Hope in Haiti

I’m sitting by a log fire in the foyer of my hotel on a freezing cold, Colorado autumn day. A hot, spiced-latte is slowly thawing out my frozen body after I foolishly decided to take a walk wearing only a T shirt and thin jacket. When will I learn this is not Australia!

It’s just over two weeks now since I was in Haiti and it’s taken me a bit of time to process some of what I experienced. Although just a short flight from the USA, Haiti could be on a different planet when compared to how people live here.

Having read Paul Farmer’s book on Haiti post earthquake, I arrived in Port-au-Prince expecting to see fallen buildings and rubble all over the city. Sure, I saw one or two pancaked buildings, still untouched since that fateful day in 2010, as well as a fair amount of rubble piled up here and there. What I didn’t expect was the amount of new buildings that have been constructed in the last 12 -18 months as well as the hundreds of buildings still under construction. The Royal Palace, the nation’s symbol, so badly damaged in the quake and left in ruins for so long, has finally been demolished. International chains are building 4 and 5 star hotels. There is a building frenzy going on and to the outsider it could appear that life has returned to normal, whatever that looked like before.

However, you don’t have to look too far as you drive through the streets of Delmas, Carrefour, and even the more affluent Petionville to see flimsy, weathered US AID- provided tents clustered tightly together forming large makeshift communities of people still homeless since the quake. The International Organization for Migration reports that the number of displaced people still living in these camps three and half years after the disaster is around 320,000, possibly more.

Poor sanitation and a lack of clean water make these makeshift camps a breeding ground for diseases, including cholera. With poor lighting and unsecured tents, as well as a lack of effective law enforcement, Haitian women and children are especially vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence. Living in these desperate conditions means higher rates of crime and substance abuse.

Yet Haiti is not hopeless, I found hope everywhere I looked — hope in the smiles of the kids, even those living in tent cities; hope in the staff of the child development centres as they nurture and educate the children in their care towards a future, less bound by the shackles of extreme poverty; hope in the passionate and determined men and women of Compassion Haiti who in spite of so much personal loss of family, friends and homes in 2010, were still as committed and faithful to working as tireless advocates for the children of Haiti.

More to come …

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Through my eyes

I have the enormous privilege of occasionally travelling with my husband as he does research for an international NGO. As a result, I appreciate and understand the importance of objectivity and gathering good data etc in order to present valid evidence, but as an emotional arty-farty type, I tend to be very subjective and reactive so the following accounts of our West Africa adventures are based purely on my personal observations and opinions and are not in any way endorsed by my husband!

Africa draws me in every time. Although a continent of many lands and different cultures, there’s something about the combination of red earth, dust, crazy traffic and the smiles that warm my heart and give me hope for the future of this amazing continent.

Accra, Ghana’s capital, is a sprawling city. You can see the signs of development in the many building sites across the city. There’s also the Accra Mall filled with western style stores. ( Not necessarily a good sign of development!) Arriving at our ‘ Grand Hotel’ where the brochure promises that we will be treated as ‘royal guests’, we are greeted by staff in brightly coloured traditional dress who effortlessly swing our heavy bags onto their shoulders and climb two flights of stairs to our room. Along the same street are similar grandiosely named restaurants and hotels, pertaining to royalty and all things majestic.

Along the dusty streets sprawl myriads of shops and stalls where owners stand plying their wares from dawn until dusk. They sell everything from fridges, stoves, couches, audio gear, clothes, pulpits and even coffins. Trading names include Blessed by God electrical enterprises; Glorious healing hair salon; hallelujah hardware …

A predominantly Christian country, there are church signs in abundance and giant billboards with pictures of animated men in suits advertising crusades and healing ministries.

And then there’s the food. My western palette is not used to banku, fufu and palava sauce, although I did at least try some – once!

For me, the highlight of our few days in Ghana was the visit to a Compassion project where we were apparently the first white visitors to actually visit on a Saturday when all the children were there. I am always humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff and volunteers and of course it was a joy to be among the children.

I in 1.4 billion

There are 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty – one of the many statistics we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. In fact I’m such a words girl that as soon as I hear or see numbers, I chill out and they become almost meaningless. But last night I met 1 of the 1.4 billion. She wasn’t a statistic; her name was Rosa and she was trying to sell me a rose as the sun set over Manila bay.

Manila Bay is where the rich and the poor converge under a reddening sky to appreciate nature’s celebration of the day’s end. Luxury hotels and office blocks line one side of the multi-lane boulevard while the other side plays host to local joggers, tourists, ice-cream sellers, and touters of tacky souvenirs and fake pearls. It is also here, on sheets of plastic and cardboard, that Rosa makes her home. This is where Rosa and her five-month-old baby spend their days (and nights) trying to make ends meet.

So how did she end up here? Like everyone who ends up in a place like this, there is a story:

Rosa’s husband recently died, leaving her with four children and no income. Like so many from other parts of the Philippines, Rosa thought she’d have a better chance of finding a job in Manila. So leaving her three other children behind with her sister, she arrived here with her baby.

Unfortunately, Rosa has discovered that finding work with no vocational training is almost impossible. No proper job means no income. No income means no rent money. No rent money means no home … and so the cycle of extreme poverty continues. Rosa gives street-side massages during the day and tries to sell roses to tourists like me at night. She earns around 2 dollars a day. Not enough to pay rent; not enough for a return ticket home.

I tell her that I don’t want to buy a rose, but I would like to buy her a meal. I slip her a few pesos and feel a little taken aback when she begins to cry. The measly amount I have given her is more than she’s made all day.

We say goodbye and an hour later as we drive away, I see her standing under a street light, her baby asleep in her arms. She still has 5 roses in her hand – the same number she had when we met.

I’d love to say there is a happy ending to this story, but there’s not. I presume that Rosa is out there again tonight. It’s raining heavily as I type. It just doesn’t seem right…