My First Look at Hope in Haiti

By UUA International Resources

UUSC is excited to be partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Association on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti for youth and young adults, August 20–27. In the post below, Charles Huschle, UUSC's senior associate for foundations and corporations and one of the staff members on the trip, talks about his first few days in Port-au-Prince before heading up to the Central Plateau. This is my first trip to Haiti. I've now been in Port-au-Prince for two days. I have been in other Caribbean countries, but Haiti is nothing like any other Caribbean country; this I noticed in my first two hours here. There are no white people — who the Haitians call "blans" — wandering around in mini-mokes or rental cars. There are noblans walking in the streets. The roads are mostly unpaved, so far, and many are clogged with rubble or garbage. There are no "rules of the road," except "every man for himself." At night, there are no streetlights. I can see why women, and men, would feel a sense of danger at night, and especially in the camps, with their narrow paths and crowded conditions. We lock all doors of the car, close the windows, are cautioned against taking pictures from the car: Haitians have felt for too long the inspection of outsiders — the condescension, the pity that comes from privilege? — and may resent it. But upon arrival, I immediately felt a sense of pride and distinct culture in the Haitians in the airport. The language, first of all — there's a feeling that Kreyol is the only way to speak. It's a mark of a totally distinct culture, unique in the Caribbean. It feels good. I am slowly learning piece by piece. There is no sense of American culture, although the hotel TV room shows American shows. You can feel pride here, a culture totally distinct from the tourist-saturated cultures in the rest of the Caribbean. Yet you can also feel how the country is trying to find itself and how it is stuck in survival mode. It's a country where people are becoming, but where the roadblocks are huge: the earthquake, the lack of infrastructure. I want to say: Where are the road graders and backhoes and bulldozers that can make these roads passable? How can that person on the street survive by selling her dozen limes and mangoes? Yet at the same time, in the crowded streets, people seem well fed and they clearly take care in how they dress. Of course, this is in stark contrast to the camps for internally displaced people. We drive past the huge camp at Champ de Mars — the equivalent of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — and established poverty seems acute. With Lionel, one of our partners in Port-au-Prince, there is a huge sense of hope. The man is driven to make Haiti a better place. Lionel is a businessman. During the Aristide years, he had owned and managed a factory employing over 1,000 people. Unfortunately, the factory burned to the ground. Lionel found other entrepreneurial pursuits; he owns a restaurant and is passionate about helping Haitians become entrepreneurs, businessmen and -women, and giving them the training to do so. After the earthquake, he began constructing his vision of helping the next generation of Haitians. He started Camp Oasis, a haven for 40 girls who were orphaned by the earthquake and living in camps. The girls range in age from four to eighteen years old. Thanks to donations from UUSC constituents — including a gift of $11,400 from the UU Congregation in Summit, N.J., which was matched three times over by the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, in Manhasset, N.Y., — Lionel was able to build strong wooden dormitories, bathrooms, and cooking facilities for the girls, as well as educate them and provide health care for them during the past nine months. Compared to life in the camps — where some girls were in danger of turning to prostitution to support themselves and where violence against women and girls is a constant danger — these girls are a world away. They seem happy and confident. The girls are also happy this day to receive cards, with snowy scenes on them, from a UU congregation in Wisconsin — new pen pals. The girls spend time composing replies with colored pencils, crayons, and dictionaries. Wendy Flick, manager of UUSC's Haiti emergency response, will transport these replies back to the United States. This is a wonderful example of UUSC supporters providing tangible, concrete help in a crisis — help that will pave the way for a positive future for this next generation of Haitians. View photos from the service trip!

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