Exploring Thrive Haiti
By Ryan Brinkerhoff
August 10, 2017
After 18 months of planning, fundraising and ground work in Nepal, Thrive has officially touched down in a new country. But before sharing that experience with you, our whole team would like to say thank you to our beloved Thrive Nation and our new friend, Monsieur Bob Hood — without all of you our journey would not be possible.
With your support and our incredible team continuing work in Nepal we decided to spread our wings a bit, and on July 28th, Brian, Josh and I arrived in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and set off on our newest adventure. Our first impression? Haiti is not Nepal (surprise, surprise). To begin with, they are located in opposite regions of the world. Haiti is an island of hills while Nepal is landlocked on all sides and divided into regions by entire mountains ranges and valleys. Moreover, there is a distinct difference in the atmosphere: the Haitian people are noticeably more defensive, especially towards foreigners, but let’s come back to that.
I will say that we were fortunate to have done some networking before arriving and decided to stay with our new friends at Haiti Communitere (HC for short), an eco-friendly guest house and co-working space for NGOs that also happens to have a branch in Nepal! Once there, we met locals and foreigners alike, all working to better communities in Haiti and they made us feel right at home.
We learned from them fast and (to an earlier point) found out there is a long history that explains the seemingly defensive nature of many Haitians. From the country’s early experiences with colonization to global isolation and failed long-term aid efforts, the experience of foreigners in Haiti has rarely been a positive one. With that in mind, I can’t blame them for being skeptical of our presence.
But while some people might think you can learn all this on the internet or question why we put ourselves in that position to begin with, it was important for us to be on the ground for these assessments. By physically being there we could could feel the tension when we made the wrong impression or found ourselves in an a new group. Only by being on the ground could we smell the salt fade from the air as we drove up the coast to the more isolated jungle communities in the northern end of the island. We could get a real feel for the environment.
More importantly, it is only by our direct interactions that we could begin to earn the trust of the people we want to help — that is, if they will accept our help at all. And it is through conversations with the locals that we learned what they really want and how they want it to be delivered. We have seen the value of this approach time and time again in Nepal, and it was clearly even more crucial during our time surveying in Haiti.
Through this process we were able to see many differences that will influence our work in Haiti going forward, but we also saw many similarities with our Nepali friends.
Here’s the short list:
1) They want to work
2) They want their kids to learn and go to school
3) They want to start businesses
These things are understandably difficult when you lack critical infrastructure and qualified teachers and community leaders. These challenges are amplified when many outside NGOs offer only temporary solutions that end up harming local businesses and even worse, create new issues, such as increased waste.
As we return to the U.S. we take these lessons with us, hoping to integrate them into programs that will bring truly sustainable change to Haitian communities. We plan to return by the end of 2017, and we do so because the communities we met from Port au Prince all the way up to Cap Haitian ASKED US TO. The change starts with them, but if they are willing to welcome us again then we will be glad to roll up our sleeves and work TOGETHER.
Thank you to all those dedicated members of Thrive Nation who continue to follow our journey, and for more up close and personal stories from the field check out our YouTube channel: Thrive Projects
Live, Learn, Thrive.
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