For my senior capstone project I traveled to Haiti to shoot a documentary about the life and struggles of the locals associated with the non-profit organization: Partners in Development. My two week journey was not an easy one...read about it here.
Part One: The Smokiness of a City
It was 3 AM on December 26 and instead of finding myself tucked away in my bed, full of Christmas dinner and desserts, I found myself on the road to Logan Airport. With butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes, I boarded the plane in Boston. I had traveled to Guatemala on a service trip two years ago, but this time was different.
I would be traveling to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I would be there for 14 day instead of seven. And I wouldn't pick up a shovel the entire time.
Instead I had a different mission. For my senior capstone project, I would be producing a short documentary about the people of Haiti, specifically those involved with Partners in Development.
Partners In Development, Inc. (PID) is a nonprofit organization that strives to help impoverished communities attain independence and whole life improvement. They are currently focused on serving some of the poorest areas of the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States. Since whole-life change is essential in order for the extreme poor to escape poverty, they have strategically designed sets of programs to meet the specific needs of the populations they serve. Through economic development, children’s programs, housing and medical assistance, they engage communities in whole-life change, ensuring a better quality of life and a more promising future.
For the next 14 days I would be meeting with Haitian community members to hear their stories of struggle, survival, and hope. I will also focus my documentary on the success of PID in establishing multiple programs in which the people of Haiti can work their way out of extreme poverty. Finally, I will showcase various SJC students who participate in this year’s mission trip, and their experience embracing the poverty and the people of Haiti.
That's a tall order for one person. But I was determined to get done.
As we stepped off our plane in Haiti, we were immediately surrounded by chaos. The Haitian airport was probably one fifth of the size of Logan Airport, but had just as many people inside of it, and we stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn’t take long for security to take advantage of this massive group of white people and we quickly found ourselves putting our luggage through security once again (I later learned that this additional screening process was unnecessary, and Dr. Bridge had to bribe the security officials to let our group go through without hassle). When we finally exited the airport we were greeted by hundreds of locals trying to carry our bags, sell us souvenirs, and lead us in every direction except toward the PID vehicles, which were parked what seemed like a mile away. Even as we boarded the PID bus, vendors tried to hop on the bus or sell through our windows... all desperate for just one dollar.
Our drive through Port-au-Prince was quiet. The eyes of the students were glued to the poverty outside their window: trash burning on make-shift sidewalks, stray goats and wild dogs staggering through the streets, and locals staring as a bus full of white people drove through their town. They also might have been fearing for their life, as street laws do not exist in Haiti. Cars, motorcycles, and tap-taps swerved amongst each other until they got to their destination. There were stop signs, but I don’t recall every stopping at one.
The aesthetic of Haiti is a smoky one. The combination of kicked up dirt from the roads and smoke from the burning trash puts the entire country in a gray cloud.
As our bus pulled into the PID compound, I think we were all surprised by its size. The medical clinic was the largest building on the site, fully equipped with an emergency room, pharmacy, medical lab, doctor’s office, wound care, three maternity rooms, triage, diabetes center, and waiting area. The compound was home to the field director and her husband, the head of security, as well as the team members who traveled down each week. There was also an office, cafeteria, educational center, and a small storage closet that was currently home to one of PID’s small business programs.
After the team finished unpacking their personal items into the bug-netted beds in the bunkhouse, we took a quick tour of the neighborhood, and found ourselves playing soccer with the local children.
The power went out frequently, but the only thing we really missed was the fan. The stars, unhindered by city lights, illuminated the compound each night as the team bonded through conversation and cards on the roof of the clinic. And the view of the mountaintop was breathtaking enough to distract from the sounds and screams of the voodoo being practiced on the streets. Thank God for our gated community.
The first day of work found the team divided.
A few members headed out to Canaan, to start building the foundation for a brand new house on the mountainside. Eight-year-old Johnsly and his mom, Veronic, are the recipients of the new PID house. The family has been living in a one-room tent every since the earthquake of 2010 destroyed their home in Port-au-Prince. Thanks to the help of PID they will be receiving a two-room house with a porch and a foundation built three feet into the ground (None of PID’s houses were destroyed in the earthquake, so this has become their standard for construction).
