After what ended up being an absolutely wonderful summer, I recently left Los Angeles for Paris, where I will be spending my fall semester studying abroad. To stay up to date on my journey in France, take a look at my new blog!
Today marks one week since we first found out that our DukeEngage program in Haiti was cut short, and we’d be returning to the United States a month early.
I feel as if I left a part of me in that small country on the Caribbean. And no, I’m not talking about my favorite white shirt that I somehow managed to lose somewhere in the nooks and crannies of the guest house. I mean I genuinely feel like something is missing within me. I’ve been home for a few days now, and it still doesn’t feel right. As soon as I arrived home I burst in to tears, and I had to gently explain to my parents that I wasn’t upset to be seeing them, I was upset that I had to leave Haiti early. I’ve spent the last few days trying to force my body clock to return to normal (I slept from 9pm to 5am the first night home) and making phone calls to DukeEngage and Duke Global Health Institute to figure out my plans for the rest of the summer. I’ve decided that I will be developing a DukeEngage Independent Project next summer. And that means I really need to start the job search pretty soon, but I’m still too exhausted to do that just yet.
Adjusting to life back home is a challenge, to say the least. Although I will admit, it is nice to finally not be sweating and dehydrated all the time. But, traveling to a third world country really brings perspective to so many things that we take for granted every day. Every time I open my refrigerator or take a sip of clean water or have leftover food on my plate, I try to remind myself not to take that for granted. That there are people in this world, some of whom I just met less than two weeks ago, who may never have such a privilege. And so now I want, more than anything, to try to find a way to help those people get those things for themselves.
Now that I’m home, for the first time I’m finding myself grappling to answer questions like “What exactly is Global Health?” and “Why are you so interested in working in developing countries?” These are questions to which I had never formed explicit, concrete answers. They just seemed obvious to me. Even further, I’m questioning what exactly it is I want to do moving forward. Finding an internship for a public health organization might be the first step, but I have to think more long-term. I can read every Paul Farmer book every written, I can call every Duke alumni or email every connection I have to Haiti or to global health (including the director general of FAES, a Haitian government organization, whom I met on the plane to Miami). I can start planning my senior thesis or even start looking at the G.R.E. or at possible graduate schools. But as of now, all that matters is going back. I need to find an NGO or government organization that I can partner with for my DukeEngage Independent Project, that will allow me to go back to Haiti for the summer while simultaneously fulfilling my Public Policy internship. It’s a huge undertaking, but as of now it’s one of my top priorities.
What I’m interested in studying is the social determinants of health – factors such as poverty, gender inequality, ethnicity, geographic location, religion, etc. that influence an individual’s health and access to medical services. I’m also interested in the role of the public sector and government-supported services in the development of a nation, particularly in its recovery from complex humanitarian emergencies like earthquakes, genocide, or disease outbreaks. We’re constantly talking about the importance of infrastructure in a country’s development, and Haiti’s lack of government support and infrastructure being a major reason for their inability to support themselves. In Paul Farmer’s book Haiti After the Earthquake, he writes that Rwanda was able to recover from the destruction caused by the 1994 genocide in a remarkable way, simply because there were government programs that supported the rebuilding efforts. In Haiti, widespread corruption, political instability, and lack of education has prevented the government from rising to the level it should be at. But really, the key to a successful recovery is a strong public sector, and government-sponsored services like health care, education, employment, and industry.
This is just one of dozens of concepts and ideas that I would love to research and learn more about. Maybe after reading more books on Haiti, after taking more classes in Global Health and learning about NGOs in the developing world, and after speaking with Duke professors or other contacts, I will have a better grasp of what I may be doing in the next few years. I may actually be able to give honest, explicit answers to the questions that continue to stump me.
I’ve finally gone through all my photos from the trip and uploaded them on to Flickr. Here is the link, enjoy!
