I was in Haiti three weeks ago, my first trip since the earthquake. While my brief glimpse was anything but comprehensive, I came away with a number promising indicators.
First, the smell. The first time I arrived in Haiti in 2000, my initial impression was the smell. And it was a constant impression. The stench came from a melding of garbage, open sewage, urine, perspiration, and burning everything – not exactly a recipe for a new Chanel fragrance.
In 2000, it hit me immediately upon stepping off the plane. This time, there was no such pungent odor. True, I got a whiff of it from time to time depending on where in the city I was, but it wasn’t pervasive as it was in the past.
Why? Maybe there are simply fewer people crowded into the city since the quake. I prefer to think that there has been some improvement in sanitation. There were a few indications of that being the case.
Second, there were far fewer signs of devastation than I expected. It seems as if most of the rubble has been removed. A lot of new construction is happening. The tent cities are still there in full force, I’m sad to say, but homes are being built.
Other things are being built as well. A factory for building homes was completed in the fall. A hotel near the airport had just been finished. Two new hotels are in the works.
People that I talked to were also encouraged by their new president. The legislative branch seems more interested in getting rid of the president than helping the country, but that’s nothing we aren’t familiar with in the US.
I saw working traffic lights. And people obeying them. That’s a huge step forward.
United is now flying to Port-au-Prince, a sign that there is increased travel happening.
I talked to several people who are involved in more long-term and meaningful projects. There are enough so-called orphanages supported by well-meaning people from outside the country. The folks I talked to are helping to promote local business, especially agriculture, creating jobs and hope. Until Haiti is able to export home grown products, they will always be dependent on the whims of more wealthy nations. Today, more effort is being put into plugging the holes in the sinking ship than just bailing the water out.
There is a sense that the people of Haiti are tired of being known merely as “the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.” They are that, but they are more. It is a beautiful Caribbean island populated by strong, friendly people. I met hard working men and women determined to get a quality education and make a decent living.
Haiti has a long (long, long) way to go, but they deserve our encouragement and support. America has contributed to putting them into their current situation. We need to take ownership of our culpability and do what we can to help them out of this mess.
They will do their part, I’m convinced. Let’s do ours.
(I refer you to www.servantsforhaiti.org for one way to contribute.)