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Haiti Studying Abroad in a Country Most Americans Pity or Ignore

"I'm studying abroad this summer!" "Wow that's so amazing! Where are you going?" "I'm going to Haiti for two weeks."

"Oh..."

Study abroad group

Through Washington State University, I and three other students were able to study abroad in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitian for two weeks. My professor, Dr. Caitlin Bletscher, partnered with Dr. Bertrhude Albert and Dr. Priscilla Zelaya, co-founders of the non-profit P4H Global. The purpose of this trip was to immerse ourselves in a different country to blur the lines between "us" and "them." Identifying roles as global citizens is a key component to being an active member of society. This study abroad experience provided me with ways to start the journey of learning accompaniment, rather than imposing ways of life, values, and systems.

Mountainous views from Northern Haiti's biggest historical attraction, The Citadelle Laferrière (The Citadel)

I boarded my flight counting the positive reactions I received about going to Haiti on one hand. Media is in the midst of a storm containing fake news and opinions being mistaken as facts while having more information and global connections than ever. When it comes to Haiti, it seems the rest of the world is still stuck in post-earthquake-2010. But, it is 2018. Is there not more to the world than what the media says?

Top left: Cathedral in Cap Haitian. Top right: Pastor Obed's Church in Cite Soliel. Mid left: Jalousie, Port-au-Prince. Mid right: Le Marron Inconnu (The Unknown Slave,) Port-au-Prince. Bottom left: Musée National d'Haïti (National Museum of Haiti.) Bottom right: Iron Market, Port-au-Prince

One assignment of ours was to plan out a two-day conference in Cap Haitian. I wasn’t just teaching basic English words, but I was connecting with, laughing with, and learning in a room full of determined people. I had to push through the anxiety and handle our plans not working out on the spot because there was no other choice. I had to risk spectacularly. After day one, we changed our activities planned to fit the wants of the people who attended day one. Instead of focusing more on memorization, we focused on pronunciation and using words in sentences. To make change is to be uncomfortable. To make change is not telling people how to change, it is giving encouragement and accommodations to wanted dreams and opportunities.

Fort Jacques

Another purpose of this trip was meeting and connecting with multiple non-profit and for-profit organizations based in Haiti. We were able to learn about the history of these organizations, their roles in communities, and any plans for the future.

  1. Save the Children - International organization for children's rights
  2. MINUJUSTH - United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti
  3. InnovEd - Teacher Training Program with the ability to reach rural teachers through University Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince
  4. SAKALA - Haitian founded youth center in Cite Soliel, known as Haiti's biggest slum, providing a garden, laptops, books, and more
  5. Papillon - Market selling Haitian made fashion pieces
  6. Streethearts - Housing system for homeless boys which provides them with structure, social connections, and information
  7. Haiti UncutInstagram account capturing the beauty many other media sites do not
  8. Hands Up for Haiti - Organization giving medical attention and knowledge to be passed on
Top left: Meeting with Maxim Laroche, creator of Haiti Uncut. Top center: Mural at Papillon. Top right: Teacher trainers and staff members of InnovEd. Bottom left: In the garden at SAKALA. Bottom right: Meeting with Chief of Human Rights for MINUJUSTH.

The obvious abundance of organizations makes some people wonder why nothing seems to be changing. Don’t be mistaken. There is, and always has been, change happening. The organizations and people we were able to connect with have been and are in place, eager to grow. I think a common misconception of developing nations is the citizens are the only ones needing to change. To me, that shows the values countries considered developed, like America, hold. As countries develop, other countries need to be accepting of the social and economic changes to come. Without a change in perception, Haiti's voice will continue to be muffled. As long as the perception of Haiti is negative, economic opportunities will continue to be withheld from around the globe. The term "developing country" means a country is in the progress of self-improvement. Development is a process that does not need saving, it seeks accommodation, partnerships, and durability.

We are all citizens of the world. No mental or physical SEPARATION Can take that away.

