‘Helping Haiti’, ‘Hope for Haiti’, and ‘Hearts for Haiti’ are the typical shirts you see on the plane ride from Miami to Port-au-Prince (PAP). I remember the t-shirt clad groups’ anxiety, excitement, and idealism, yet the truth is I did not feel any of those emotions on my inaugural flight to PauP. I think back and remember I was unsure of what was ahead but was calm because I knew that either way I was heading towards a life enriching experience.
Since my arrival three months ago I have had my share of tap tap rides, fritay, and people shouting ‘blan’, yet it still is an adventure each and every time. I don’t feel like I live in Haiti. The image that the world has of Haiti is one of orphaned children, tent cities, and rivers polluted with trash. Don’t get me wrong, all of those do exist but that is far from what Haiti really is. Haiti is a country with people that endure hardships yet continue appreciating life and family to the fullest. Haiti is a country with picturesque coastlines and forested mountain retreats. Haiti is a country with colorful art, dance inducing rhythms, and independent spirits.
Haiti is also a country that is receiving an enormous amount of international aid yet this aid is also strangling the country’s progress towards recovery. This includes the t-shirt clad groups that come for 1 to 2 weeks to volunteer at an orphanage or school. My role as the project manager of America Solidaria Haiti’s WASH project has made this point very salient and one that I keep in the forefront of all the project’s activities and strategic decisions. It has been a struggle at times because I have learned that the lack of strategic planning at the beginning of the project has put the project in danger of going down the same road as many other WASH projects that have failed in achieving what they set out to do for the Haitian community. Truly listening to the community members goes a long way in preventing that.
The one thing that I am most grateful for is that I see Haiti through different eyes than most of the outside world. This differing perspective will guide our project team when working with our community in Boutin, and ensure that our work is integrated into the community. I am not here to be the solution, but rather be a catalyst for the community to solve problems because at the end of the day the community members are the only people that create the change they want to see in their communities. When I leave and the next person takes over this post I want to know that with or without us, the community will still be able to work towards a solution that will deliver healthy water, healthy habits, and a healthy Boutin.
Volunteer Class March 2014 – America Solidaria U.S.