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Adapted from a presentation by Mary Lou Larkin, Medical Director, Haiti Marycare
Why We Work in Haiti
Grassroots Economic Development
Optimism and Hope
Why We Work in Haiti
Haiti — just two hours by plane from Miami — has been described as hell on earth. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. As you fly over the island, it is easy to distinguish the two countries. The Dominican Republic appears lush and green, while Haiti is brown, cracked, and marked with dried gullies from repeated erosion. It was once a cultivated and rich land that produced two thirds of Europe’s tropical produce. Haiti today is stripped of trees in a constant quest for firewood and charcoal. The country has a population of 8 million people, 98 percent of whom live in rural areas and 2 percent of whom live in the capitol, Port au Prince.
As one emerges from the airport in Port au Prince, you are hit by white-hot sunlight and heat, the smell of burning charcoal, and a swarm of men and boys desperate to make a few Haitian dollars by carrying your suitcase, briefcase, hat, anything that you’ll allow. It can be a little frightening, as you are practically carried along in this swell of people, but you get used to it and you know it is only so they can buy themselves a little food. Everyone I ever met in Haiti is hungry most of the time.
Slums of Port au Prince
The city is alive with colorful “tap taps” — open-air trucks with more people than you can imagine crammed into them. There are sounds of honking cars, crowing roosters, barking dogs, and people doing anything they can to make a little money to feed their families. Women sell food, used clothes, flip-flops, men sell old car parts, cigarettes, or scrap metal. And nearly everywhere you look, one sees the faces of poverty: children begging, garbage burning, tin or cardboard huts erected along the road or behind a gas station.
I recently read a description written by a high school student visiting Haiti, who wrote, “Usually when you visit a poor place the poverty lasts for several blocks or miles, but then the scenery changes and you come to a nice place, but in Haiti you never get to that place, the poverty just goes on and on and sometimes just gets worse.” Sadly, his description is accurate.
Some facts and figures about Haiti:
* Haiti has the third-highest hunger rate in the world
* life expectancy is 52 years
* infant mortality is 73 per 1,000 per live births
* of every 1,000 women who give birth, 17 die
* of 1,000 children born, 123 die before the age of five
* only 56 percent of children attend primary school
* only one in five children of secondary-school age attends school
* the literacy rate is 52 percent
* the unemployment rate is 70 percent
* Haiti is more "water-poor" (a measure of water quality and availability) than any country in the world
These are the statistics, grim and depressing. But our focus is not on the statistics, nor on the violence in Haiti, but on some good things that are happening, and on the hope that so many Haitians carry in their hearts. Once I got to Haiti, the statistics were no longer important. When you put faces on the numbers and allow your heart to open up, everything changes.
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