I’m sorry that I haven’t written in so long. Unfortunately, there’s been a change of plans, and DukeEngage Haiti has been cut short. The eight of us are packing our bags and flying out of Port au Prince tomorrow morning. I’ll be back in LA by 6pm tomorrow. Long story short, our in-country program coordinator, Ric, no longer works for Family Health Ministries. The executive director of FHM was unable to find a replacement on such short notice, so instead of keeping us here with no authority figure, DukeEngage and FHM decided to pull the plug. We’re all extremely disappointed – not only was our 9 week trip cut down to just 4 weeks, we also all have to find something to do for the rest of the summer. DukeEngage is offering options, but I’m sure none will be as perfect as this program was.
I can’t even put into words how upset I am that I’m coming home. Although I loved the month that I spent here, I had prepared myself to be here much longer. I still don’t feel like I was able to truly experience Haiti. I still have so much to do, to see, to learn.
At this point, I’ve had time to accept that I’m going home and that there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’ve grieved and I’ve moved on. Now I just need to remind myself of all the incredible things I did here, how much I learned, and how much I’ve grown as a person.
We spent the last three days in a city called Jacmel, on the south coast of the island. It was a really fun trip, a welcomed change of pace from the past few weeks in the guest house at Leogane. Definitely the best way to be ending our journey in Haiti. We drove up through the mountains, past Fondwa, and into the beach city of Jacmel. We stayed in a resort called the Cyvadier, which has to be one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen before. It overlooked the ocean, with tropical trees everywhere and a small path down to a private cove with huge rocks and beautiful tan sand. On Monday, we spent the day swimming in the ocean and in the pool at the hotel.
On Tuesday, we went to a place called Bassin Bleu. We got there by first riding the van for about 20 minutes, hopping out and then hopping on to motos. With two of us riding on each moto, we zoomed through the streets of Jacmel and up a dirt road. It was like our own little Haitian motorcade, complete with 7 motos and a Haitian flag at the front. We rode across a river (well, mostly walked across it), up hills, over rocks, and around twists and turns until we reached the end of the road, where we got off our motos and hiked for a half hour. I love hiking at home, but this was better than any hiking trail in the Palisades. We climbed up hills, crossed over rivers, and even rappelled down a rock using a rope! Finally at the end of our hike, we reached Bassin Bleu, which is a cove with a waterfall and towering mountains all around. It was absolutely breathtaking, with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We swam in the cove, jumped off the waterfall, and took plenty of pictures. We laid out on the rocks in the sun, ate crackers and cheese for lunch, and cooled off by diving in the refreshing water. It was quite literally paradise.
After a few hours at the cove, we hiked and took the motos back to the Cyvadier, where we spent the rest of the day swimming in the ocean and buying souvenirs from a woman on the beach. This morning, we went to the art district of Jacmel where we saw some incredible art galleries and bought some more souvenirs, like paintings and jewelry and small Haitian statues. Then we drove up to Fondwa, the village on the mountains where FHM has a clinic and another guest house, and we ate lunch up there. Driving back down through the mountains, seeing the stunning views of the valley and the same rolling green mountains that I saw out the window of the airplane just four weeks ago, feeling the warm Caribbean air coming in through the windows of the van, passing by the small stone houses and lonely soccer fields dotting the hillsides, and sitting in a van full of seven individuals whom I have grown to know and love over the past month – it’s still so hard to believe that I’m leaving this country tomorrow. It has felt more like a vacation than anything else.
Now we’re back at the guest house in Leogane. We’ve packed up all of our stuff, leaving behind our half-used shampoo and half-consumed snacks and all our other belongings that we brought two months’ worth of but only used for a month. The room is silent, as we all stare into our computer screens, still at a loss for words after finding out just two nights ago that our program was cut short. We’re waking up at 5am tomorrow morning to drive into Port au Prince and get dropped off at the airport. We can’t leave the house right now, since we have no one to come with us to make sure we’re safe.
