Haiti Is Vibrant
The international press diffuses a single narrative of Haiti - one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. "The poorest country in the Western hemisphere" - this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.
In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows are trip participants' reflections that defy the stereotypes and offer a different perspective on Haiti, not a place of desperation but a land that is verdant, passionate, vibrant, and courageous.
Part 2. Haiti Is Vibrant
I found it hard to focus on just one thing when driving down the street in Port-au-Prince or walking along a dirt road in Haiti's countryside. At every glance, there is something to see: market women selling everything from mangoes to shoes, bustling traffic, colourful buildings and public transport, flamboyant trees, farmers tending their plots, and the ever-present goats.
Haiti is bustling with vibrant, colourful, life.
Throughout our learning tour, we had many opportunities to experience this Haitian vibrancy, from the rhythmic, live, troubadour music that greeted us in the airport to the songs of Haitian peanut farmers as they ended a community meeting together in Kabay.
There are many challenges facing Haiti: the aftermath of cholera, corruption, and inequality, to name only a few; yet the responses of Haitians are multifaceted and creative, reflective of the same vibrant life that fills streets and communities with energy.
Our group had the opportunity to meet with Camille Chalmers of PAPDA, the Platform for Alternative Development in Haiti PAPDA is a coalition of civil society groups that works to strengthen movements ranging from food sovereignty and climate change to national debt forgiveness and just trade agreements. Mr. Chalmers told us how PADPA engages in advocacy campaigns at both the national and international level that are always built upon, and in close partnership with, Haitian grassroots organizations.
Although PAPDA’s advocacy is often concerned with U.S. and Canada policies, connections and exchanges with other social movements in the region and globally are also part of their mandate. Recognizing the areas and issues that Haiti has in common with others, such as harmful free trade agreements in Latin America and commerce issues in Africa, allows PADPA to strengthen their own work and engage these topics from a variety of perspectives and voices, in a way that is truly vibrant.
On our way to another meeting, we stopped briefly at the Sodo waterfall, an important cultural and religious site for many Haitians. One of the informal guides explained to us the historical significance of the falls as a site for both Vodou and Christianity, a place where the present connects with the past. For me, wading in the water at the base of the falls was an important moment of understanding that Haiti´s vibrancy is connected to rich cultural and historical roots that stretch into the present, witnessed in the creativity and energy in advocacy and everyday life.
Anna Vogt is MCC's Regional Advocacy and Context Analyst for the Latin America and Caribbean region. She is based out of Bogota, Colombia.