Haiti is no country for old men

posted in: North America, Volunteering | 4

Update 5/5/2020

The average life expectancy in Italy is around 82 years, in the US is only slightly lower. In Haiti is around 64, the lowest of the entire American continent. Crossing the border to reach the other half of the island, the green Dominican Republic, gives you about 10 more years (source: wikipedia).
To get old in Haiti today is difficult because, as Alessandro Corallo* writes in his book, “In Haiti you are born last“.

Pinterest image for "Haiti is no country for old men": Close up of a child feet in rugged shoes, with a hand-made toy built with plastic a bottle and few caps

Impressions of someone passing by

Haiti is a beautiful country with great potentials, totally unused.

On the island everybody knows it. There’s been a lot of international aid arriving on the island, especially after the 2010 earthquake, but they can’t do much more than just scratch the surface of the issues of this country. They act on specific problems in a disjoint context with no social base able to react properly.

It’s like trying to bring water in the desert with a bucket. Even hundreds persons with hundreds buckets, or thousands persons with thousands buckets the desert would remain desert because there’s no ground to water but only dry and dead sand. It’s not possible to build on something that does not have the proper foundation.

A complicated tourism destination

It’s worth remembering that the other side of the island, the Dominican Republic, even though it’s certainly not a rich place, can attract and handle waves of tourists that recently made this sector one of the most profitable source of income in the country.

Tourism in Haiti would be possible, with the appropriate investments, because there are plenty of beautiful spots. I talked about places to visit on this Island in this post “Tourism off the beaten path: Haiti“.

The beaches and the Caribbean sea could be enough to raise foreigners interest, but it’s not the only attraction. Jacmel, on the south coast, it’s a beautiful colonial town built in the typical gingerbread architectonic style. Basin Blue, 3 crystal clear lakes connected by waterfalls in a green rain forest, is a touristic destination for the locals. Art and craft in coconuts and carved wood are lovely and the colourful naïve paintings are as common as in the Dominican Republic.

Tourism in Haiti could be possible today: gingerbread houses in Jacmel, - Caribbean blue and clean sea - A pool of blue water in the forest of Bassin Bleu
Gingerbread houses in Jacmel – Caribbean sea facing Guanaba Island – A pool crystal clear water in the forest of Bassin Bleu

But reputation comes before knowledge and all this is not enough.
I’ve heard stories of some hotels and resorts that, especially in the last few years, host tourists from the well known Caribbean cruises in some kind of anonymous status: voices of a country in the grip of cholera, poverty and destruction (not entirely false, but certainly not the case on the specific beach the cruises settle for the day) and with a high level of criminality (true as well, given a high level of stupidity of the visitor!) scare visitors so much that they would refuse to get off the boat if they knew they were entering the Republic of Haiti. So they are told instead that they are landing on the “Isla Hispaniola” (blessed ignorance…).

Haiti today: street market in Port-Au_Prince: people shop walking between stalls and rubbish - A compound with few houses and a water tank in the woods in Lascahobas - Classic Haitian taxi: the Tap Tap
Street market in Port-Au_Prince – A compound with few houses and a water tank in the woods in Lascahobas – Haitian taxi/bus: the Tap Tap

Causes and consequences of uncontrolled deforestation

The contrast between the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti is in everything, from the culture to the skin color, from politics to history. There’s even a difference in the land, physically: the frontier line is clearly visible from the satellite, green and full of forest only on the Dominican side.

Map of Republic of Haiti and Dominican Republic, zoom in on the borders to show the deforestation effects from satellite images
Republic of Haiti, on the west and Dominican Republic, East

The historical and economical reason for deforestation is linked to the need of an improvised income, like cutting down trees to burn and then sell in the streets as charcoal. This kind of activity was recently born because rise fields were abandoned. The story goes that in the ‘80 the USA started selling cheap rise in Haiti, with the original idea to help the malnourished inhabitants. At the same time, Haiti was exporting more and more local rice and started lacking some for its own people at a cheap price. But the US good intention had a sad twist: local rice production decreased because now the cost of it was higher than the US one. And so rice fields were left uncultivated and, few year fast forward, former farmers are lacking jobs and they go about cutting someone else wood to be able to feed their families

Hope for the future

This story deserve a deeper study that I can’t handle, let’s go back to my experience.
And so I wonder: is there a way out of this loop of poverty?

Today in Haiti I meet a guy that dreams to become ambassador or even the president of the country. And he’s not dreaming impossible things because  in his curriculum he can already show off an experience in the Haiti embassy of the USA, won because he happened to be the best student of his university course.
I don’t know if he will ever get there, it depends on him alone, his desire for changes in his country and in his people. But I’m glad to know that Compassion International, the charity organization I traveled with, had a part in the success of this young man. It didn’t do “charity”, but gave him hope: it gave this boy a chance, supporting him not only with practical financial help, but also with psychological, emotional and spiritual support. Compassion didn’t give a bucket in the hand of a child to temporarily fix a problem that tomorrow will show up again, it gave him the chance to learn how to bring an aqueduct to the desert.

The Lady laugh with two sponsored children
The Lady meets the best part of Haiti

Do you know other trustworthy organizations that work in this area?
Write it in the comments and tell me about their work!

* “Ad Haiti si nasce ultimi” by Alessandro Corallo, 2006, Edizione EMI


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4 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Jenny

    An eye opening post. Haiti is beautiful, but has it’s problems. But, I see now how amazing traveling here would actually be. I would love to see Haiti for myself some day.

    • The Lady
      The Lady

      Thank you for reading, it is a difficult but beautiful land indeed!!

  2. Avatar
    Sandra Joseph

    Hi there, thanks for highlighting my parent’s birthland. Haiti is the pearl of the Caribbean but she has suffered so much abuse and abandonment. Most of the donations from the earthquake never made it to the people who needed it most. I continue to hope for restoration and hopefully, I can be a part.

    • The Lady
      The Lady

      You’re totally right, money disappears easily when politics is corrupted! (And Haiti is not the only place with this issue!!!). I hope it will raise again and I’m sure you can do a lot about it 🙂

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