Field Notes from Haiti: National Problems, Local Solutions

All of the sudden our car sputtered and stopped. We were in the middle of rush hour traffic in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and the horns started blaring immediately.  “What’s going on?” I asked from the back seat.  “I don’t know, maybe it’s the battery?” our team leader Karen replied.

Our volunteer medical team had just finished seeing 200 patients at Hospital Asebad, and were headed across town for drinks at the tourist bar, La Caya. The Prestige’s (Haiti’s local beer) would have to wait.  We weren’t going anywhere. 

Karen put the car in neutral, and we pushed it out of traffic, and onto the shoulder.  Our fellow volunteer Johnson jumped out of the car and starting peering under the hood.  “Any idea what’s going on?” I inquired.  Before he could respond, five Haitians had volunteered to help.  We didn’t know what to think. But within five minutes, they had located a spare battery, popped out the old one, and replaced it with a new one.

The juxtapositions in Haiti are staggering.  The mountain views are gorgeous, yet you cannot find a street that isn’t obstructed by mounds of trash.  The crystal clear Caribbean water at the local beaches is breathtaking, but 1 in every 6 Haitians suffers from the water borne illness cholera.  It’s a land of immense beauty, and nearly ubiquitous suffering.   

 Haiti’s problems are innumerable, but it’s people are resilient. If I learned anything from my trip, it’s that their resiliency is the key to their future.

Haiti’s history is littered with examples of foreign intervention, both opportunistically, and under the guise of benevolent care.  However, shockingly few governments and organizations have taken the time to work with ordinary Haitians to solve problems.  This was a fascinating discovery; involving everyday Haitians in the discussion, and empowering their voices, I would learn, is rarely practiced.

Are the problems that face Haiti too much to overcome?  Sometimes it can feel that way. However, three organizations operating in Cap Haitien would suggest otherwise.  All are committed to addressing Haiti’s problems with input, and labor, from ordinary Haitians.

·      SOIL is a local non-profit that provides access to safe, dignified sanitation in a country where only 25% of the population has access to a toilet.   Not only does SOIL provide access to clean toilets, but they convert the waste into rich, organic compost that is used to refurbish Haiti’s depleted soils.  With a staff that is populated by over 90% Haitians local to the neighborhoods they serve, SOIL is empowering Haitian communities to create positive, sustainable change.

·      Meds & Foods for Kids is a locally sustained organization that produces Medika Mamba – a protein infused peanut butter that treats severely malnourished Haitian children.  Despite unreliable electricity and infrastructure, Medika Mamba is manufactured by local Haitien employees, using local ingredients.  This emphasis on the community boosts the local economy, fosters smarter agricultural practices and increases employment opportunities.     

·      Hospital Asebad is a recently opened 50 bed hospital managed and staffed by local Haitians.  The hospital provides high quality services to those who can afford them, in order to supplement the care of those who cannot.  In a community where many previously had to travel across the border to the Dominican Republic to receive worthwhile medical care, the establishment of Hospital Asebad ensures the local population has access to convenient and quality healthcare.

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Help2Heal, in conjunction with our non-profit partner, Project C.U.R.E., are committed to the empowerment of Haitians.  Our medical assistance enables Haitians to decrease the likelihood of acquiring preventable illnesses and diseases.  This leads to fewer hospital visits, and more disposable income to put toward basic needs, education and growing their businesses & skill sets.    As I witnessed when our car broke down, the Haitian people are motivated and savvy.  With increased opportunities, I look forward to hearing more success stories.  

Posted on May 16, 2016 .