We landed in the capital of Port-au-Prince, a very crowded, congested, and dirty city crammed with more than 10% of the population. The roads are packed with cars and people. Every road, every side street, every available space is filled with Haitians selling anything they can get their hands on. From sugarcane and local fruit to clothing, electronics, and even cell phones (but of course).
I’ve been to Taiwan, mainland China, Central Europe, Costa Rica, and many other third and second world countries so I was pretty accustomed to the desire to survive by any means possible; especially in the urban setting. What I did not expect was to see this prevalent throughout the rest of the country including rural villages that do not even have running water or electricity.
We were welcomed with open arms and much joy. We were the first “outsiders” to ever visit their village with the intent to stay and complete any type of project for them. After appropriate greetings and a quick tent set-up, we began our work immediately.
One of the biggest challenges was simply getting the material to the site. The village and its school are located at the top of a hill. From the sea, it’s about a 300 yard, 70° degree vertical climb so anything that comes in by boat (which was everything except the water) needed to be hauled up this rocky slope. The water was located about a quarter mile down the other side of the hill and the only way to get it was to hand carry it by bucket. I had the pleasure of taking a few trips for water myself… trudging up the hill while balancing a full bucket of water on my head. It was extremely challenging and my core, legs, and neck have never worked harder.
Haitian men love to work. We saw this with our own eyes because every local man came out with such a hunger to work. Their will and gratitude to help far outweighed their lack of education, leadership, and proper resources. I truly enjoyed teaching them each basic detail on construction. For example, we taught them that mixing cement with sand is a bad idea. We also enlightened them that mixing cement with brackish water is not a wise idea; they simply didn’t know. At some points, however, we got low on material and had to substitute proper materials with sand and brackish water. When I commented to our local Haitian guide Marc Alain that this wasn’t the proper way to mix cement he replied with, “in Haiti, we do what we can do.”
This comment really struck me. It was simple and elegant in its own way and reminded me of all the people I observed on the streets of Port-au-Prince and all along the road to the village. They all are just “doing what they can do” and at this stage, the most they know how to do is sell whatever they can get their hands on. Some Haitians are farmers, some are teachers and some are businessman; but for the most part they a looking for something to do and something to sell. Most of the population is unemployed or underemployed so when you can’t find a sustainable job, your only option is to hustle.
Even as we completed our work and were just about to take off, we were pitched on stories like, “If I only had a machete, I could go to work in the sugarcane fields” or “If I only had $5 US dollars I could afford to go to the capital to seek full time work.” We, of course, gave them what little money we had on us in hopes that they would use the funds as a leg-up to better themselves. I suspect most will.
As we traveled back to our home base in Gressier and eventually home, I continued to observe the Haitian desire to “do what they can do.” I thought to myself that this is a country just ripe for commerce. They have a strong workforce that has a massive desire to work and prosper. Keep in mind that 53% of their population is under the age of 15 years old. They have a ton of potential for export between sugarcane, mangos, avocados, etc. If they really were inclined, turning all that sugarcane into ethanol could really make that country standout. And let’s not forget the opportunity for tourism considering their location in the Caribbean and beautiful beaches. What they lack is leadership, education, and proper resources but not the will to make it happen!
We put men on the moon because we thought we could. We invented the Internet because it seemed like something we could achieve. Tesla invited the first all electric sports car because someone had the idea that they could and it’d be super cool. Doesn’t the majority of America wake up every Monday morning and give it all they got? Aren’t we all just trying to make a living, trying to make a buck?
So what’s the cultural divide? Is there one? There doesn’t seem to be one to me. Americans “do what they can do” with the resources they have on hand. Haitians do the same as well. The difference is the resources available (although they are rich in agricultural resources) and the knowledge/leadership to do something about it.
In my opinion, Haiti is the next best place for Foreign Direct Investment. It’s the next best place for Americans to invest with a relatively rapid return on investment. Their government has gotten stronger with the election of President Michel Martelly and the influence of America is visually and structurally apparent. What they need is textile factories, produce facilities and other emerging world industries to take a hard look at this country that only lays a mere 2 hour flight from Miami, Florida.
But don’t take my word for it; here are some other sites that agree:
Overall, my trip to Haiti was an amazing experience and I am excited to see what the future holds for this Caribbean country. We were not the only group flying in that first day (I saw at least 3 other groups getting picked up at the airport that first morning). I am sure this will not be my last trip there as well.
We did well, asked for nothing in return and made a HUGH impact on every soul we touched. We went there is serve, to love, and to give whole-heartedly and so we did. I feel blessed to have gone and make a difference.
Below, please see a complete slide show of all the pictures taken throughout the one week excursion – unedited.