Our learning experiences began as soon as we walked out of the airport and packed into the vans. We noticed minimal traffic laws, people selling things on the street, incredible amounts of garbage on the ground, and crowded tent cities as we drove through the bustling city of Port-au-Prince. These were some of the problems in Haitian society that were glaringly obvious, and some of the reasons that so many people from around the world come to Haiti for service and mission trips. At reflection our first night, we considered ways to make our time in Haiti a beneficial, and possibly transformative, experience for ourselves and the people we were to encounter.
By the end of our trip, we were able to realize that spending a week in Haiti would never lead to long-term changes in the communities. The issues of poverty, education, and healthcare are too complex to be solved in just a week! However, many groups come into Haiti and donate supplies or whatever they think the community will need, in hopes of making a significant difference. Our community partner, Kim, referred to these trips as “band-aid solutions” because it covers up the problem for a time. This type of charity is ultimately ineffective and creates dependency because it does not attack the root of the problem so the problem continues to occur. Just Haiti strives to do the opposite in that it has created a model that allows for accompaniment and sustainability. In this way, the growers in KDB (Kafé Development of Baraderes) are able to grow coffee and sell it at a “fair trade plus” price so that the growers can actually receive living wages for their hard work.
One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was sitting in on the growers’ meeting. Some of the growers walked for as long as four hours up and down the mountains of Baraderes to reach Fond Tortue for this meeting. Their passion and commitment to coffee was evident as they explained that coffee is a symbol of hospitality and opportunity because it allows the growers to send their children to school, get loans to grow their business, and build their communities. It was evident in this meeting that the growers were clearly capable of hard work so it makes sense to compensate them for their efforts to produce beans for America’s favorite drink!
Besides Just Haiti, we saw another developmental model when we visited a clinic within Baraderes. Because we had two physician assistant majors and one respiratory care major on the trip, seeing healthcare in another country was extremely powerful for the group. The clinic that we saw was staffed by only one paid nurse, a doctor who came for one week per month, and a few other volunteers. The lack of personnel caused the hospital to only be able to treat the patients with one specific illness per day. To fill the gaps, the best solution seems like sending in supplies and doctors from the United States. However, this also would be a band-aid solution because after the doctors would leave, the problems would still be present. The only way for the hospital to be able to sustain itself would be to have paying customers, and as of now, many people who need medical attention in this region cannot pay for their care. This was a difficult realization for me because it reinforced the levels of complexity in the society that usually prevent people from making a difference in the long term.
Sharing these experiences and reflecting deeply upon them created a lot of unity within our group. Together, we tried to overcome a language barrier to create relationships with the people we met. We tried speaking French and some Spanish to the kids of Fond Tortue when our English/Kreyol Dictionary did not seem to be working! Team Haiti shared numerous jokes and games of Phase 10 between activities. Even swatting at bugs or comparing “showering strategies” were funny memories from the trip! By the end of the week, it was easy to see how each of us had grown as individuals and as partners within the group. At the final reflection, we talked about the ways in which this trip has changed our thinking and what we plan to do differently when we return home. We all agree that it will be important to use sustainability as the ultimate goal for charity work in any context, including in Erie. In addition, we hope to continue a relationship with Just Haiti which would involve selling the coffee on campus and promoting the Fair Trade Plus model.
Before heading to the airport, we took a tour of Port-au-Prince. We drove past the National Palace which had been completely destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. We also found the well-known statue, La Statue du Marron Inconnu, which features a slave blowing a conch shell to symbolize revolution. Although Haiti is free from control by the French, the country is, in some ways, enslaved by other world powers who do not pay fair prices for its exports. Just Haiti is a company that strives to create fairness which in turn, encourages true sustainable development in the Haitian society. Through interactions with Just Haiti, Gannon will work towards promoting equality and justice throughout the world.