A second group began the construction of the Lapidary Arts Center within the compound. This building would eventually become home to the small gem-cutting business operated by PID. The business, begun a few years ago by SJC Professor Dr. Steven Bridge, employs a handful of Haitians part-time. The small business initiative is a sustainable one: the workers find glass shards in the streets of Haiti and transform them into beautiful gemstones. The workers have been able to enhance their craft under the supervision of Dr. Bridge, and have been producing beautiful pieces of jewelry from the most unexpected items. However, the Haitians have been working in a small storage closet with minimal lighting and space. The new building will be able to house more people, more gem cutting machines, and evens showcase the work of the gem-cutters.
Finally, the third group got to work in the medical clinic. Closed for the holiday, the clinic needed to be cleaned and painted before they opened for the New Year. The team quickly learned that the paint was mixed with gasoline, and found themselves taking frequent breaks throughout the day.
As for myself, I began to work on my documentary. I sat down with my translator, Maxime, and learned about his life story as well as his involvement with PID. I also was able to interview a few of the Haitians working with PID, including Rosemarie, the bunkhouse supervisor, Jean-Phillipe, a gem-cutter, and a few of the other cleaning ladies. These interviews were the first of many over the next two weeks, but they allowed me to get comfortable with the task of interviewing.
As the sun set on our first day in Haiti, I had a lot to reflect on. However I couldn’t contain my excitement about what I would be seeing and learning during my time in Haiti.
The next morning I was greeted by Michaelange, one of the gem-cutters who had been working with Steve since he founded the small business a few years ago. She was also Rosemarie’s daughter, and thus had been involved with PID since she was a child. However, I was taken by surprise when I saw that Michaelange had a newborn baby on her hip as she walked into work. I watched as she placed the baby on a thin mattress on a shelf in the workshop and immediately sat down to begin her work. I was informed that the baby was 22 days old. This was shocking to everyone in the compound.
When I got the chance to interview Michaelange myself I learned that she was a single mother with four children, including her newborn. The father was out of the picture and she had no money to pay a babysitter to watch her son. She barely had enough money to feed her children. And when she learned that Steve would be in Haiti to teach new settings, Michaelange knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I am the mom and the dad at home,” she said, “the kids need to go to school and they need to eat, so I don’t have any other choice. I have to work.”
Michaelange’s story is not unique in a country like Haiti. Many fathers abandon their families when they can no longer afford them, leaving the mother to take care of the children. I learned in my interviews that on average there can be up to 12 people living in one household, often times trying to survive on only one income. One Haitian adult may have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other family members living in a house at any give time.
Rosemarie, a 66-year-old woman, is the sole caregiver to a handful of her grandchildren as well as other younger family members. I was able to visit Rosemarie’s house and saw fist hand all the children who ran wild while she was away at work. Rosemarie’s story was special: she has the first house ever built by PID in Haiti and she couldn’t be prouder of that fact.
Like all PID houses, there were two rooms and a porch. However what made Rosemarie’s house different from the rest was that she had a fairly decent sized yard in which she had planted a garden. Yard space is very difficult to come by in the city and Rosemarie took full advantage of this opportunity. At first glance any American might have confused the garden for weeds, as it was littered with trash, but flowers bloomed nonetheless. Rosemarie’s house was also unique because she had a blackboard placed on the wall of her porch. Like many of the other Haitians I met on my journey, she always put others before herself.
Part Two: A History of Infamy
"Everyone lost somebody. Even a part of your family that you haven't met yet. You lost somebody. We are all brothers and sisters."
January 12 is the most infamous day in Haitian history, and it's a day that has been engraved in the mind of all who experienced it. Samuel, who works in PID's Child Sponsorship Program, was one of the first people I talked to who was willing to talk in detail about his experience on that dreadful day.
With the anniversary only a week away, he told the story of how he was walking in downtown Port-au-Prince, when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit.
"In less than one minute... just as we are now, talking, having fun, just enjoying ourselves...after just one minute there was a lot of smoke and a lot of people were dead down here."
