Trip to Haiti
Written by Jeff Stevens, Director of Planning | View Jeff’s Bio
When one thinks of overseas opportunities for Planning and Architectural firms still miffed by the ongoing domestic development slowdown, Haiti is not the first place that comes to mind. It is not stealing any headlines from China when it comes to economic development stories but when opportunity knocks…..well you know the rest.
Haiti is in fact the poorest country in the western hemisphere, malaria (P. falciparum, the most dangerous strain) is endemic throughout the country and cholera is now endemic following the earthquake that devastated the capital, Port au Prince. Our own State Department says “Haiti is one of the least developed and least stable countries in the Western Hemisphere.” Based on that statement, if the glass is half full then Haiti is ripe for development! (In the spirit of full disclosure, do read the full State Department country specific information on Haiti before making any travel plans)
Some staff in our office balked upon being invited for a site visit for a variety of very good reasons but I have never had the opportunity to speak my second language, French, in a professional environment and this is the language of Haiti (Ayiti in the native Creole and as it is pronounced in French). After speaking with the client who has been working on getting development projects going in Haiti for six years, has a cadre of assistants sprinkled around the country, has never had a bad incident, spoke fluent French as well and was clearly committed to bringing her vision and economic development to Haiti I was convinced.
Yes, other Caribbean islands like Barbados or St. Thomas sound a lot more glamorous and upscale but I feel that planners are not supposed to discriminate and in particular, to pay particular attention to the needs of underserved communities. Haiti is as underserved as it gets. This was my 37th country, many of them third world countries, and I can tell you I had not seen that level of poverty at that scale since Dakar, Senegal 20+ years ago.
After meeting the client in person, meeting with local government officials, seeing the sincere and hopeful eyes of her local assistants in Haiti I realized in no uncertain terms that I cannot even think to turn my back on these people who readily accept whatever is handed their way but at the same time will do whatever they can to improve their situation. The people I met were poor but polite, respectful, clean, well dressed and groomed and at the ready to help with a quick smile. After looking into the hopeful eyes of so many, how could I decide not to pursue a project because I was afraid of Malaria, personal safety or Cholera when they face these realities and persevere every day even in our absence?
Now I understood how the client came to the point where she is at.