During my recent three-week stay in Haiti, mainly in the capital of Port au Prince, I had an opportunity to really witness the spirit of the people. Donna Karan, a fashion designer who is very active in the artisan community of the country, said in the 2012 documentary Haiti Untold: “When I came to Haiti to see the spirit of the people… it was complete inspiration. I knew, at that point, that the answer for Haiti was in the people.” I could not agree more.
Last time I visited Haiti, I wrote a blog post about the country’s potential to be a player in the global economy. I want to add to it. I believe that Haiti has immense potential to create sustainable businesses and organizations to guarantee jobs and growth for years to come.
As the frequent anti-government protests this last month demonstrate, it seems that the Haitian people themselves, and the private sector are the responsible players in ensuring growth. This emergence of the private sector is also reflected in the schooling system as 80% of Haiti’s schools are privately owned and run. Haitians are investing in education, as is evident in all my school visits, and they are investing in entrepreneurship.
I had the opportunity to live and work in an artisan workshop for the last two weeks of my trip, a place called Haiti Design Co-op, which was a perfect example of this Haitian entrepreneurial mentality. Despite the protests, police barricades, tear gas, and transportation strikes, a majority of the 60 artisans continued showing up to work. While U.S. citizens were warned to not leave their homes, as thousands of people were gathering together, taunting the police, and targeting vehicles with home-made explosives and rocks, these dedicated Haitian entrepreneurs risked their lives to continue their work, some by walking over two hours each way. As Denis O’Brien, founder and executive chairman of telecommunication giant Digicel said, “Haiti has the best artistic talent in the whole of the Caribbean” – and it shows.
The same can be said of the majority of school administrators and teachers – they believe in their students to change their futures and the future of the country. They also continued working through the protests: teachers at our pilot school showed up to school each day to teach, despite the fact that most of the students had to stay home. The Haitian people have endured some of the worst environmental disasters in history (deforestation that can be seen from outer space, earthquakes that displaced millions of people), along with corrupt leadership and decades of slavery. In 2010, an article in the Guardian named Haiti “with Somalia as just about the worst [most damaged] society on earth.”
But the people have the daily strength of faith and spirit to continue to lift themselves out of poverty. It’s the mission of Library For All to provide the tools, the books and resources, to aid individuals in this, and we have found a perfect partner in the people of Haiti. I left humbled and excited to continue learning from and experiencing this amazing country – one with serious potential.