As soon as he realized what had happened, he began to worry about his mother. The earthquake had destroyed all communication lines, and his cell phone was not working. He began to sprint down the streets back to his mother's house, trying to avoid the bodies lying in the road. As Samuel saw the amount of people stuck under the rubble, his fear for his mother's safety only grew.
"A lot of people in the street were saying 'Oh my mom is dead,' or 'I just got word that my dad was killed,'" Samuel reflected to me, "and I said I do not want to receive a call like that."
Samuel was lucky enough to find his mother in the streets that day. But most Haitians were not as lucky. Over 300,000 people lost their lives on January 12, and as Samuel said, almost all Haitians were affected by it in one way or another. However many locals refuse to talk about that day, something I found true no matter who I spoke with. It seemed that once someone moved past a dreadful event in their life, such as the earthquake or living in a slum, they tended to shun it form their memories. They had moved on, and had no interest in going back.
I only met one other person who was willing to talk about Haiti's dark history: Madame Adline. Adline worked for PID as a laundry woman, and each week she spoke to the teams about the history of Haiti (On the second week of my trip, the team was fortunate enough to go to Haiti's Historical Museum in Port-au-Prince. There we learned about history's destructive Haiti, but we got a more personal perspective from Adline).
Haiti is a nation founded on slave labor. Despite the fact that Haiti is a predominately black country, there were no native black people on the island until they were brought over as slaves by the French. This French colony grew successful in the sugar industry and became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. However during this process, the French completely depleted the environment as well as the people they were enslaving.
In 1791, the Haitians launched one of the first successful slave rebellions over the French and became the world's first black republic. However, many countries reacted negatively to Haiti's salve revolution. Other countries feared that the slave revolution would serve as a dangerous example to their own slaves, and thus limited their economic partnership with the country.
And just like that, Haiti found themselves locked out of the world economy. Haiti quickly plunged into crippling poverty, ultimately becoming one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
But that is not the end of Haiti's devastating history.
For over 30 years, military controlled elections resulted in the establishment of a dictatorial, corrupt regime that oversaw military and governmental purges, mass executions, and the institution of curfews informed by the president's violent police force.
"The people in Haiti were not free," Adline whispered. Speaking of Haiti's dark history was something that could get you killed, even today, if the information got into the wrong hands. "You could not talk in the streets about police because the bad people were always listening. If you were talking badly about the government they would set your house on fire...they didn't care if there were children inside."
One story that particularly stuck with me was Adline's reflection on Pope John Paul II's visit to Haiti.
Pope John Paul II had donated a lot of money to Haiti to help with the impoverished people escape from the slums. However, Haiti's corrupted government just pocketed the money for its own use (This is a common theme in Haiti: under their corrupted government money never went to what it was intended to fix). However when the pope declared he would be coming to visit the poor people of Haiti, the government panicked .
They could not show the pope that there were still poor people in Haiti...so they devised another plan.
They set up loudspeakers in downtown, calling all the poor and disabled citizens to city hall. Government officials proclaimed that the pope couldn't wait to meet all the poor people and the government was going to bring the poor people to him. They loaded all the poor into dump trucks, claiming they were headed to see the pope.
Instead, government officials drove them deep into the woods. They raised the backs of the trucks, dumping the people into mass graves dug deep into the ground. Simultaneously they dumped another truck full of dirt onto the people, burying them alive. Finally, they drove the trucks over the graves to make sure the poor people had been completely wiped out.
As Pope John Paul II arrived in Haiti, he instantly proclaimed that he knew horrible things had happened and immediately began to pray for the country.
This story put Haiti's history into perspective for a lot of us on the trip. We all knew about Haiti's earthquake, but that is not the full story. Haiti is impoverished because they were never given a chance to grow.
The French depleted their land. The world turned its back on them. The government took away their freedom. And Mother Nature continues to devastate them. It is a vicious cycle that Haitians had to endure for centuries.
However, as of 2017 things are starting to get better. Their current president is allocating funds to the proper resources. Paved roads are being built, solar-powered street lights are blossoming, garbage is being collected off the streets, and free public schools are becoming more accessible.
Haiti has a long way to go, but they won't be able to get there without our help.
