“How was your trip? Was it so hard? Was it sad?”
The amount of times that I have been asked this question upon my return from Haiti are too many to count. I understand the question. I understand the reason for the question. We see images in the media all the time depicting the tragedy of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the lives of families destroyed, the intense level of poverty and chaos.
I get it.
But my answer, without any pause or hesitation, is “No, actually it was remarkable. It was a lesson in resiliency and hope unlike any that I have seen before.”
There is AMAZING work being done in Haiti, to build capacity, to create sustainable progress, to foster self sufficiency. During our trip, we were lucky enough to be invited to visit the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) camp in Petionville. A camp that has turned a once golf course into a place of healing, a place of nurturing potential. A safe place that people can call home until they are ready to stand on their feet again.
This Haitian relief organization works towards one goal. And one goal only. Returning residents to their neighborhoods and community with skills, with education, with health, and with the knowledge that they are part of an interdependent community.
J/P HRO runs it’s own school for almost 500 children. It has 2 medical clinics in the neighborhoods bordering camp. where it has helped women give birth to over one thousand babies and help heal hundreds of thousands more sick Haitians. It has a livelihood program and Community House that provides small business training and vocational training. It has a relocation program that helps residents move back into the community! J/P HRO has been responsible for rubble removal and for redevelopment. But beyond all of the programs that are in place, walking into the camp, you know you are in a special place.
The fascinating (and wonderful) thing about this camp is that it is built out of emergency response but has evolved into a transitional community. Residents are not given handouts. Instead, residents of the camp J/P HRO manages, buy and sell goods from each other, creating a culture of self sufficiency instead of dependence. We saw examples of this as we walked through the camp. Painters with beautiful pieces of art for sale, a group of residents called the Hands Together Cooperative that have come together to make beaded jewelry from recycled materials, small tables set up with food items. There is even a little restaurant called “Mammy’s” where people can come together.
Walking through the camp I was struck by so much. By the faces of the boys playing soccer in an open area. By the children who said “Bon Soir” as we walked by. By the fact that the camp volunteers and staff are truly members of this community, embedded in the daily lives of the residents, knowing everyone by name. By the fact that we saw a large open space where tents once stood, symbolizing relocation and progress being made, row by row.
Then there was Stephalo Bijouterie. I am not even sure that words can adequately describe the impact of meeting Stephanie, one of the three girls that make up this group of young women, striving to be entrepreneurs so that they can pay for college. Speaking with the help of a translator, and my broken French, the passion and drive in this young woman’s eyes told the only store I needed to hear that day. The story of survival. The story of a dream. The story of taking charge of your own life, regardless of the barriers that stand in your way. They even have business cards that read “Pour une Haiti meillure et prospere.” (For a better and prosperous Haiti)
So no, visiting Haiti was not a sad trip. Intense yes. Remarkable yes. Life changing yes. But sad, no.
Visiting places like J/P HRO was magical. Certainly there are people whose stories are ones of sorrow and tragedy. Certainly there is evidence in the country still of the destruction created by the earthquake.
But the story of hope, of resiliency, of working towards a better tomorrow?
That is the my take away.
This trip was personally funded but I did receive a scholarship from Everywhere to help me defray some of my travel costs. All opinions are my own and based on my personal experience.