lives are expendable. Together, the ATD team and families of Welcome Babies struggle daily for the well-being, development, fulfillment, and societal acceptance of the youngest children of families in extreme poverty.

Moreover, a goal of Welcome Babies is that everyone has the chance to build a new future. In this way, their creativity can flourish no matter the odds, ensuring that the conditions for the success of a new generation are within reach.

Welcome Babies’ almost revolutionary quality also lies in the trust built over time between the ATD team and the families, along with the team’s consistent daily efforts and ethical rigor. The ATD team values all aspects of the lives of the children and their families.

Welcome Babies update

From June 1, 2021, to December 6, 2022, a war between gangs in Port-au-Prince raged, affecting a large portion of the families ATD worked with. The war forced many families to either leave their homes or shelter in place. This meant many could not go out to work, and schools were closed for months. Many were unable to seek medical care, as access to clean water also became very difficult, if not impossible, and garbage was no longer collected, leading to a reappearance of cholera.

Then, in January 2022, relative peace returned. Schools reopened, and residents were able to look for work and reunite. The Welcome Babies team wrote:

  • “We noticed that starting in January, and really even before, children spent more time in our nutritional program. It is now more difficult for parents to get food for their children. In Haiti, according to the United Nations, 44% of the population is food insecure, and 1 in 4 children suffer from malnutrition. For several months now, more and more parents have told us their concerns about their child’s health. This has put pressure on our Welcome Babies programs. The economic situation of the families we work with has deteriorated. Families are only focused on surviving day to day. Starting in January, parents and children who were already enrolled [in the program] began to come more frequently. It had been more difficult to come to the Fourth World House before that due to the shootings. In January, families shared their joy at a return to normalcy. They told us how for months they lived in fear, unable to leave their homes. They faced difficulty finding work to support their family, and their homes didn’t have water for months. Some had to form small groups to fetch water at night, which made them very fearful. Then, families told us how [now] they could walk once more in areas they had not been able to go to during the war… Many were cut off from their loved ones throughout the war, and peace had allowed them to finally reunite. We saw how the expressions on their faces had changed, how they smiled. They talk more freely now, more relaxed… Everyone was longing for peace.”

Today, the Welcome Babies team and parents continue their peaceful, patient resistance. They give joy to the children of Welcome Babies. A mother says,

“When we do what gives us joy, it makes us feel alive.”

Please read the story of Cecilia and her daughters as told by Louisamène Joseph Alionat on our Together in Dignity blog.

  1. Paediatrician and ATD Volunteer Corps member who lived over 20 years in Haiti
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