Bienvenue a Haiti!
I arrived into the chaos of Port-au-Prince airport on Thursday to a text message that read, “there will be a one armed man who will help you”. I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be prophetic or whether I’d just been transported into a Fugitive remake, but such are the adventures of traveling to Haiti. It is the most beautiful and heartbreaking place that I have ever known. Every time I go there I see the most desperate poverty and the most casual disregard for human life, and then just when I begin to lose all hope , I meet someone who has literally given his or her life over to helping improve the conditions that drive such desperation and my faith in humanity is restored. Haiti is an incredible place. But it’s not for the faint of heart.
At baggage claim I did indeed meet the one armed man, Jackson, who brought me to our driver in Haiti, Johnny. Johnny is great, he’s been working with us now for two years and during that time he has kept us safe, delivered countless computers in treacherous conditions, and has tried and failed on more than one occasion, to teach me Creole. Creole is completely beyond my abilities.
In Haiti the official language is French, but 95 percent of the population speak Creole. Pretty much nobody but those in the tourism industry speak English and so if you can’t speak either French or Creole, it’s really tough to get around. I’ve learned and unlearned French three times now. The first time was at college where I learned the basics, then forgot everything but how to count to 10 and say hello and goodbye. Then there was the time I made it through all five Rosetta Stone levels – not to be an advertisement for the software but honestly that was the closest I came to being fluent. Again though, I didn’t use it and so I lost it. More recently, completely embarrassed that I’d had five years of French instruction and still couldn’t speak the language, I tried Duolingo. And between that and all my previous instruction, I am now capable of speaking toddler French – I just point at things and use monosyllabic words. The Haitians have been really kind to my bumbling efforts, maybe it’s because they struggle with English just like I struggle with French and so we all just muddle through together.
These houses are in the neighborhood of Jalousie in Petionville, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They were painted in 2012-2013 in a controversial project called “Jalousie en couleurs”, an homage to the Haitian painter Préfète Duffaut (1923-2012), who often filled his paintings with brightly colored hillside houses. The beautiful colors hide a grim reality, Jalousie is a slum of 45,000 to 50,000 inhabitants that sits on a secondary earthquake fault line. In addition, the residents of Jalousie lack access to basic services like electricity, schools, hospitals, and clean water. It is yet another difficult reality of Haiti. In partnership with Fondation Digicel, late last year Camara delivered an eLearning centre to another slum in Port au Prince, Cite Soleil. With more than 200,000 inhabitants, Cite Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere. The project was just one of 25 eLearning centres we delivered in partnership with Fondation Digicel over the last year.
Visit to Respire School:
In addition to our partnership with Fondation Digicel, Camara also has an agreement with Haven to deliver our eLearning centre package to several schools in Haiti. On Friday, John Moore of
Haven, Jacinta McGuane, our Haiti CEO, and I all took a bumpy drive to check out one of our upcoming schools, Respire, in an area just outside of Port au Prince called Gressier. The school was incredible! Run by Megan, an American who came to Haiti in 2010 on a short term assignment and decided to stay. She basically started the school from nothing and has gotten enough funding over the last several years to build one of the nicest schools that I’ve ever seen in Haiti. It’s at the top of a hillside with blue skies and green hills all around.
The school has 500 students, many of which are “Restaveks” which is a Creole word for child slave or house servant. These are children, generally between the ages of 4 and 15 that do all of the work for a household, the cooking, cleaning, carrying water, etc. Most often times these children do not attend school at all, and often they are abused. Respire offers these children and others in Gressier an opportunity for education that they would otherwise never receive. And because they offer both breakfast and lunch six days a week, the children are properly nourished to be able to learn as well. You would not know the hard life these children have faced watching them playing in the schoolyard. They looked as carefree and happy as any child in any country. It’s wonderful that Camara will be a part of this important project.