Even just a few more days. Just a few more days to be able to walk into Leogane, to do a couple more surveys, to take some more photos. Just a few more days to go salsa dancing one more time, to play soccer with the kids across the street, to run around in the rain. A few more days to enjoy Yvette’s cooking, to hang out with the guards, to ride Samuel’s moto around the town. I had mentally prepared myself to be spending 5 more weeks here. When I said bye to my parents and friends back home, I said bye for 9 weeks, not for one month. Every time I went out into the village or conducted a survey, I knew that I’d be doing it dozens more times. I hadn’t even bothered to take many pictures out in Leogane, because I knew I’d have ample opportunities to do so. But now everything is different. Now when I greet someone by saying “bonjou” or when I see a Digicel sign or when I hear a cow mooing across the road, I know it will be one of the last times that happens. I hate things ending. It’s always been this way. I hate saying goodbye, and I hate knowing that I’m doing something for the very last time. But it’s even worse when it’s so sudden, when that ending is premature.
At the hotel last night, the owner of the resort came up to our table to introduce himself and to talk to our group. When he asked if we are enjoying Haiti and we responded with a resounding yes, he said, “be careful, it’s a disease. If you get this country stuck in your heart, it will never go away.” I laughed when he said it, but he was so right. Even though I’ve only been here for four weeks, I still feel like Haiti has become a part of me. I’ve started a chapter of my life that’s ending early, but I fully intend to return to it and finish writing. I’ll come back to Haiti, I know I will. Either next summer, or maybe after I graduate – I’ll be back. When I walk through the streets and see people riding motos, selling mangos, or speaking in Creole, it feels right. I feel like I should be here. I’ve traveled across the world with my family, I’ve been to Greece and Costa Rica and even to Israel, but never before have I felt such a strong connection to a people, a culture, or a country. It’s unfortunate that this experience is being cut short, but I’m so beyond grateful that it happened in the first place.
Now I have the daunting task of finding something to keep me occupied for the remaining 5+ weeks of the summer. I still have to talk to Duke to find out whether or not this trip will count to fulfill my Global Health field work requirement. Ideally, I’d be able to find an internship or research opportunity related to global health or something of the sort, either in the United States or somewhere abroad. So if anyone has any contacts or recommendations, I’d be ever so grateful if you could send them my way!
I’d like to post again sometime in the next few days, not to grieve that I had to leave but to celebrate the incredible experiences that I’ve had here. Right now, I think I need to take full advantage of the fact that I am still in Haiti. I’m going to spend time with our staff, swing on our homemade tire swing, and appreciate my last few hours in this country. I will upload and post all of my photos as soon as I get home, so stay tuned for those. Thank you so much for following my blog during this adventure, it has been an absolute pleasure to write about this life-changing experience in Haiti!
The other day, as we were walking through a rural area of Leogane to begin our fieldwork, we heard music and singing coming from across the river next to us. We crossed one of the makeshift wood bridges until we entered an outdoor courtyard where we had just conducted a survey a few days before. Our translator, Nini, told us that the singing was coming from a small church located in the courtyard, which was holding Wednesday morning services. The building opened up at the back of the pews, so we went in and joined the festivities, dancing and waving our arms around for almost 30 minutes. It was so much fun! I joked that if church services were like that at home, I’d be there every Sunday. After the song was over, our translator went to the front of the church to introduce our group and encourage everyone to say hello to us when they see us around town. The situation became slightly awkward when she asked the four of us if we are Christian, and three of us said that we are not, and she asked us if we want to accept Jesus into our lives right then and there. After politely declining, we thanked the congregation for allowing us to come to their services, and we left to continue our fieldwork.
Every day, I’m loving our research more and more. It’s hard not to become emotionally attached to some of our research subjects. They reveal so much about themselves, about their lives and their emotions. Often they open their homes up to us, and allow us to spend time with their family and friends. Sometimes I find myself being reluctant to finish our surveys. Yesterday, it started pouring while we were in the middle of an interview with two young men outside one of their homes. We all rushed inside the house to escape the downpour, and completed our interview while listening to the rain beat down on the tin roof. When we finished, it was still pouring, so we sat and talked to the two men for around 20 minutes. It was like a scene out of a movie – the seven of us huddled in a one room home surrounded by tropical mango trees, sitting on plastic chairs with Martha holding a small boy on her lap, answering questions about our lives and our work and whether or not we are married.