Part Three: Work Hard, Play Hard
As the workdays continued, the rotations were very similar. A group worked on the lapidary, a group worked in Canaan, and a group worked in the clinic. However, no matter where you were working each experience was special.
The SJC team initiated the construction work at both worksites, literally breaking ground on each project.
I spent my first day of work at the lapidary site which was inside the PID compound. The fun part about working here was that throughout the day the gem cutters would come over and see the progress of their new workspace. We also had many local children and teens visit throughout the work day, always offering to lend a hand.
Edison and Jojo were two nineteen-year-olds who frequently helped with the lapidary construction. Both from the area, they loved interacting with the teams that traveled down to PID. And the teams enjoyed the company of someone their own age, who could hold a more intellectual conversation about what life in Haiti was really like. They told us about their education (JoJo knows five languages and whats to learn more), their favorite songs (apparently Haitians loves Sean Kingston and Rihanna just as much as Americans do), and the secrets of voodoo we wouldn't have learned from anyone else (such as the voodoo Halloween traditions).
Throughout the two weeks, the teams worked hard to construct the lapidary from the ground up. I watched as trenches were built, concrete was created, and walls were put up. Although we did not finish the entire building, another college group would be coming down to finish the job, and in just a few short weeks the gem cutters would go from working in a dusty, compact closet, into a building built specifically for them.
Over in Canaan, the mood was a little more tense as the teams were thrown into the poverty of the mountainside. However there was always two bright and shining faces that greeted the teams each day: Johnsly and his mom, Veronic. They were so blessed to be receiving a house from PID and they made sure you knew it.
Although I was only able to be in Canaan for a half a day, the stories I heard from the teams were extremely rewarding. Each day Veronic greeted every individual that stepped of the bus with a hug and a kiss while uttering prayers of gratitude for our presence. The SJC team also broke ground at this site, a process that is both difficult and rewarding. But with Veronic working side-by-side with the team and construction workers, they were able to complete the large foundation that would eventually become Johnsly's new home.
The third task that kept the teams busy was working and organizing the clinic while it was closed for the holiday. The clinic was the largest building on the PID compound with over 10 rooms and a large waiting space. The teams were tasked with various odd jobs in the clinic such as painting, reorganizing the rooms, and inventorying supplies. Although this may seem like a more relaxed project after days of working construction in the hot sun, working in the clinic had one major downfall: the paint was mixed with gasoline, and so eventually the fumes would get to you.
However the teams powered through and by the end of the second week the clinic was spotless and ready to reopen to the public.
The end of each work day brought tired teams back to the compound, but they always found the energy to play soccer with the local children. It was a past-time everyone could enjoy, whether they were playing or watching from the sidelines.
However for New Year's Eve, PID had something special in store.
January 1 is a national holiday for the Haitian population, because it was the day that the slaves revolted against, and defeated, their French masters. And so New Year's Eve in Haiti is basically just a 24 hour party.
To help us celebrate the holiday, PID had organized a special soccer match to be played: an international competition of sorts. They had invited all the local children, as well as teens and adults, to form "Team Haiti," while the students and chaperones represented "Team USA." Those who weren't playing in the game set up chairs all around the playing field, ready for the international match-up. Extra lights were added to make visibility easier, but the field was also illuminated by a full moon with a gorgeous halo around it.
The teams lined up as the national anthems of both countries were played, and it honestly gave me chills. I have played soccer for 18 years of my life, but this game was special. And possibly one of the roughest games I have played as well. The Haitians were not ready to back down. Although I scored Team USA's first goal of the match, the final score was not a pretty one: Team Haiti 17, Team USA 11.
An emcee was on the mic to give a play-by-play of the match, but since he was speaking fluent Creole we were at a disadvantage to understand. But the universal cry of "GOOOAAAL" always resulted in an eruption from the crowd, a feeling I will never forget.
The celebration continued for hours with traditional Kompa music, dancing, karaoke, and laughter. And as the clock struck midnight, the team watched from the roof as fireworks burst into the sky across the mountainside.
The next morning we had the traditional pumpkin soup for breakfast, a meal that slave owners forced their slaves to cook for them, but never allowed them to eat. So when the Haitians won their revolution, they began to make the soup for themselves.
