Even before January 12, the media’s description of Haiti usually always included the following words: poverty, war, corruption, militias, violence.
But a country is more than its reputation. At least that’s what I found when I went to this beautiful semi-tropical, Caribbean isle. This country of 8 million is very diverse in culture, food and landscape.
Port au Prince Only One Part of Haiti
The negative images most people have of Haiti usually come from its capital city of Port au Prince. The city has the trappings of urban centers found in many developing countries: acres of concrete, exposed rebar, unpaved roads, crowded streets, out of control traffic and lots of yelling for seemingly no reason. But just three hours west, away from all this hustle and bustle is the city of Miragoane.
The Future of Haiti Is Written in Its Name
Haiti is an Indian word for mountains (the indigenous population of Haiti is believed to be from the Arawak ancestry), and you have to get out of the city to experience their beauty in places like Miragone. Nearly untouched by the earthquake but still steeped in economic woes, this sleepy sea-side hamlet offers a beautiful alternative to the chaos that reigns in Port au Prince right now. It’s beautiful Caribbean Sea views, colonial-style cobblestone, hilly streets and quaint road side vendors offer a plethora of eye candy and peaceful satisfaction. Just north of here, on what’s called the top of the mountain, Gladys Thomas, the Haitian-born director of the Fondation Pour Les Enfants d’Haiti (FEH) has a dream for a better Haiti.
Her dream seems impossible: an educational fortress complete with a technical university to rival MIT that would take the thousands of forgotten children in Haiti on a rigorous educational journey from learning their ABC’s to becoming college educated adults, engineers, professors, doctors, civil servants, who would rebuild Haiti instead of the often dream-killing dependence on the kindness and power of strangers. As Gladys stood on that mountain top, surrounded by clumps of fire red dirt, the grass-covered emptiness evaporated and was replaced with visions of circular driveways, bustling campus centers, glass-encased libraries and student-filled lecture halls.
Finding Haiti’s Future in Haitians
A volume of books to fill 10 libraries have been written about Haiti’s suicidal dependence upon aid. I won’t go into all that now, that’s a subject for another time. But in a country where 95% of the people are employed in the so-called underground economy, a 50% employment rate and only 4% percent of the population owns 66% of the wealth, (stats gleaned from Why Foreign Aid in Haiti Failed) it’s clear that free rice, beans and even homes aren’t going to cure what ails Haiti. One possible solution is the dream of one Haitian woman. A dream so big that it begins within something small – Haiti’s children.