Truth: we tire of news that is not headline grabbing. Our attention moves quickly away from that which lacks urgency, and that which lacks of tidy finality. My dear friend Diane England asked me to report on what is happening now in Haiti – now that we hear so much less in the news – now that the acute, dramatic emergency seems to have passed. How are things progressing? How are people surviving? What is it like now?
I have visited Haiti four times and only after the acute emergency of the earthquake had passed. The sentiments expressed in this post are solely my observations – and surely more reliable, less subjective references can offer a more accurate accounting of the progress. (Check these out for numbers and hard facts: http://www.clintonfoundation.org/our-work/clinton-foundation-haiti, http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/countries/haiti/) This is a statistics free look at what I have seen change over the three years that I have been coming to Haiti.
|Pazapa 2 years ago|
|Mural Project 2 years ago|
|Mural Project at Waterfront Now|
|Mosaic Sidewalk along the Waterfront|
Each time I return to Haiti I witness the results of more construction. On arrival this trip I was welcomed with joyous, Haitian music echoing boldly in a new airport terminal replete with a modern immigration area and updated baggage claim. Every step of my trip saw new building construction. In Jacmel, I walked on a new mosaic path along the shore and observed the expansion of the mosaic wall project I had seen two years ago. I worked in the CCH (Community Coalition for Haiti http://cchaiti.org) clinic building in two modern, bright, operating rooms. We visited Pazapa (a tremendous center for children with special needs in Jacmel) www.pazapa.org and saw the progress on their permanent home. Where once temporary shelters stood, construction is nearing completion on classrooms, offices, and a cafeteria. Back in Port-Au-Prince I stayed in a hotel (www.nh-hotels.com/NHHaitiElRancho) in Petionville that was as nice as some resorts I have stayed in in the US. I ate at a restaurant (Papaya) that would be right at home nestled in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. I saw fewer tents, though they are still there in ridiculous numbers. I saw less trash, though there is still plenty of rubble and litter. But in my mind, there is no doubt, that while building hotels, and restaurants, and schools for the disabled, Haiti is progressing and revitalizing.
2. Physical Exercise
Humor me; this is one of my “things” about being in countries less fortunate than ours. Think about it: if people, in numbers, have the time and energy to “work out” for recreation, something in your society is moving away from the fight or flight energy expenditures that are necessary in an acute trauma or disaster. If you can step away from using your energy for staying alive and keeping those you love alive, and actually spend some time “getting in shape” … well that just tells me you finally have some extra energy to burn and things are less dire and less stressful in your life. Again, my observations and opinions are NOT scientific but this was the FIRST time I saw Haitians exercising in Haiti! As we were walking the shoreline in Jacmel, I observed a man swimming in the ocean and then running out of the water to do push-ups in the sand. He would then jump back in the water and swim out past the breakers and repeat. I’ve never seen that in Haiti before – never. Driving through Port-au-Prince, we saw an outdoor cluster of metal gym equipment (identical to equipment I have seen – and played on - in Mongolia). All of the equipment was being used and a large group of people were waiting their turn. It was rush hour at the gym – and it made me smile. This was a people moving away from their posttraumatic stress and coming back to a more rich life.
|Workers at Project Stitch|
|Founders Dr. Joann Cherry and Scott Gillenwater|
award participants at Project Stitch graduation
3. Sustainable Industry
And finally, my last measure of progress and hope has to be the success of projects promoting homegrown, local, sustainable industry. Project Stitch (www.projectstitch.org) founded by a Dr. Joann Cherry and my friend Scott Gillenwater, teaches participants how to use sewing machines and tailor. Culling its participants from patients who have suffered spinal cord and amputation injuries, the project provides an underserved population with a vocational skill, an opportunity for employment, financial independence, and the consequent feelings of self-worth. The participants create ties, bags, school uniforms, curtains, tailored shirts … and they sell them to support themselves and their families. Scott shared the progress of this program with me – it has grown, and it will continue to grow providing opportunities for its participants to reintegrate and thrive in Haiti's evolving future. Industry like this, if supported by locals and visitors alike, will carry Haiti into a self-sustainable future.
So for Diane, my report is positive. I have a more substantial faith in Haiti’s recovery. Every time I return, I see more slow and steady progress. As I frame my goals for future visits, I look towards opportunities to teach local health care providers: doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, in order to foster self-sustainability. Please check out some of the organizations I have highlighted in this post and feel free to contact me if you are interested in helping in anyway.