I spent 48 hours in Haiti last week.
It wasn’t much time. But it was enough to taste the hot, sticky air. To navigate the teeming streets of Port-au-Prince, pressed by a sea of humanity. To jostle my spine on roads which my traveling companion assured me had gotten better since the last time he had visited.
On our way to a World Vision-supported community in the Central Plateau region (a few hours north of the city), we passed more than one person who seemed less than pleased to see yet another white face peering at them from behind an SUV window. Who can blame them? Outsiders in SUVs have not always brought good things to Haiti.
While negotiating our way out of the city, we passed recently vacated refugee camps, where survivors of the 2010 earthquake eked out an existence under impossible circumstances. Miles outside the city, there was a collection of homes built by the government, where some of the displaced will be resettled, far removed from loved ones and livelihoods.
There were even a few places in the city where people still lived in tents reinforced with bits of cardboard, plastic, or whatever was at hand. After four years of wear, it was hard to imagine these shelters kept out much of anything. Yet almost 150,000 Haitians continue to live in them. Granted, that’s a big drop from what it used to be — at one point, it was 10 times that number — but still.
On some of the weatherworn tarps you could just make out the faded USAID logo. Though the tents (and the people living in them) are still there, the funding has all but dried up. Billions in promised international aid never even materialized.
More jarring than the tents themselves were the billboards just outside some of the displacement camps, advertising expensive liquors, luxury kitchens, and other extravagances — flaunting unattainable wealth to those who haven’t had a solid roof over their heads for more than four years. Reportedly there’s a tent community within sight of a Porsche dealership.
But this was hardly the only story in Haiti. My colleague, for whom this was something like his 20th visit, observed that Port-au-Prince was looking more like its old self than at any time since the earthquake. Which isn’t to say it was “thriving,” exactly (or that the new buildings are any more capable of withstanding a major tremor than the old ones). But the streets were loaded with people, many of them hopping on and off tap taps (Haitian taxis). Sidewalks were barely visible beneath a sea of vendors selling produce, soda, hubcaps, and more. There was life in Haiti. Resilience.
Outside the city, in World Vision’s community project (known as an ADP or Area Development Program), we saw hope. We saw Haiti’s future. The kids there projected a quiet confidence that comes when children are valued, empowered, and listened to by the community. We sat in a community center where each of the three dozen or so children gathered could read. We saw them lead their peers (and even the adults). Any one of these kids could lead Haiti someday.
I spent four years working for World Vision, so I know firsthand how important youth empowerment is to them. Now I can say I’ve seen it… and the difference it can make to a whole community.
(Also, the hands-down best meal I had on this trip was in that rural community.)
I’m still processing my experience in Haiti. For now, I’m reminded once more that poverty and injustice are complicated, messy affairs. But we shouldn’t forget: they’re not the only narrative that defines a place like Haiti. Not by a long shot. There is hope and resilience there. True, there are aid efforts which have sometimes gone wrong, efforts which are incomplete… and others that have reaped huge benefits for the people of Haiti.
I wish I’d had more than 48 hours, but it was long enough to leave an indelible mark.
What experiences have shaped your understanding of poverty and injustice?
To learn more about World Vision’s work in Haiti and get involved, go here.