Haiti is drowning in handouts. Handouts trap everyone involved in that system in a cycle of dependency and savior mentalities. All sides have issues with it. Talking to Firins Francisque and David Etinne, staff members of the non-profit P4H Global, provided me with new perspectives I, as an American, did not have.

  • "Haiti has everything it needs already: land, sun, water, and people. Handouts are not essential, investing in thinking and capacity is."
  • "To be a good American advocate, plead that Haiti is not poor. Help create durable change, urge for schools and factories, bring attention away from the problems the media shows, and change yours and others perceptions of Haiti."

the Haitian flag states unity is strength.

Battle of Vertières - the last battle fought for independence from the French colonizers

Haiti was the first free black republic. Haitian history is full of courage that overthrew the French colonizers. Haitian history is full of strength that survived through global isolation and overthrew dictators. Haiti has resilience, having faced multiple natural catastrophes and still continue to stand tall. The pride Haitians have in their history is apparent. I had the honor to attend a Sunday church service in Cap Haitian. That bulk of courage, strength, resilience, and pride is simultaneously released and built back up in those early hours. I struggled to understand what Pastor Albert and others were saying during the service, but I was moved to tears.

Before this trip, I was asked what my definition of global citizenship was. I came up with, “We are all citizens of the globe, we all belong. Diversity is inevitable and should be celebrated.” After coming back from Haiti, I feel more passionate about that statement but also driven, I feel driven to do what I can do now. International aid ties into global citizenship. Too many people look at global issues and assume they can do nothing. But actions led to independence. Actions lead to growth. Actions lead to change. I’ve brainstormed a way to continue to learn how to be an active global citizen. I like to call it “The Four As.”

  1. Awareness - Be aware of global current events and keep in mind there are always multiple points of view
  2. Active learning - Pick a few current events that speak to you and research the history, present, and any future plans or consequences. Never stop learning about the world, but don't overwhelm yourself in the process.
  3. Advocacy - Use your privileges and platforms as a way to spread correct and critical information. Create a conversation and keep it going.
  4. Accompaniment - Accompaniment is empowerment. Accompaniment is support. Accompaniment is listening and working together to meet the needs of people, not the expectations you want to see fulfilled.

Is the United States not still in the process of developing? To capture some of the current issues, Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water. Poverty and homelessness are seen in cities and towns from Seattle to Chicago to New York City. The United States has some of the highest levels of poverty compared to other countries considered developed. That poverty and homelessness ties into the food insecurity issues seen even on elite college campuses. There are still medical access issues denying coverage to sick or injured men, women, and children. The media shares a sickening amount of police brutality and school shooting stories. America's middle class is continuing to shrink. With that, several government officials are currently under investigation for committing treason and spreading false information. One official is currently serving time for obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Yes, the United States has many things to be proud of. But who are we to pity or ignore developing countries with issues like these on our shoulders?

Haiti does not need to be saved. Speaking to many Haitians showed me they need more job and educational opportunities. Investments in human capital are needed, not old clothes and baby formula in Ziploc bags.

Awareness. Active learning. Advocacy. Accompaniment. These are what the world, not just Haiti, needs. Change is slow, but it is constant. And it is powerful.

This is Haiti

I want to thank Washington State University and Washington State University Global Learning for approving this study abroad trip. Go Cougs! I want to thank my parents for the funding and everlasting support of me and my education. I want to thank Dr. Caitlin Bletscher, Dr. Bertrhude Albert, and Dr. Priscilla Zelaya for planning such a beautiful experience for us. I want to thank Pastor Obed, our drivers, and our tour guides. I want to thank Pastor Albert and Mama for welcoming us into their home and community full of delicious food. I want to thank the organizations who sat down with us. I want to thank Wall's International House in Port-au-Prince. I want to thank Taylor, Kylie, and Sidney, for supporting me through the two weeks and are now some of my best friends. Lastly, I want to thank Junior, who could always put a smile on my face at the end of the day.

Haiti is a place full of pride, faith, and resilience. I'm already planning my trip back.

Created By
Leanna Totten
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