25 years an American, 7 months an Observer and 1 week in Haiti

Neg Marron (Iconic Symbol of Freedom for the Haitian People)

This post will reflect my 25 years as an American citizen, 7 months observing the situation from a far,  4 days in Cap-Haitien and 2 1/2 in Port-au-Prince. I was only in Haiti for a week, the 1.3 million people left homeless as a result of the January 12th earthquake will likely live there for life.

What I saw in one week taught me more than I learned in any one sitting as a undergraduate or graduate student. I spent the bulk of my time with an inspirational group of people from Sonje Ayiti working towards developing one city. They showed me the side of Haiti that most Americans never see on TV. I saw Haitians helping themselves and helping each other. I saw Haitians making great things out of meager resources. I ate with them, prayed with them and slept under same heat as them. I walked the streets of Limonade, visited the local hospital, saw what a typical Haitian classroom looks like, took showers using a bucket, swatted mosquitoes, rode over unpaved roads and smelled mounds of trash. I talked with them, learned more about their stories and of their dreams for the country. I walked through the tent city outside of the Haitian Presidential Palace. I saw statues of the  nations heroes surrounded by the very people they were fighting to secure a better future for since the 1700’s.  I saw the direct result of too many people, too little public administration and too many NGO’s in a small area.

Presidential Palace of Haiti

I saw a lot. To be honest, I’m having a hard time digesting it. I’ve visited townships in South Africa, poor communities in Guatemala and seen shantytowns in mainland China.  I’ve lived without hot water and heat in Chicago. But I have never seen the things I saw while in Haiti. The experience left a deep impression on me to not only grieve but to act.

Since my visit I’m more angry at; 1) People who are against taxes and 2) People who think Wyclef Jean was a viable option to be President of Haiti.

Taxation functions as a means to pay for public goods and services. They are meant to serve the common good. Imagine this…no trash pick-up, no one to call when the electricity goes out, no running water, no one to report landlord abuse to and no public schooling for your children. Taxes pay for all of those things in the U.S. American’s STILL mismanage and take them for granted. Live in Haiti for a week and your mind will change quickly. Today a friend pointed out how taxation and tax appropriation are two different things.  We could do better on both fronts in the States. I’m not arguing for big government, just arguing for the presence of a basic element. In Haiti, the basic infrastructure isn’t nearly non-existent. Be grateful and work for the future you want.

On Wycelf Jean. I have very simple remarks. Would you want him or another musician with the same history and experience as President of the United States? We have more infrastructure and resources. I’ll take this to a smaller scale. Who you want the same candidate to be Governor of YOUR State? Probably not. His nomination has been romanticized by Americans who have likely never lived in a tent city, never had to choose between paying for school uniforms or selling water on the streets. Do the Haitian people deserve any less than what we expect for ourselves? No. Low expectations are like a festering sore in Haiti, human beings deserve better.

United States Agency for International Development
(These Tarps were all over Port-au-Prince)

Whether you donated to a Haiti Relief Fund or not, your tax dollars are being spent abroad (or are supposed to be). We have got to do better. We know better and can do better. Yes, the Haitian people are resilient; but no one should have to be so resilient all of the time.

As an organizer I follow the concept of organizing around the injustice we hold the most anger towards. I hate to see people living without basic necessities, dignity and the opportunity to be happy. God willing, I’ll head back to Haiti in January. I have a lot of ideas for working with the women and youth of Limonade. They are pretty much organized and just need more technical and financial support. I’m interested in working with them, not over or just for them. The road to achieving those things is just as rocky as any side street in Port-au-Prince, but it is possible. Change is always possible.



  1. Thank you Sister for helping us to see what daily life — outside of multi-agenda media — is like for people in Haiti.

    I know it’s a lot to process. You chose this work because you have a heart to help people, which in turn means, the suffering affects you deeply. I know it’s not easy to shake-off.

    Take your time.

    I loved learning of the micro-lending work Sonje Ayiti is doing and hope to find ways to help like organizations with empowering the people, not lethargic NGO’s.

    And as most everyone in the blog-o-sphere knows, I was not a supporter of Wyclef Jean for President. Romanticized is such an accurate [and utterly disappointing] description for the American reaction to his bid announcement.

    The people of Haiti deserve and MUST have a TRUE leader, not our American fantasy.

    Thank you for sharing this life event with us, Charlene.


  2. Charlene! I again want to commend you for taking the time out to do what so many others either “can’t” or “won’t”. I can only imagine the full impact that your Haiti visit has had on you. I just want to encourage you to keep pressing forward and if you feel within that you are being called to work with the people in Limonade…then I pray that you will be provided with the direction, resources, and tools to make that a reality.

    Thank you for sharing about your experience here in your blog! This increases our awareness and provides the space for us to reflect, discuss, pray, and give more of ourselves to benefit those who are in dire need. And this also is a very important reminder for us to be thankful for all that we have…waking up daily with an “attitude of gratitude” for all that we are Blessed with!

    I can’t wait to get together with you…and hear even more about your experiences in Haiti!

  3. I’m speechless after reading your post but, I’m happy because you were able to see what others couldn’t see or see but, close their eyes. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  4. Thanks for your post. Very good post… where are your pictures? I wanna ‘see’ what you saw as much as I can from my seat. Keep writing! I’m excited!!

    On Wyclef, what do you mean his history? I haven’t read much about it all, but are not politicians regular people? Don’t they know the ‘ins and outs’ … which is good in that there is a system they are accustomed to.. and bad in that many are taught how to answer questions without answering and use emotionalism versus real action? How is he much different b/c he plays music?

    How are the organizations and/or efforts helping men … and women and children different? I get fearful that in any area, women and children are targeted.. as they should be.. but little effort is focused men, who many times can then return that effort towards women and children… ideally anyway.

    Let me get your thoughts

    • Wyclef has mismanaged several projects and businesses in Haiti. Yele is just the only example Western media points to or really knows much about. It’s not because he plays music, its because he is a poor manager and is in bed with the same people who helped Haiti get to its current state.

      On women and youth focused efforts. Sonje Ayiti has several projects that engage men and are led by men. In communities such as this one, men are largely absent from the home. I never said little effort is focused on men. Not sure why you believe thats the reality. Honestly men dont always return the effort to women and children. Why not start with the women, and the ones who already expressed interest? Male centered or focused programming is not an interest of mine, especially when research, practice and experience proves differently.

      Typically women and children have higher poverty and disease rates. Much of the community development work I want to do will focus on the groups I know the most about and have the best skills to work with. Thats young people (of both sexes) and women. I talked to several young men who are interested in me doing some leadership development training. I hope I can do so.

      • Good stuff. I know you didn’t say it.. I said I’ve seen it and it bothers me. And you’re right.. no one always returns the favor.

        Does Wyclef seem to be the ‘answer’ in the minds of the working people you spoke to?

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