This country is becoming more enjoyable as I become more familiar with the language. I’m getting better at writing down the responses to the survey before Nini even translates them. And yesterday, I went on a Haitian radio show! I left the house in the morning with Ric and we went over to a small building in the middle of the town, where a man we had met before hosts a radio show from 8am to 9am every morning. I had already prepared my translation for “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce, so after introducing myself using the microphone, we then played the song and I translated each line! I did half of it in Creole and half in French. After we finished the song, Kenyo (the host of the show) asked me a few questions in French about the song and about Beyonce, and we had about a 20 minute conversation in both French and in Creole! It was great to able to talk about how much I love Beyonce to an audience of potentially a few hundred people. I’ll include the translated lyrics down below!
Every day, I am more and more in awe of this country and its people. I really try to make en effort to get to know all the individuals we meet, whether they are visitors of the guest house, friends of our staff, or even the mechanic who comes to fix the generator every once in a while. Last night we went on a walk along a dirt path towards the mountains – which may not have been the best idea because it started to get dark and we didn’t have flashlights – but we were coming back right as the sun was setting. Seeing the blues and yellows, the oranges and reds of the sunset extending above the mountains and the sugar cane fields, reflecting off the puddles from the rain scattered along the mud path, was absolutely breathtaking. Wow, I thought, this really is Haiti.
Things are changing here at the guest house. Every day we are reminded that being here is a challenge, and today was yet another reminder of that. I’ll update when I have more information.
Here’s the link to some photos that were taken by the Duke Global Health Institute communications representative who came to visit last week: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dghi/
“Si m’ te yon gason” by Beyonce
Si m’ te yon gason, menm jis pou yon jou
Mwen ta woule soti nan kabann nan maten an
M’ tap abiye jan m’ vle
M’ tap ale bwè byè ak neg yo
M’ tap ale chèche fi
M’ tap pose ak moun mwen vle
M’ pa tap janm gen pwoblem ak moun
Paske tout moun ap goumen pou mwen
Si m’ te yon gason, mwen panse m tap konprann
Ki jan li santi l pou renmen yon fi
Mwen fè sèman mwen tap yon pi bon gason
Mwen ta koute li, paske mwen konnen ki jan li fè m mal
Lè ou péri yon moun ke w renmen
Paske li rend li ingratitid
Epi detwi tout sa ou te genyen
Si j’étais un garçon, j’éteindrais mon portable
Dit à tout le monde qu’il s’est cassé
Donc ils penseraient que j’étais en train de dormir seul
Je me mettrais en premier, et ferais les règles à ma guise
Parce que je sais qu’elle serait fidèle
D’attend mon retour à la maison, de retour à la maison
Si j’étais un garçon, je pense que je pourrais comprendre
Comment il se sent d’aimer une fille
Je jure que je serais un meilleur homme
Je lui écouterais, parce que je sais comment il fait mal
Quand on perd quelqu’un qu’on aime
Parce qu’il te rend l’ingratitude
Et tout ce qu’on avait, a été détruit
C’est un peu trop tard pour que tu reviennes
Disons que c’est juste une erreur
Pense que je te pardonne comme ça
Si tu pensais que j’allais t’attendre
Tu pensais mal
Men, ou se jis yon gason
Ou pa konprann
Ki jan li santi l renmen ton fi
Yon jou ou ta renmen ou te yon neg pi bon
Ou pa koute li
Ou pa sousye de li kijan l’ap sufri
Jiskaske ou pédi yon moun ke ou renmen
Paske ou rend li ingratitid
Epi detwi tout sa ou te genyen
Men ou se jis yon gason
The days are starting to go by a lot faster. As of today, we’ve been here for 3 full weeks, we’ve been doing field work for 2 weeks, and we’ve collected over 30 surveys. We’re also starting to learn the strategies for survival in this country. Every day, we are reminded that living in Haiti is not a cake walk, that we can’t take anything for granted. And that includes electricity and running water at the guest house, decent weather, and, most importantly, good health.
