Haiti: Business, Not Charity, Is the Key to a Better Future
Monday, January 12, 2015
In 1995, when I was 18, I served as a volunteer for a Columbia University-sponsored aid program in Haiti at a time when the country was in social and political crisis. Our mission in Port-au-Prince – to paint a local school and visit a hospital – made no sense to me. We were neither painters nor medical professionals. We were little more than tourists.
The day after we completed our painting duties, three of us wandered out of the section of the city patrolled by the United Nations Multinational Force and headed for Fort Nationale, one of the poorest areas in Haiti. There, two kind teenage Haitian boys volunteered to show us around. Deep in the neighborhood, a woman, whose face lit up, her eyes cold and piercing, yanked me into a home the size of my dorm bathroom. The air was thick and putrid with the stench of rot and human waste.
She pointed to the ground where a child of about six years old – the age of my own son now – lay listless, flies buzzing around his body. The boy’s eyes were wide open, the irises yellow, and he stared blankly at the wall. His eyelid twitched at one of the flies. The woman screamed at me, and I rushed outside where the air, heavy with urine and rot, swallowed me. A large crowd appeared and hands grabbed me and my friends, lifting us off the ground. Dragged into one hut after another, we saw more children starving or dying of illness.
A friend who spoke Creole yelled that the crowd was talking about Americans who had visited months ago, doctors who had looked like me: “They said they would come back with medicine and food.”
A rock hit my head. Then another. My friend translated that some in the crowd planned to get machetes to kill us. Others said they wanted to hold us hostage. We were tugged in many directions, but with the help of the boys who had brought us, we eventually escaped to Port-au-Prince and found our group.
- Impact Assessment