Bonjour! Rebecca here. I’m the board president of CRDF. I first traveled to Haiti in 2007 and am so happy to be have traveled to Haiti again and again over the past seventeen years. This time, I’m visiting with Oliver, a co-founder of CRDF and current treasurer.
In the past year, we had to cancel traveling to Haiti twice because of the mass protests happening across the country. Haiti came into the news again last week when the US State Department put a level 4 travel advisory on the country. Oliver and I had been following the news and checking in with our Haitian partners for more information.
We decided to travel despite the advisory that recommended Americans not travel to Haiti (and despite the impending doom of COVID-19) for a number of reasons. I’ll share them for the benefit of other development workers or missionary groups who are trying to get a clear picture of the situation in Haiti today.
The level 4 advisory from the US State Department went into place because of recent kidnappings of Haitian nationals and Americans. The economic situation in Haiti is very, very poor. This has led to a spike in crime. The hope of these gangs is to get ransom money.
CRDF has a long history working in rural Haiti and Oliver and I had a clear plan of action for traveling out of Port au Prince soon after we arrived. Our friend who picked us up brought his brother-in-law who is a police officer in Haiti. As there were just two of us foreigners, we didn’t attract much attention or need a big vehicle.
And as for Coronavirus, as of the dates we were traveling, there are no known cases in the country of Haiti and we were not concerned about the specific airports we’re traveling through.
Our flight on Spirit Airlines out of Fort Lauderdale wasn’t as full as it normally is and was comprised mostly of Haitian nationals or diaspora returning home. When we landed in Port au Prince, we noticed the Toussaint Louverture International Airport is preparing for Coronavirus. Officials are taking temperature readings of each travelers. As of 3/9/20, there are no known cases of Coronavirus in the country. We didn’t witness anyone turned away or any sick passengers, but most of the immigration agents were wearing masks as a precaution.
If you want to read more about what Partners in Health is doing to prepare for COVID-19 in Haiti, check out their website.
Port au Prince has a tense feeling right now. There are less citizens on the streets and many business establishments have extra armed security guards. We also passed through two simple police check points. And by simple, I mean the police officer asked me if I knew the people who I was traveling with. I told her, yes, they are friends, and we were on our way. Just as there are fewer foreign development, missionary, or travel groups coming down, so are those same types of groups making plans to leave the country.
Our group of four drove north of Port au Prince (if you’re wondering what road—yes, that road). Port au Prince is a city bustling with women washing clothes on the side of the street, children walking to and from school in their uniforms, and cars, cars, cars, so many cars in unorderly, but mostly efficient, lines. After this packed city, the mountain road feels sparse. Sparse from the lack of people, but also the lack of trees. Haiti has been heavily deforested ever since it was a Spanish and French colony. To top it all off, the tops of the mountains are being mined and huge eerie holes line the drive out.
On the other side of the great mountains, things are as usual. Tiny but busy towns line the road all the way to Caneille.
Oliver and I arrived late in Caneille the evening on March 9th (a full 30 hours since we set out from our home in Appleton).
Today (or, if I can’t get internet to post this until later—March 10th), Oliver and I met our newest teachers, sat in on classes, and led a pen pal exchange. One of the things I brought in my carry on was a stack of 70 letters from students in Seattle who are learning French. They wrote letters about their age and what they like to spend their time doing. Many of them drew Haitian flags and self-portraits, there was even a picture of a dragon.
Oliver and I worked with students here in Caneille, to write response letters in French. They were eager to talk about their families and teachers and make their own drawings of the standard flower design favored by grade-school students in Haiti (a pointy flower, kind of prickely). I’ll bring these responses back to America.
A pen pal exchange is a very effective way to demonstrate the importance of literacy to our students, as well as how big and varied the world is.
Before I left the US, I checked out a few picture books in French and have been having fun reading them with students at break. Oliver is, of course, taking walks in the heat to check on friends and visit the local savers group (they meet weekly to encourage each other to save money and to approve small loans for members).
Through talking with friends and teachers, it is clear the kidnappings in Haiti are on everyone’s mind. There is less conversation and worry about Coronavirus out in the rural areas.
Oliver and I have several more projects and site visits we’re facilitating this week. I’ll post again when I can.
Bon journée, mes amies.