I think the best thing we can do right now is get to know our bodies and recognize when we need a break. For the first few weeks I think some of us took our health for granted, but now we’re realizing that feeling strong and healthy is never a guarantee. Nausea, stomach pains, dizziness, or just plain sickness can hit you in a matter of minutes, and you never know when it’s coming. Almost all of us have had bouts of stomach problems, and Caroline, Martha and I just recently fell sick with a cold. Our cook, Yvette, thinks it’s because we played outside in the rain a few days ago, but I hope not because I love playing in the rain. Having sniffles and a sore throat back home is bad enough, but it’s even 10x worse when you’re living with 8 other people in close quarters and intense heat. So far nothing too bad has happened yet; when I start to feel myself getting sick I just take some Pepto Bismol or drink some water and usually I’ll feel better within a few hours.
Today we lost power for a majority of the day because of our dysfunctional generator. We were stuck without lights, refrigeration, chargers, and running water. I took my first bucket shower! We joked that we were finally being forced to live like real Haitians, after being spoiled for so long. Having no power is really not that bad – I entertained myself by sitting outside and reading – but with no fans or AC, the heat is really unbearable. If I tried to lay down in my bed, I’d quickly find myself in a pool of sweat. And with no cold water or breeze outside, it’s literally impossible to cool yourself down.
Another thing we’re learning is that two months is a long time. A lot longer than we had realized, especially when we have so much down time. I’ve been fine so far – the only time I’ve felt homesick was after seeing a photo of my family at my brother’s graduation on Sunday – but some people are starting to get the feeling that the next 6 weeks are going to be tough. It’s hard to believe we’re not even halfway through with the summer. It doesn’t help that we’re kinda stuck in the guest house with limited transportation. No more trips to the beach or up to the mountains until we get the van back, which won’t be until July. But I just keep reminding myself that in just a few weeks I’ll be wishing I could rewind time and go back to our first week.
We’re still finding ways to entertain ourselves and expose ourselves to Haitian culture. On Saturday, we walked to a rec center in the village, where we had dancing lessons and learned the bachata (a form of cha cha). It was a lot of fun! We’re hopefully going to start doing salsa lessons soon. We also rode a tap tap, which is the local form of public transportation. It’s essentially just a colorfully painted truck with an open back that people pile in to – not so good for those of us who are claustrophobic. Earlier today, my research group went the biggest outdoor market in Leogane. It definitely matched my image of Haiti, with rows of stands and people crowding all around, buying and selling everything from clothes and shoes to cell phone chargers to fruits and vegetables. The market was exciting but very overwhelming!
Sunday morning, we went to church services at an Episcopal church near Hopital Sainte Croix. It was quite an interesting experience, with worship and singing in French and Creole. We went to the front and gave a quick announcement to introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about why we’re here. Even though I didn’t understand any of the songs or prayers, going to church is definitely something that you have to do if you want to gain a better understanding of life in Haiti.
Haitian culture is not even close to what I had imagined. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Kind of how Creole is a mix of many different languages, Haitian culture is an amalgam of a variety of cultures around the world. It has some French influence, some western African/ tribal influence, and a lot of American influence. People have a very western style, wearing almost exclusively American brands. We’ve seen everything from Apple Bottom jeans to an Obama hat to a “Viva la Tri Delta” shirt. This morning we even saw a guy on a moto wearing a Duke Lacrosse shirt! We weren’t able to stop him to take a picture, though. There’s also not a specific style of music or dance – I’ve heard everything from Haitian hip hop to Spanish pop, and I’ve seen some salsa and some cha cha. To be honest, I had expected something different. I thought I’d be able to go into the village and see people selling handmade, tribal type skirts, jewelry, paintings, etc. My mom even asked me to bring her back some traditional Haitian souvenirs, but I haven’t yet figured out what exactly that means.
