A journey to Haiti – learning about Haitians and ourselves
In June 2013, a group of Melton Fellows will pack their bags with their clothes, skills, and passions to travel to Haiti. Their destinations: Port-au-Prince and the rural Grand Boukan. Their intention: to collaborate with community projects and help to make a difference.
Lao Tzu said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and my project visit to Haiti were the first steps on Haitian soil, where I met with our collaborators and partners on the ground… and expanded my horizon.
Sa ou fe, se li ou we– “what you do is what you see” – is what they say in Haiti and thanks to the amazing people who received me and took me along with them, I was lucky enough to do as the locals do. That said, I’m not writing about the current situation in Haiti or what I as a blan think about Haitians. I simply want to open a little window into a world that is different from the world(s) I have known so far.
I had just two days, during which I visited Port-au-Prince, the busy and congested capital city as well as Grand Boukan, a rural community about two hours north of Port-au-Prince, which was the complete opposite. Port-au-Prince was a challenge: it’s a huge place and although more main roads have been paved since 2010, moving around the city was not easy, especially at nights with almost no street lamps around. (That is probably one of the main reasons why América Solidaria strictly forbids going out at night.) Of course locals know their way around and know where the many tap-taps go. Knowing some Creole helps, not only to get where you want but also to be able to express your gratitude.
Although not all services are reliable (e.g. cash machines may not work or gas stations may be out of gas), you can get almost everything in Port-au-Prince. It’s just a matter of money that you want to spend: International products in supermarkets tend to be very expensive, but you can get most things of every-day-life on the streets for just a fraction of the price.
Grand Boukan, a community about two hours outside of busy Port-au-Prince, is the complete opposite. Apart from the few motorcycles that taxi passengers from the main road to their houses, there isn’t any traffic at all. Life is happening at a very different pace and the rhythm of the sun is crucial to make the most of the daylight as possible. The scenery appears to be a little paradise, but every coin has its flip side. To make ends meet in rural Haiti one has to work very hard physically and the fact that most crops depend on the just the right amount of water during the rainy season makes survival a game of chance, year after year.
Our friend and supporter on the ground, Bony Placy says that Haitians are very keen on education. He was the one to initiate elementary education for the children in the community. For more than two years now, the community has run their own school and it was truly amazing to experience the pride not only in the children but also in the teachers to be a part of this. Most teachers are not formally trained, but they are passionate about their vocation – a passion that goes as far as accepting to work without pay for several months now, because there is just no money to pay them. To tackle this situation our partner organization Noumenm has launched a fundraising campaign to ensure that this school, one of the few opportunities to get elementary education in the area, can remain open
I could carry on and talk about many more great encounters, refreshing experiences, amazing people, enlightening insights, and surprising revelations, but there are so many things I came across in two days, and this is just the first post.
I’m glad we have embarked on that journey and can’t wait to do take the next steps.
Babay et jiska dès!
Bye and until soon