Captivated by Haiti

As some of you know I recently traveled to Haiti to volunteer with the English In Mind Institute.

It has been a while since I returned and taken me while to ‘take in’ all that I experienced.

You should know that Haiti is an incredible country and it’s people beautiful and strong. Amidst the rubble of the 2010 earthquake, the corruption of their new government, and the myriad messes that NGOs have created since rushing to their aid, the students of EIM are making amazing strides toward being masters of their own fate.

Many of them find strength to soldier on, as my new friend Johnson would say it, from their faith.

Johnson, my fellow soldier from Haiti, chillin’ on the beach.


For those fortunate enough to get a holiday on the beach, it is incredible. And something I hope that all Haitians get to experience some day. If you’re doubting me about the beauty of this country, take a look at this. Can you imagine how much the local economy would be helped if a few committed ex-pats went to Haiti and committed to building a sustainable, eco-friendly, local employing resort town on one of these beaches?

The beach where we took a half-day holiday at the end of our time in Port-Au-Prince.

If you like this idea, better hurry up. Carnival Cruises already purchased an entire island off the coast of Haiti. Chances are they won’t do it in a sustainable fashion. With the world watching, and much of the world wanting to help, now is the time to get involved.

However, if you do want to get involved, first go with Stephanie Price or Meike Jill Schleiff. I’ve found both of these young women to operate by the standard ‘do no harm’, which is important in Haiti. You may or may not know that two UN workers from Turkey introduced cholera to the water table in Haiti, then received treatment. Yet the Haitians cannot afford this treatment, so there is now an outbreak of cholera, and many cholera houses set up in Haiti where these beautiful souls go to wait to die.

To shift gears to the strength of my Haitian friends again…

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my other friend Caroline’s video she recorded for the EIM Vimeo page:

Rise from English in Mind Institute on Vimeo.

Caroline is a young woman who works at Haiti Communitere, which we affectionately call HC… slang for HQ. She helps with cleaning, cooking, and also seems to have some other sort of work that has her away from HC for part of the day. Between herself and my other good friend Alcide Samuel, they keep the place running with decent water for washing, fresh food every day for lunch, a proper shop for building and maintaining everything from the classroom desks I worked on for EIM to a truck, dirtbike, and ATV that HC uses to get around PAP and help the NGOs that use their property as HQ.

(Am I starting to sound like a Washingtonian w/my abbreviations?)

And there is Bengie, a young mother who is applying at various consulates with her new training in English under her belt.

She and some of the other students care so much about their communities, and want to better themselves in order to help their friends and family, that they can be very political.

Watch some of debate camp at EIM, recorded by my friend whom I met at HC, Kate Edwards:

Jimmy talks about aid in Haiti.
Pierre talks about aid in Haiti.
Dominique talks about aid in Haiti.
Dominique pt 2 🙂

What is captivating is where these folks have come from, and they don’t talk about it much. Yet you can see it all around us in PAP.

They study in a school that still shows signs of debris from the earthquake. They walk miles to school from their professional pursuits in the dead heat of middday. They often arrive dehydrated and try to pull themselves together to study. They do not have proper plumbing. They do not have AC – this is a luxury reserved for the upper class Haitians who live on the hill.

My friends in Haiti experience a class divide that simply will not compute for us, until we experience it first hand. In much the same way that many of us struggle to make sense of the Martin/Zimmerman exchange because we have never been in a situation like that, we also cannot get into our Haitian neighbors’ shoes and walk a mile in them without being right there alongside them and walking the brief 2 miles from HC to EIM, seeing trash in the ‘streets’, which are really dirt roads inbetween rows of cinderblock and rebar walls which serve as security for the modest concrete homes my friends live in.

The slum is much worse. Our tour guide Willio, who is an entrepreneur to boot, had his dog shot by a UN group who were tracking a ‘gangster’ and silenced the dog with a rubber bullet b/c it was barking, alerting the suspect to the UN presence.  Willio himself has also been shot by a UN ‘peacekeeper’.
His mother and siblings live in a three room row house in Cite Soleil, the largest slum in the western hemisphere.

We spent about 5 hours walking the slum, small children running up and chanting, “Blanc, Blanc” and begging simply to be touched by a person of wealth and prestige, which us middle class Americans are to them.  With our camelbacks, fancy cameras, fashionable shorts and Ts, etc. we were a sight to be seen. The children run the waste-filled gutters without clothes. The families that can find work fix fishing nets at the wharf, or burn tires to get the steel belts out of them to sell them.

Willio himself showed us a ‘tap-tap’ garden at the edge of the slum, that he is helping folks work to bring to a lot in the middle of his ‘borough’, section 19.
It is plants of all sorts rooted in used tires, so that when they are ready to be transported, and the lot has been cleared in the slum, the Haitians can transplant this garden right into their neighborhood, and immediately begin harvesting the nutritional value that the various plants provide… not to mention the shade 🙂

Willio is decently trained in English, and has access and training on one of the only 3d printers in the country. He is currently making trinkets to educated his fellow Haitians in the production of these, so that they can sell them in the market for NGO workers and tourists.

Willio at the 3d Printer at HC. Proud of his work. I’m proud of him too!

So you can see the indomitable strength of some of the folks I spent a brief 10 days walking alongside of.

There are many more stories of strength in the midst of hardship I could tell. And I will chronicle them someday. Hopefully we will be able to make a full-length documentary including some of these folks and their heroic stories.

For now, simply know that Haiti is a prime example of the great good that men are capable of at their best, and the great evil they are capable of at their worst. The corruption in Haiti is still rampant, yet there are those who believe that virtue will triumph, and they are fighting the good fight every day.

I hope to re-join them soon, and to share more of their captivating stories with you as well.

For now, I hope you enjoyed this post, and I welcome your feedback and comments.





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