Although Haiti doesn’t have a specific style of dress or type of music, it definitely has some unique customs. For example, Haitians only say “bonjou” (hello, or good day) until around 11:30 AM. After that, they begin to say “bonswa,” which means good evening. It could be 5 minutes before noon and people will already be saying good evening to you! Another interesting greeting comes from a majority of the children we pass on the street. Somehow they’ve learned that the phrase “Hey you!” is the best way to get the attention of a foreigner. So as we’re walking down the road, if we pass by a school or a household full of kids, we are almost guaranteed to hear a chime of “Hey you!” or calls of “blan! blan!” It’s not the most endearing greeting (it’s actually pretty offensive, but I’m sure they don’t know that), but it has definitely caught on in this country. Ric says they learned it from the US Marines, who would call out “hey you!” to get someone’s attention. Another interesting strategy Haitians use to get someone’s attention is by making kissing noises. For a while I thought they were just doing that to us because we’re a group of 7 young girls, but then I realized they also sometimes do it to each other as well, if they’re passing by on a moto or trying to walk through a crowd. The endless honking on the motos is another common (and annoying!) occurrence.
Our Creole lessons are going well. We’ve already learned the past tense and the present progressive, and last night we learned the future tense, body parts, and a ton of new verbs. Mwen renmen aprann kreyòl. M’ ka pale byen! My group has also been trading off reading the consent forms to our research subjects, which are completely in Creole. They take us about 10 minutes to read but we’re definitely improving.. the Haitians can actually understand us! On Thursday, I’m going on a radio show and translating the lyrics to an American song. I worked on the translations a little bit today with one of our interpreters. I’ll let you know how that goes. Dako, pita!!
Here is the link to a blog post by one of my group members, Divya. She captured the essence of yesterday’s fieldwork better than I ever could:
There are so many thoughts going through my mind right now, so many things that I want to talk about, but I have no idea how to articulate any of it. I don’t even know where to start. Today was challenging for me, but perhaps the most valuable day I’ve experienced thus far. And it wasn’t because of anything I saw, it had nothing to do with any of our surveys or something I witnessed or heard on the streets of Leogane. It’s because of conversations that I had with members of my group. Interesting conversations, but challenging to say the least. So far, this summer has consisted of some of the most reflection and critical thinking I’ve ever done.
This morning when we went out for our fieldwork, we passed by a huge group of young students wearing their school uniforms. We stopped to talk to the kids, and a man standing outside asked if we wanted to see the school. Of course we said yes, thinking it would be a welcomed break from our long trek into the village. He made a phone call and another man came out, whom we had met before, who lives across the street and works for a missionary organization that runs an orphanage and five schools in Leogane, one of them being the one we were standing in front of. After giving us a tour, the man spoke to us for about an hour about his organization and the work that they’ve been doing in Haiti, as well as the dangers of doing aid work in a developing country. It was a conversation we have now had dozens of times, but this one really struck us. For the rest of the day, we couldn’t stop talking about it.
It’s not that this organization is not doing honorable work. It is. Their school is nice, the students and teachers seem to be happy, the tuition is free and a meal is provided every day. But something about the man’s description of their work left me feeling uneasy. It seems like every single American we’ve spoken to in this country knows exactly how a nonprofit should operate to be most effective. It seems like everyone knows best. Get to know the Haitian people, learn what they need, and work with them to provide it. I can’t even emphasize how many times we have heard that. So then it seems strange to me that this is such a prevalent problem. And that so many organizations come in with the intention to stay for an extended period, but end up leaving early. It seems like everyone thinks they know best, when really no one does. So what’s the solution? Where do you start?