The team spent the rest of their day on a private beach in the countryside, gawking at the gorgeous views while swimming in a crystal-clear, warm ocean. It was here that I jet-skied for the first time, while other students went snorkeling.
What better way to ring in the new year?
Part 4: Trash Town
The second week in Haiti brought a new team with a different objective: nursing.
Most of the students on this trip were studying nursing at SJC and were looking forward to working in the clinic. It wasn't until they arrived in Haiti that they learned the clinic was closed for holiday. But PID was not going to let their talents go to waste.
Over the course of the second week PID hosted three travel clinics in a neighboring town. This town was in special need for a travel clinic. It was located about 20 minutes from the PID compound. However since most people in the town didn't own cars, traveling was out of the question.
Oh, and the town was built on a literal dump.
The town, whose name I can't remember, is built on a landfill where people are constantly dumping their trash. You enter the town on one long and winding road, with mounds of disposed garbage littering both sides of the street. Most of the time, this trash is lit on fire, and you have to hold your breath as you drive in, or risk ingesting the fumes.
It's devastating to see the amount of trash littered in the town, and it's heartbreaking to think about the 4,000+ people that live there. Throughout our arrival to the town, we witnessed adults and children digging through the landfills in search of food. We watched as pigs the size of a small child roamed the streets alongside the town's residents. And we broke down seeing the life these people were forced to live.
However, as we walked through the town on the way to our travel clinic location, we couldn't help but stop and wave to every smiling child we saw passing by. How they stay so positive, I will never know.
We finally arrived upon the site of the travel clinic, a church in the center of town. The church was entirely made of tin and looked like it could fall apart any minute. Thousands of flies swarmed, both the outside and inside of the church, but it was something you quickly adjusted to.
Inside, the nurses began setting up for the day, alongside the pastor of the church. That morning he had knocked on all the doors of the people in the town, informing them that a clinic would be taking place. There was already a line of people when we showed up at 8 AM. This was the second day of the travel clinic, and many of the patients who could not be seen on Wednesday, were eager to try to see the nurses today.
The nurses began to set up the three stations they would be operating with for the day: triage, consultation, and pharmacy.
After waiting in the waiting area, the patient would first go to triage, where they would get their vitals taken and speak with the nurses about why they were at the clinic. Then they would go to consultation where they would sit down with Emily Gerardo, the leading practitioner, to go into more detail about the symptoms each person was having. Emily would attempt to diagnose the problem, and would write a referral for what the patient needed next. Finally, the patient would head over to the pharmacy where Nate Dominuge, another team leader, would distribute medicine and administer tests.
This cycle continued all morning, with the nurses seeing about 15 patients before they broke for lunch. I was hopping around from one station to the other to document, and learn, about the nursing process.
Triage was the location that allowed the nursing students to get hands on work. They were operating the station themselves and, with the help of a translator, would do their best to understand fully what was wrong with the patient. When it came to testing the vitals, however, the students ran into a few problems.
"We had one patient who couldn't grasp the concept of putting a thermometer under her tongue," one student reflected. "She kept tilting her chin up, instead of just lifting her tongue. After a few minutes of struggling with her we eventually had to just use an armpit thermometer."
"Another male patient told us he had a vaginal infection. It was probably what he heard other people saying, and that's what he thought it was."
Other symptoms were repeatedly brought up by almost every patient: headache, coughing and dizziness, just to name a few. The nurses quickly attributed these symptoms to one thing: living in Haiti.
Lauren Lecompte, a junior nursing major, reflected on this realization. "You ask them "How much water do you drink a day?' and they say 'Plenty.' And when you ask how much is plenty, they say "I drink one cup of water a day.'"
Lack of clean drinking water, especially for the families living in the trash town, is a persistent problem in Haiti. Most of the time dizziness was attributed to not eating enough food and respiratory issues resulted from the constant inhalation of the fumes of burning trash.
"You've got something that is a small fix," Emily stated, "but you can't really change the course for someone because you can't change their living conditions."
As the team took a break for lunch, they realized that a swarm of ants had found their way into the sandwiches they had packed for the day. But instead of throwing them away, the team brushed off the ants and handed the sandwiches out to the patients waiting in line.
