This is an excerpt from from Haiti trip notes/journal. I wrote it while sitting on a popup restaurant balcony, constructed just for the kick-off of Haiti’s carnival season. We were in Jacmel, which at one time was a thriving artist community. Despite the recent struggles, the creativity and artistic abilities were abundant.
Sloane Berrent, one of my fellow Haiti tripsters, got me thinking about the story of Haiti and what we want to convey to people back home. For me, it comes down to hope and resiliency.
Repeatedly, we heard Haitians ask us to help educate the rest of the world about what’s really going on here. It’s not just rubble and trash and fraud, despite what we see and read in the news.
- We visited Kofaviv, an organization empowering survivors of rape to recover and rebuild their lives. [We were told that prior to the earthquake, organizations estimated 75% of Haitian girls and women would be sexually assaulted during their lives. Since the earthquake, this number has drastically increased, reaching epidemic proportions] The survivors’ stories were heartbreaking. But, before we left, the girls gathered around Danica and braided her hair. Then, they sung a song and did a little dance. Despite the nightmares they’ve survived, at their core, they’re still teenage girls doing girly things — just like girls here in the US. When asked what they wish for, they mentioned a stable government, food, safety, peace. One girl mentioned that they appreciate seeing the support from visitors from other countries. Then, she asked us not to forget them.
- We met some of the Heart of Haiti artists who are starting their own small businesses. The income they receive from selling their work provides healthcare for their families and covers fees for their kids to go to school. They, too, want a hand in creating a better future.
- Driving around Port-au-Prince, we saw extreme devastation and poverty beyond what I could have ever imagined. But, we also saw kids playing games and laughing in the streets. We saw neighbors helping each other. And, we saw clean-up crews and recovery efforts underway.
- The last leg of the trip took us to Jacmel, where we attended the carnival kick-off. (See my CNN iReport, which includes photos and videos from Jacmel.) It’s like their version of Mardi Gras. Last year, the earthquake forced the cancellation of the festivities. This year, thousands of Jacmel residents took to the streets, singing, dancing, and celebrating their culture. The paper mache costumes donned during the parade were so detailed, colorful and full of life — the polar opposite of the despair and sadness that I mistakenly thought had taken over all of Haiti.
Throughout the country, so many positive activities are underway, including Heart of Haiti helping to provide sustainable income and Digital Democracy teaching grassroots groups to leverage technology to have a voice on the international stage. These groups (and many others) are critical partners in the effort to help Haitians rebuild their country and create a better future.
The spirit of Haiti is strong. And with help from Fairwinds CEO Willa Shalit and other forward-thinking leaders, as well as the ongoing support from people like us, Haiti can overcome, rebuild and become whole again.