Straight Out of Haiti (and the DR) and home in Dallas, I'm spending this Sunday morning reflecting on my recent travels. I sincerely enjoyed my time in Haiti and hope to venture back in the future. This was an eye opening experience and I would love to share some of my observations and how I believe we can help from a far.
Haiti will break you in the most beautiful way. The Haitian people are welcoming, kind, and have an amazing culture. Despite what the American media might tell you the Haitians are some of the most hardworking, resourceful individuals I have ever met. In a sense there are entrepreneurs on every corner of the street: selling donated American clothes, selling shoes, selling paintings, selling fresh fruit, or anything they can get their hands on. I was impressed by their dedication and willingness to work because so much of what the media has imposed on us is that there are no opportunities in Haiti. However, these hardworking Haitians are trying to create opportunity for themselves. During our time we met one amazing woman who took apart rice sacks piece by piece in order to reuse the materials to make and sell rope.
While the Haitian market might be oversaturated with some of the same goods, we can help drive their economy. Yes, you can help Haiti without moving from your computer. One of the ways we can help from a far is by supporting organizations that are creating sustainable solutions through employment.
Support Sustainable Economic Solutions
Social enterprises such as Rebuild Globally, Enersa, Haiti Design Co., and Papillon Enterprise are providing much more than just a job. They equip Haitians with the ability to financially support their families, therefore, causing a chain reaction and lifting more people out of poverty. A lot of these organizations host classes for their employees on managing money, education, and health. Haiti Design Co. hosts regular roof top gatherings encouraging employees to exercise and take pride in their health. Rebuild Globally stresses the importance of education to their employees. Papillon Enterprise provides free day care for the employees of their children to allow parents to work.
As consumers it is our responsibility to use our dollar wisely. If we can use our consumer power to increase Haitian product demand, this will allow Haitian social enterprises to hire more people, expanding their economic impact. It is summer, when you're shopping for sandals I encourage you to check out Rebuild Globally. Changing a simple shopping habit such as coffee could change lives. Think about it, how often do you buy coffee? By switching to a Haitian brand of coffee, such as Singing Rooster, your purchase could positively impact someones life through job creation. I am going to do my best to highlight more Haitian social enterprises. Stay tuned for upcoming features on Haiti Design Co. and Papillon Enterprise.
Our Western world ways are drastically impacting developing nations. It is heartbreaking to see popular American clothing brands lining the streets when Haiti has such a beautiful culture of its own. Our excess goods get dumped into these countries causing an excess amount of waste and erasing the traditional culture. FREE can damage developing economies. What if Haitians had the opportunity to make their own clothes? This would create a lot of jobs.
After observing organizations like Haiti Design Co. and Rebuild Globally, I noticed that Haitians take a lot of pride in their work. They are incredibly proud of the goods they create and anxious to share them with Americans. I think they would also be proud to wear apparel actually made in Haiti. I know this is possible because I purchased two Haitian made t-shirts while I was there. Imagine the demand for Haitian made apparel if our discarded clothes were not being given out for free. The increased demand would create a need for jobs in the Haitian apparel industry. Similar to what founder of Enersa, Alex Georges, experienced after the earthquake. George's solar panel street light business was doing fine until the earthquake hit. As countries started sending in free solar panels as relief, the demand for his product decreased and this Haitian owned business struggled for a period of time.
As Americans, it is time to rethink how we help. For part of our study abroad trip we visited the Clinton-Bush Initiative which is the perfect example that although we may be a more developed country, we don't always know what is best. The Clinton-Bush Initiative built apartments in Haiti as part of the earthquake relief...sounds nice right? However, the apartments are incredibly far away from ANY form of Haitian civilization. Most Haitian families do not have cars, living in a location in the middle of no-where is not practical. But the worst part is that our government did not even finish building the apartments. Who are we to come into their country and assume we know what they need? It is clear that the Haitians were not consulted on where this development should be built. We need to start asking communities what they need and understanding the problems before implementing solutions. As American citizens, we can make a difference by asking questions on a local level and hopefully encouraging those in office to further understand the importance of disaster relief long term consequences in developing countries.
Be Willing to Learn
While short term mission trips can be a controversial topic, I think they can be good exposure for Americans. Living in our American bubble, we sometimes go into developing nations with a mindset that we are going to drastically change their lives. Don't get me wrong, cooking a meal or building a house for someone in need is wonderful and CAN positively impact a family's life, but it can also impact those who built the house or cooked the meal. In a situation like this there is so much to be learned. My classmates and I had an advantage being on a study abroad trip, we went specifically to learn.
The willingness to learn refers back to the previous point, ask questions. Ask questions about the culture, the poverty, and your own life. One of my biggest struggles on this trip was knowing that I was going to leave. I was going to go home two weeks later to hot showers, air conditioning, and running water. This made me question everything.
Why am I blessed with opportunity while these people struggle? Why are the Haitians happy with so little and Americans are constantly searching for happiness?
Question everything and don't assume that the media has it all right. Trust me, there is much more to Haiti than you will ever see on the news. Haiti is beautiful and there is a lot of hope. There are people who want to learn and work, but the media likes to scare us. For example, the media has made us all aware of the trash and horrifying water conditions in Haiti. Personally, I think if they really wanted to terrify the American people they'd show a video of Haitian traffic. Let me tell you, you have not experienced true fear until you have sat in a stick shift, diesel school bus in the middle of a four way Haitian "stop." There are no stop lights, roads are pretty much nonexistent, stop signs don't mean anything, pretty much the only organization is driving on the left or right side of the street.
All this to say that I am still processing everything that I saw. There are still a lot of questions tossing around in my head, but I'm here to tell you I learned so much more from the Haitians than they could ever learn from me. I think my favorite part of Haiti was all the smiles. These beautiful smiles taught me to be grateful for what I have, never stop learning, and to do what I can to help! I encourage you all to do the same.
If you are interested in learning more feel free to reach out to me. I encourage you ALL to watch the documentary Poverty Inc. This can be found on Netflix or Amazon and will change the way you see poverty.