Why Haiti?

Labadee copyBy Rebecca Obounou

Recently during a conversation with a coach I shared the work that CHES is doing in Haiti. I also shared the challenges that we are encountering in attracting the right people to the work that we are doing. She asked me a great question that I realized that I’ve never really answer when I pitch what we do in CHES. I never really answer the question “Why Haiti?” when I answer “Why CHES?”

“‘Why should anyone be interested in Haiti when there are so many other regions in the world in need?’ ‘Why Haiti when there is little stability?’ ‘Why Haiti, didn’t the country already receive millions already after earthquake? Where is all that money?'”

Since the 2010 earthquake, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Haiti grew in 2013 and 2014 4.3% and 3.8% respectively. Rice production in Haiti grew by 18% between 2012 and 2014. Of the 1.5 million people that were homeless and living in tents, ~ 98% have moved into homes. The country has become one of the safest countries in the Caribbean due to the educational, facilities and equipment investments in the police force. The government has also been implementing an aggressive plan to expand tourism in Haiti that has resulted in a number of things. There are now 5 airports in Haiti, two international airports (Port-au-Prince, the capital, and Cap-Haitien).  The airline companies flying into Haiti have expanded from solely American Airlines to Delta and JetBlue airlines. Major hotel chains have expanded into Haiti including the Marriott, and Best Western.  Local hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns are offered on major search travel engines such as Expedia. Expedia has reported a surge in demand for Haiti in 2014. Much of this progress is due to national leaders, and the people of Haiti who live both inside and outside of the country. Large nonprofits and partner government agencies such as USAID have also played a role in Haiti’s progress.

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Haiti has made progress but there is still a long road ahead. One might wonder why this road is so long. It’s worth taking a look at Haiti’s past. We cover a bit of the country’s rich history in our website but there is so much that the world doesn’t know about how Haiti’s natural resources have been repeatedly plundered and the society repeatedly oppressed by foreigners and Haitians of power. Many people have heard the part about Haiti’s history where the country became the first independent black nation – black who were before French owned slaves – in the Western Hemisphere. However, not many have heard about the other injustices that the country has survived since they won and purchased their freedom in 1804. The book, Uses of Haiti written by Dr. Paul Farmer is an informative source to get a greater understanding of the obstacles Haitians have faced.

Haitians survived past government leaders colluding with foreign governments – US government, unfortunately, a major perpetrator- to destroy its natural resources and to depress its agricultural industry, an industry that holds 65% of the nation’s jobs. Haitians have continued to survive despite having to pay the French government billions in US dollars for its freedom from 1804 into the 21st century. Dominican Republic remains one of the largest foreign exporters to Haiti but abuse and mistreatment of Haitians on its soil continues to this day. Haitians continue to press on with spirit despite a major economic gaps devised by the design of the educational system years ago which the Haitian government is now redesigning.

Haiti has been hit by many natural disasters, namely deadly hurricanes but the world now remembers the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, that killed well over 200,000 people and destroyed so much of the few systems that were in place. There were over 13 billion dollars earmarked for Haiti for  emergency and long-term disaster relief efforts. Only half of those funds have been released to date and they have been funneled largely through foreign large aid organizations and foreign contracted. The Haitian government and the local organizations have received a small percentage of the ~$7 billion that have been spent on disaster recovery. Unfortunately, most of the funds have not had the reach and impact the world expected. Read more on this from the recent NBC News report. More can be found in the NPR & Propublica report found of the Red Cross’ questionable use of the $488 M raised for disaster relief in Haiti. Soon after, the nation was hit by a epidemic of Cholera that killed thousands due to the misconduct of United Nation soldiers.

The list of injustices and tragedies that have occurred in Haiti go on but that is not why one should consider Haiti. It is the people’s resilience despite of these things that one should consider Haiti. Most people have heard of only the negative portrayals of Haiti but I want to share with the world a new picture of the nation. One that is still full of beauty, resilience and inspiration. Haitians continue to pick-up the pieces and rebuild. A place with a people such as that makes the real question, “Why NOT Haiti?”



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