It's not a great shot, but it is one of my favorites. The group of homes in the background gives just a glimpse into the reality of housing in Haiti. Driving through Port-au-Prince, we saw dozens of these mountainside neighborhoods, most twenty times larger than this one, home to thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of Haitians seeking a better life than the one they left in the country. According to Dr. Morquette, World Relief's Country Director in Haiti, it is illegal to build houses on these hills. If it rains for 3-4 days without stopping, they could all be washed away. But laws are hardly enforced - more often than they used to be, but still a far cry from where they could be - so the likelihood of more houses not being built on these hills is slim.
Like many third world countries, Haiti is incredibly poor. Much of the nation barely scrapes by, surviving on what little income they can earn from the informal market. Clothing, paintings, hot food, toiletries, and produce line the sidewalks, walls, and street corners. UN tanks, trucks and soldiers maintain a fragile peace, cracking down on gang violence and instability. Haitians have a gesture, which looks like brushing hands and shrugging shoulders. I forget the phrase in Kreyol that goes along with it, perhaps pa faut moi - it's not my fault - but it's a gesture that feels like the ultimate resignation: It's not my fault, I can't do anything about it, nor is it my responsibility to change things. Reminds me of Americans and makes me think, "There's nothing new under the sun."
Thank goodness I work for a relief and development organization! World Relief Haiti operates five solid programs on a very limited budget, educating youth on the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS; training and equipping churches and community based organizations to better care for orphans and vulnerable children; giving small loans (the equivalent of $90 USD) to women in community banking groups; vaccinating and weighing young children and educating their mothers on basic health and nutrition strategies to combat high infant mortality rates and promote general health; and bringing local church pastors together to learn how to better meet the needs of their communities.
The most compelling thing? All of the staff in Haiti are Haitian and several of them - at least 10-20% of the staff - could be working elsewhere in Haiti, Canada, Europe or the US, making more money and living far more comfortably and safely than they currently live in Port-au-Prince. But they're not. Instead they're working in Haiti, despite overwhelming odds, insecurity, and near-anarchy, practically giving their lives for the poor, the orphans, and the widows in their country. It really puts things into perspective - I am reminded why I'm here, and what really matters in life.