Haiti: M’ale, n’a wè pi ta

As always, every good thing comes to an end. That was my last day of work in Haiti, January 19th. I was up bright and early, to watch Jacmel waking up. Before heading to breakfast, I went to the roof of our guest house. I wrote a couple sentences in my journal, but before long I had to go downstairs to join everybody else in the day’s activities. We spent the morning finishing up the house we had helped build for Gerald, a man who survived the earthquake despite being suffering serious injuries. His wife passed away, but fortunately their children survived. Gerald was observing us while we were doing the topcoat of the painting on the walls, door, and ceiling. I cannot put into words how special those moments were to me.

During that morning I felt accomplished. Before coming to Haiti, I had I was worried if we would be able to actually change something during our short ten-day trip to Jacmel. Certainly there were many moments that I simply felt overwhelmed by a deep sentiment of hopelessness. Every day we saw the tents along the roads, the garbage scattered on the streets, the sewage running along the sidewalks.

However, it did not take me not even one afternoon to be delighted by Haiti. Then I started realizing that we could definitely contribute to Haiti. Jacmel proved to be a lively small city in the south of the country. There were several motorcycles, street vendors and pedestrians who all somehow managed to share the narrow roads and alleys of Jacmel.

Every morning, I watched the same scene take place in front of our guest house: parents, or an old sibling, taking the young ones to school. It’s amazing how they are always dressed in neat and very clean uniforms. They know that education is one of the greatest privileges one can have in life, and they valorize it.

Their education gave me hope that the youth in Haiti are willing to change the sad records of the history of their nation. They have the energy, the creativity and willingness to create a better Haiti. And now, in light of the massive foreign aid in their country, they see themselves in a complicated situation. I know that they are not interested in becoming a colony again, in which foreigners run everything in the country. They are confident that they are capable of running their own country. They need a serious and honest government to coordinate their nation. They may lack all the resources imaginable, but they I am sure that they have in abundance the most important things to move forward, such as dedication and pride.

I’m confident that this ASB experience was a watershed in my life. After ten days of hard work and intense experiences, I was so exhausted by the time we came back to the US. During these days I couldn’t help but to think about countless projects and ideas after every new encounter with different people. If I had to sum up my whole experience in one word, I guess it would be life. I believe that everybody’s purpose before boarding a plane to Port-au-Prince was to truly contribute to the improvement of lives of people in Haiti. Now, looking back it is great to realize how much we managed to do in such a short period of time. More than helping build a house, installing surgical lights, or interacting with children at several orphanages, we met people who taught us a new way to understand them – and also ourselves. After this unforgettable experience in Haiti, I’m convinced that the key to a brighter future rests in empowering the Haitians.  Now, I believe that our most important task is to help other people understand that Haiti does not simply need money or mercy. Rather, Haiti asks for understanding and cooperation. This certainly was a lesson that I will forever take with me.

Who’s really helping Haiti?

Tomorrow my team and I will be on a plane bound for Port-au-Prince. Probably the only country in the world which has a notorious last name: the poorest country in the western hemisphere. If in the past Haiti was the glory of the French colonies and the first independent nation in Latin America in 1804, nowadays the country faces the challenge of rebuilding a shattered and impoverished nation.

We can all remember how the response to the January 2010 earthquake was sluggish, chaotic and insufficient. Since then many countries around the world have pledged to assist Haiti, but the lack of coordination has so far halted the so-called transformation of the country and the establishment of a functioning and efficient government.

It has been two years since the earthquake, but I feel that little has changed in Haiti for the better although I’ve never been there. As I read and learn more about the history of the country, I realize that by no means this is the first tragedy that the country has ever faced. I was astonished to know that for almost 30 years, until 1986, the Haitian population suffered under a brutal dictatorship which greatly contributed to the impoverishment of Haiti. On top of that, I realized that the rampant poverty of Haiti has been one of the best funding sources of its elite and corrupt government.  They transformed the misery of the slums of Port-au-Prince into their best exporting product, managing to get millions of dollars from several governments around the word. This happened in the past and certainly is happening right now, in the aftermath of the earthquake. I believe that the government has not done much with all the money it got, and it seems that Haiti is solely run by the hundreds and hundreds of NGOs scattered all over the country. Sometimes, they might be no better than the government: there is corruption, and lack of coordination and planning.

Realizing this harsh reality, I wonder:  so, after all, is it worth donating money to Haii? Traveling there? Is it possible to change anything at all? The only answer I can find is yes, it is indeed possible to change something if we decide to do our best to make a difference. NGOs might not be perfect organizations, but I’m sure that right now there are thousands of people honestly concerned about the harsh reality of the Haitian population. They are willing to sacrifice and work hard not to teach Haiti what it should do, but instead temporarily assist its development to strengthen the self-empowerment of Haiti’s government, public institutions, and above all, its people. This is how I see our trip to Haiti: more than building houses, this is a unique opportunity to meet and interact with Haitians, forming bonds of friendship, cooperation and learning. I’m really looking forward to travelling to Haiti on Wednesday, and I have been doing my best to get there prepared: besides studying French, I’ve been trying to learn a few sentences in Haitian Creole. A great start to an unforgettable experience down in Jacmel, Haiti!!