We had already had one meal today, who knows if they had.
As the day went on the nurses saw about 15 more people, however two of those patients received special attention from the SJC team.
One boy, about four years old, came to the clinic with a huge mass behind his ear. According to his mother, the mass was painful to touch and had grown very quickly. The mass also appeared to be leaking fluid, as a dry residue had settled on the affected area.
After much deliberation about what to do next, the nursing staff decided the best decision for the boy was to drain the mass. Under the careful supervision of Emily and Nate, the students were able to get hands on experience in the small procedure.
The procedure only took about 10 minutes, but it felt like hours. The child did not stop screaming the entire time, and one nurse, who was tasked with keeping the child still, found it very difficult to fight back tears.
By the end of the procedure, as the child's crying turned into tears of relief, the nurses were very confident in their decision. The mass was now non-existent and the mother was very grateful that the nurses were able to help her son.
As the nurses began to clean up the supplies from the first procedure, two worried eyes were watching from afar. A little boy sat on the bench behind the consultation curtain and had just watched the entire procedure. And he knew he was next.
The boy, who was probably about six-years-old had come to the first day of the travel clinic, and was referred to return for another check-in on his condition. He had a small growth on each hand protruding off of his pinky finger. One of them had become highly infected and was hanging on by a thread.
Once again, the nurses were faced with a difficult decision. After long deliberation they decided the best action would be to remove the growth. With medical professionals taking the lead, they would be able to make sure the removal was under close supervision. The last thing the nurses wanted was for the boy to catch his hand on something and rip the growth off of his body, for this would only lead to more infection.
So the nursing team began to prepare for the second procedure. A dose of lidocaine was administered to the boy so that he would not feel the pain. However the child could still see everything that was happening to him, and so the fear in his eyes did not fade.
The child's screams filled the church, even though he could not feel any pain, as the team worked quickly to remove the growth. Neither the heat of the day or the flies in the air could distract the team from the task at hand. They were working to better that child's life.
The minutes passed by like hours, but once again the team had completed another successful procedure. After wrapping the boy's hand in clean gauze, one of the nursing students put the boy in her arms and cradled him until the tears flowing down his cheeks turned into a grin of relief.
The student held onto that child, until his mother eventually showed up to take him home.
I was grateful for the time I spent in the travel clinic. Although it confirmed that I definitely never want to become a nurse, it made me realize how raw healthcare is in third world countries like Haiti.
From common problems to complex cases, patients arrived at the clinic complaining of every symptom they had, no matter if they were related or not. They wanted to make sure they got the most out of seeing a trained nurse, because who knows when they would see a medical professional again?
The PID clinics, including the travel clinics, operate on a no-cost system. While most hospitals in Haiti charge high costs for consultations, procedures, and medicine, PID does not charge for their services. This allows a lot more people to be able to have access to healthcare that otherwise may not be able to afford it.
However the travel clinics also have their disadvantages. First of all, the nurses did not have all the resources they needed. Many times throughout the day, the team realized they had forgotten to pack a specific medicine, or they wished they had different tests to run on patients. PID operates on donated supplies, so if an item had not been previously donated to PID, it could not be administered to patients. Almost everyone who came to the clinic left with at least a bag full of vitamins, but without the proper medicine at their disposal there was nothing more the nurses could do.
Secondly, despite the three days that PID sponsored the clinic, there was no opportunity for follow-ups with patients. Unless the citizens of the trash town made the trek to the PID clinic, we would never know if their symptoms were progressing or getting worse.
"A little goes a long way," Lauren reflected, "A lot is lost in translation but but when you walk up to someone and smile at them, they really appreciate that. The human connection, that is what nursing is all about."
Part 5: Sunday Price / My Time in Haiti
Although my trip to Haiti was filled with a lot of intense emotions, that were overwhelming at times, it was also filled with moments bursting with joy. Over the two weeks our team was able to embark on various excursions that emerged us even deeper into Haiti's culture.
One of the favorite activities was attending the Haitian Church only a few blocks away from PID. None of us knew what to expect, but considering the Haitian people take their faith so seriously, we were all excited for this experience.
