Forget this narrative:
Haiti is a dangerous, politically unstable, corrupt, and voodoo worshipping country. It’s the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a virtual pit of foreign aid, and a place to be avoided.
That’s a pre-2010 narrative. That’s like saying you shouldn’t go to Tijuana because of gang violence. There’s truth in the claim but not context to validate that opinion.
There is a new narrative in Haiti that I want to ask you to consider: Haiti is beautiful.
Last week, I made my 8th trip to Haiti since 2010. And in those trips I’ve actually never seen the pre-2010 narrative validated with my experiences.
“Haiti is Dangerous”
On the local level I’ve never heard of a violent crime against a Western visitor. I’ve heard of a few petty crimes like pickpocketing or even getting yelled at about something. But I can’t think of an incident where I experienced being “in danger” anywhere in Haiti.
For a North American visitor, particularly accompanied by a Haitian, Haiti is no more dangerous than where you live in the United States. (It’s probably safer)
I would counter the “Haiti is dangerous” narrative with “Haitians are generous.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve enjoyed the generosity of my Haitian friends… and even strangers. I have a terrible habit of setting things down and forgetting them. (Water bottles, backpacks, camera equipment, etc.) These things are always returned to me!
“Haiti is politically unstable”
Like other developing nations, Haiti has experienced military coups. Several times in its history the United States has sent troops or occupied parts of Haiti, really the U.S. has a weird history with Haiti. But it’s been 11 years since the last serious bout of instability.
Right now, the parliament in Haiti is dysfunctional but not unstable. Some elections didn’t happen on time, the majority of members of parliament had their terms expire, which left the parliament unable to operate properly for a period of time. But there are parliamentary elections coming very soon.
So unstable isn’t the right term– and definitely not dangerously so. I mean, have you seen the U.S. Congress lately? I’d say we’re equally dysfunctional.
Haiti is definitely different than the United States in the size and function of local government. Things we take for granted just don’t exist. But I wouldn’t label any of that as politically unstable, more like the local government is severely underdeveloped.
Rather than the “Haiti is political unstable” narrative I would challenge you to accept a new idea that “Haitians are hard working, industrious partners.” Yes, billions of dollars in foreign aid have been wasted at the government and agency level. But locally? A new breed of church-to-church partnership is strengthening the local church and meeting localized needs.
“Haiti is corrupt”
I’ve never seen evidence of this in my trips there as I’ve worked with church leaders.
Everyone in Haiti is aware that the vast majority of post-earthquake foreign aid never went to address the needs of the people. “Where is the money?” was a question asked by everyone. There have been protests and inquiries and all point to corruption. But, again, I would challenge you to look at the local level where you’ll see another story.
Instead of allowing the narrative of “Haiti is corrupt” I would encourage you to think about “Haitians encourage strong local leadership.” As we saw last week with Pastor Jean Delcy, a local leader has the ability to get things done with or without government aid by establishing healthy long-term relationships.
“Haiti is a voodoo worshipping country”
Yes, voodoo is an active religion in Haiti. Like other areas in the world it is somewhat syncretized with Catholicism. Whereas, in the United States most Protestants would have no problem lumping Catholics together to say we’re together “Christians” this isn’t normally the case in Haiti.
Since the 2010 earthquake Protestant Christianity has seen a dramatic increase in Haiti whereas voodoo has taken a hit. So you can replace the “Haiti is a voodoo nation” narrative with a more accurate “Haitians know Christianity brings good news.” One pastor said that the earthquake provided a wake-up call to the Haitian church. They didn’t have to be shy, they just had to serve people and that’d open doors for the Gospel to spread. I find this correlation between acts of service as evangelism refreshing!
“Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere”
OK, this remains true. If you are talking about economic development Haiti is absolutely the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
As Americans we equate economic poverty to all kinds of poverty when that’s not the case. As if our “having it all” somehow addresses every deficiency.
A first time visitor is usually overcome by the visual signs of poverty. But as you get on the ground you realize something quite quickly– while Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, there is something here which reveals great wealth among the Haitian people.
I would encourage you to replace the “poorest nation” narrative with “Haitians are proud to be the first independent nation made up of former slaves.” In Haiti, I don’t see poor people. I see a proud people.
“Haiti is a place to be avoided”
When you combine all of these narratives most people seem to put it all together in a nose crinkling way, “Haiti is just a place to be avoided.”
Americans like things to be pretty simple. Most of us want to travel to places that make sense to us, that fit within our existing framework of understanding. This is why people go on cruises to other countries instead of just traveling to those countries. They want the illusion of having been somewhere without… you know… actually leaving a cruise-line owned compound where everyone speaks English and their all-inclusive wristband is a form of currency.
Haiti isn’t the microwaveable meal that a trip to Puerto Vallarta can be. You aren’t going to get a guide book and rental car and just figure it out. It’s more like the first time you tried sushi– you’ll need some help understanding what everything is and what you like. It’s full of juxtaposition. You’ll meet people who live in a home with a dirt floor but don’t have a spot of dirt on their clothing. You’ll spend a day volunteering to clean up a beach full of garbage, rancid seaweed, and human waste— then go 20 minutes down the road to discover the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen in your life.
Haiti isn’t McDonald’s traveling. It’s harder than that. But there’s a richness to Haiti that you won’t find anywhere else. When you hang out with people who go back again and again you’ll discover that Haiti is kind of addictive. It reminds me of a local fisherman who started selling sea urchin ceviche at our farmers market a few years back. At first, he had to give it away because it was outside of our American palette. But when you tried it you discovered something. Sure, it’s a new flavor. But when you tried it you discovered a new delight.
I want to challenge you to reconsider the “Haiti is a place to be avoided” narrative with a new one: “Haiti is beautiful.”
It’s time for you to see for yourself
If you follow this blog you already know I’ve got a deep love for Haiti and what God is doing in Haiti through His church. I want to invite you to consider going on your own or even taking a team of students or adults. I’ve invested tons of time and resources in vetting the ministry of Praying Pelican Missions and their work in Haiti. I know them, their leadership, and their philosophy well… which is why I recommend them.
If you want to know more about their work please fill out the form below. Also, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment here. (My next open trip will be in April 2016. Join me!)