An Eye-Opening Journey

As my study abroad group traipsed through the airport upon arriving in Haiti, I began feeling overwhelmed: a language I didn’t know, a culture I didn’t understand, and people completely different from me. I’d seen Haiti on the news before and wondered if I should feel scared. What I would quickly learn is that Haiti is so much more than American media could ever show us. This is a country you must experience.

My chaotic emotions were calmed when we were greeted by our IMF tour guide, Cameron. Cameron’s warm personality, welcoming smile, and love for pizza reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.

One characteristic I quickly picked up on was how hardworking the Haitians are. The American media has created a perception that there are no opportunities in Haiti. However, Haitians are trying to create opportunities for themselves. There are street vendors on just about every corner – people selling fruit, clothes, shoes, and handmade goods. While the Haitian market may be oversaturated with the limited goods they have access to, we toured a number of social enterprises taking a different approach. Many social enterprises are going above and beyond basic employment. Most of the social enterprises offer classes focusing on bettering the lives of their employees, such as financial management or health classes. Through these businesses we saw how we, as American consumers, have the opportunity to support Haitian employment by purchasing their goods. The Haitians employed at these businesses were incredibly grateful for their jobs and took pride in being able to support their families.

Along with being hardworking, most Haitians seemed happy. I think there is something to be said about how happy and grateful these people are with so little and how we, in America, are constantly searching for happiness and peace of mind. I think this has to do with our materialistic lifestyle. As we were sitting in a Haitian worship service, I began wondering if their lifestyle, being less focused on material goods, strengthened their relationships with God. I was intrigued with how religious the Haitian people are. We were able to speak to different community members about their religious views, including voodoo. The IMF crew that traveled to the sites with us were very helpful in answering our questions about cultural differences.

While most Haitian communities were very welcoming to us, there were a few individuals who were hesitant towards our presence, and rightfully so. We witnessed multiple instances of American culture being invasive of Haitian culture. For example, all of our American brand excess clothes that line the streets or the Clinton-Bush Initiative apartments. Sometimes, as Americans, we assume that because our country is more developed, we know best, but this is not always the case.

In order to create a lasting impact on Haiti and help lift them out of poverty we need to gain their trust and focus on building relationships, like IMF is doing. There was not a single moment that I felt unsafe, between our lovely tour guide Cameron and our teddy bear of a bodyguard, Kalipso, we were very well taken care of. It was clear through all of our adventures that IMF has built strong, trustworthy relationships with the Haitian people.

Through my travels with IMF, I have a newfound respect for Haiti. My eyes were opened and my beliefs were challenged. The Haitian people have a beautiful culture. I wish more students could have this experience and open their hearts to what Haiti has to teach us.

 

Written by Emily Waddell | The Honest Consumer | IMF Mission Team Member from Belmont University, May 2017

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