And it did not let us down.
We were surprised to see that a familiar face was behind the pulpit. Mr. Fele, who had helped the teams paint all week, was leading the Church in the gospel readings when we arrived. He was very excited to see us and even introduced us all individually to the rest of the congregation.
Although we could not understand the Creole scripture that was being read, we didn't have to wait long to be moved by the service. The beating of drums and other percussion instruments overtook the small building. Booming voices sung out the hymns in perfect unison. And us white people were all in awe of the beauty of the performance we were witnessing.
I was grateful that I had brought my audio recorder with me to the service, and was able to document the songs that were sung that morning. The teams found them very soothing to listen to the following evenings.
We only stayed for one hour, but the service continued for three more. But the celebration of love, praise, and thankfulness we witnessed in church that morning is something I will never forget.
Small business in Haiti is one of PID's most important motives. So for one of our excursions on the first week we got to visit Croix-des-Bouquets, a village that has specialized by creating various products made of tin.
The Tin Village was a small neighborhood of shops, all offering handmade crafts made from the tin found in the streets. There were probably 25 shops in the area we stopped in, and we made sure to tour each and everyone to see what was offered.
We also didn't really have much of an option. The second you exited one shop, another shop owner would persuade you to visit his shop, and so on.
It was very difficult to say no to the locals, who were all just trying to make a little money, but the team had a very good time bartering down the prices as well. Artisan shops were known for raising the price when the "blanc" came to town, but we were prepared. By the end of the trip all the students had become experts in bartering, and most of the time got their souvenirs for less than half the original price.
It was amazing to see all of the workers hammering away at their products, gently shaping them into new, unique designs. We all left the village inspired by what these locals were doing to earn their income, and were happy we could contribute to their success, while gathering beautiful souvenirs along the way.
The second team got their own opportunity to practice their bartering skills, this time in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
After their visit to the Haitian historical museum, the team made their way through the streets of downtown looking for bargains on souvenirs. The moment the vendors saw a large bus of white people pulling up to the curb, they immediately began to set up shop. What seemed like hundreds of paintings were suddenly laid out on the street, waiting to be purchased.
If the first team felt overwhelmed bartering in the tin village, they would have been very unprepared for the aggressive selling in downtown. The vendors in Port-au-Prince were desperate. They hassled you until you caved and bought something from their table. Or if you were strong-minded, you were successfully able to barter them down until they caved and gave you the price you wanted.
Tables lined the streets and barely left enough room to walk on the sidewalks. As you glanced over the souvenirs on one table, you had to tune out the five other vendors trying to get you to look at their products. It was an extremely overwhelms experience for some, while others thrived under the pressure.
With the help of a few friends, I was able to successful barter for the items I was looking for, but I think I got the best deals after I went back to sit on the bus. You see in the locals eyes, just because you had left the site where the vendors were located, it did not mean they would give up on trying to make a few more dollars.
I was sitting in the front seat of the bus, reviewing my purchases from the day, when I was bombarded by more vendors. Salesmen came right up to my window, which unfortunately did not roll up, and gave me the best deals on their prices. Students in the backseat of the bus had a similar experience. Locals stood on the tires of the bus and were starting to crawl through the windows, just to show us their products.
We were eventually able to pull away from the crowded site, despite the vendors still trying to sell to us in the streets.. Even though I walked away with a few more souvenirs than I had originally expected, how could you feel guilty about supporting the local businesses in a poor country like Haiti?
Overall, my time in Haiti was a rewarding one. Over the course of the two weeks I spent in Haiti I met a lot of people whose stories impacted me in a very significant way. I met with the Haitians who worked with PID, families affected by PID, and many others. It was amazing to hear the personal stories and struggles of the locals, and I hope that I can successfully share those stories with you through my documentary and other work.
I am extremely grateful for my time in Haiti, as it showed me just how privileged I truly am. The trip has changed my view on life and I hope that I can bring awareness about the country to those want to learn more and who want to help.
Stay tuned to my social media pages for posts from my trip, and for the release of my documentary in May. I only hope that I can make Haiti proud.
Mèsi, Haiti. Mwen ap sonje ou.