There are so many conversations to be had on this topic. The four of us in my group literally talked for hours today, about the work of these NGOs and the connection to business and politics and economics, about why exactly we decided to come to Haiti and what we hope to accomplish here and gain from our experience, about the ultimate purpose and impact of our research project and whether it’s the real reason we applied to this program. We also talked a lot about how lucky we are that Duke has such a progressive and forward-thinking program like the Global Health Institute, with professors that know all about the ethical dilemmas of aid work and can help us find the answers to these questions, but how that makes it easy for us to become jaded or to be extremely disappointed when we leave our university and realize that most people do not have a similar background in global health.
We also discussed the connection between aid work in developing countries and religion. The man that we spoke to today said that he believes the only people who can truly have an impact are people who live here and know the people well, which are missionaries (but that confused me – I would think that the only people who really understand the community and the population are Haitians themselves). Before coming to Haiti, I didn’t even have a clue that there was a link between religion and development work in impoverished countries. But now that I’m here, I see it every single day. We have yet to be introduced to an American organization that has no affiliation with Christianity – including Family Health Ministries. But since religion has never been a part of my life, I struggle to understand the importance of faith in this type of work. Why does Christianity play such a major role in the work of aid organizations? What does it say about me as an individual that I am here, in Haiti, not because I believe I am doing the work of G-d or because I have a duty to do charitable work, but because I am genuinely interested in learning about these people and experiencing this country firsthand? Religion is obviously a valuable tool for garnering widespread support for a nonprofit organization, both in the U.S. and in Haiti, but is it absolutely necessary for an organization to function and be effective? Does the belief that you are doing the work of G-d help the process or hinder it?
I said it already, but I’ll say it again. There are so many conversations to be had. So many dilemmas. So many conflicting emotions, so many thoughts I can’t begin to articulate so I won’t even try. I wish someone could just sit me down and tell me what to think. But the fact is, that’s impossible. The fact is, most people who start NGOs don’t even know where to begin. But something has to be done, so they end up being forced to choose a strategy. And more often than not, that strategy is not a good one, as we can see every day when we walk through the streets of Leogane and see the half-finished buildings and the number of people who don’t have any source of income. I just wish there were a way that we could contribute to this search for the solution. I wish I could walk through the streets of Haiti without feeling like just being here is doing more harm than good. And I’m sure that this feeling will subside in time, as I continue to study global health and ethics, I talk to advisors and professors about my concerns, and I eventually find a job in this field, either on the policy side or for an actual nonprofit. But there’s only so much that can be done in one summer.
Ultimately, the root of Haiti’s problems lies deeper than its schools, the trash on the streets, and its lack of access to clean water. It lies in the infrastructure, the economy, the country’s resources. It reaches all the way back into the government and the politics, the corruption and the inefficiency. NGOs can do a great deal of help by building schools and churches, employing Haitian people, and stimulating the economy, but there’s only so much that they can do. Haiti simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to provide education and health care, the ability to produce and export goods and thus improve the economy, or the political power to influence other nations. Which again begs the question: what can be done? And where do we start?
I said in my last post that we should not feel bad for the Haitian people, and we should not think of them as miserable people. But that does not mean we cannot be sad. I am sad every day when I hear the stories of the people we meet – a 22 year-old boy whose father beat him and his mother every day and who has both witnessed and survived multiple assaults; a 65 year-old woman who has resorted to stuffing tobacco in her nostrils to relieve the stress caused by the death of her brother and child; a 40 year-old grandmother who never went to school and can only sign a consent form with an “X.” I can spend months, even years in this country, but I will never know what it is like to live here. I will never know what it is like to be Haitian. So no, I can not pity the Haitian people, but nor can I romanticize their poverty and misfortune. They may be a resilient, happy people, but they are still poor. They suffer every day. They have lost children, parents, siblings; they have narrowly escaped death; they have had to sacrifice a day’s worth of food in order to clean their school uniforms or pay for a trip to the hospital. They struggle more than I will ever comprehend. And I think it’s okay if that makes me feel sad.