On Thursday morning, as we passed platters of fresh fruit and eggs, it was hard to believe that this would be our last day in Haiti. In such a short time, we had seen and learned so much.
A Wednesday night discussion had set the tone for Thursday. As a group, we reflected on how valuable it had been to see the promising, hopeful side of Haiti. We saw this in small business owners, in rebuilt schools, in beautiful scenery and in the promise of new hospital facilities. We vowed to bring this message of hope back with us. However, as law students studying human rights, we felt it was also important to learn about and to see some of the extreme hardship in Haiti.
So on our last day, we spoke with attorneys and community members working with Haitians living in tent cities, or “camps” who were facing eviction. We also had the opportunity to tour one of these camps. This was a chance to see, up close, the unimaginable living conditions of so many Haitians.
Our speakers talked about President Martelly’s plan to evict the residents of several camps. They discussed legal strategies, the importance of educating Haitians about their rights, and community empowerment. It was inspiring to see the different types of activists and how they were rallying for these residents.
Actually entering a camp was an unforgettable experience. In the morning, I worked with a group of law students from Fordham. We surveyed camp residents about what camp life was like, what they knew about Martelly’s eviction plans, and where they would go if evicted. While many answers were hard to hear, and probably even harder for the residents to admit, the Haitians remained proud and dignified. In the afternoon, the entire delegation toured a different camp. We were guided by one of our speakers, Joseph, who was on that camp’s committee.
Unsurprisingly, the living conditions in these camps are deplorable. Many families are sheltered only by tarps. The ground is dirty and muddy. The job prospects are low. Nonetheless, the children are sweet, playful and friendly. There is laughter, friendship and family. The contrast in these camps paralleled the discussion we had as a group. While Haiti is broken, it is hopeful.
In retrospect, I am so fortunate to have had this experience. The range of exposure to both the good and bad fostered a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to really help, and what our purpose was as a delegation. I hope this exposure inspired some of us to pursue an even deeper understanding and to effectuate change in complicated, resilient, beautiful Haiti.