Everyone keeps asking me “How was Haiti?” It’s been 5 days since our return and I can’t quite put it into words. Andy and I have done a fair amount of traveling to poor countries throughout Central America and South East Asia, but we haven’t seen poverty like this.
Yet the people of Haiti exude optimism and joy. The children are precious and knowing their circumstances wrecked me. There is no middle class; there are the poor and about 5% of the population has wealth. What was shocking was how expensive everything was; we found out practically everything is imported to Haiti. International aid has actually hurt the country as farmers and business owners lost their income when aid started bringing in free items. It’s like a welfare mentality has taken over the country.
Prior to Hurricane Matthew hitting, we were planning on meeting with local leaders and entrepreneurs to host a business clinic at the Konbit Haiti House. We booked rooms at a resort that is across the street from the village we would be teaching at. We arrived in Haiti late at night, so our 90 minute journey from the airport to the village was cloaked by darkness. We arrived at the resort and I was shocked to see how many people were there and how incredibly beautiful it was. I wasn’t prepared for what we would see when we woke up the next morning.
I opened the curtains at 6am and I had to reorient myself. I was looking at a stunning aqua ocean and an idyllic vacation beach scene. This is Haiti?
After breakfast we headed out to the village across the street and the second shock hit. The gates to the resort opened and it was like stepping onto a movie set…but not a good one. Literally across the street were dozens of kids playing soccer in a dirt field at the base of a mountain village. You could see shacks with families sitting in front of them, people urinating in front of their homes, pockets of smoke where people were burning their garbage, and women balancing jugs of water on their heads. The dichotomy of what was behind and ahead of the resort gates messed with me our entire trip. I couldn’t get over the stark contrast. All inclusive, all you can eat, bathrooms, clean water, entertainment on one side, and starvation, no clean water and no bathrooms on the other. How the heck was this possible?
The village we were at was not terribly affected by the hurricane, but the 800 water filtration systems we raised money for were being taken by local Konbit Haiti leaders to the villages that were destroyed and are suffering from the cholera epidemic.
The business clinic we initially were there for was wonderful. Local leaders walked miles in the rain to hear us speak; it was incredibly humbling. We were told that the lunches we provided over the 2 day seminar might be the only food many of the attendees may eat for the week.
I found it surprising was how nicely dressed many the attendees were. The ladies had their makeup and hair done and their children were dressed beautifully. Many of the men had polished shoes and crisp button down shirts and almost everyone had a mobile phone. I was confused by this knowing how poor the country was. I was told that most people had one nice outfit and being presentable is very important to the Haitian culture.
It was hard not to photograph everything; the Haitian culture is incredibly put off by being documented which is why very few photos have faces in them…as much as I wanted to document and share our experience with you, I wanted these beautiful people to know this wasn’t a one and done “do good” trip, we plan to invest in Haiti long term in partnership with the Konbit Haiti organization who is about empowering the locals to create solutions to improve their circumstances.
One of the last photos I wanted to share was how Konbit Haiti is transforming the youth of this community. Many of the kids in this village are at risk youth; many start drinking and stealing as young as 7 or 8! But after years of developing trust by actually living in the community and doing life with the community, they have given these kids a new direction and hope for a different life. It was incredible to hear stories of transformation!
This will not be my last post about this amazing country. I look forward to keeping you posted on our future endeavors!