Palm trees, garbage, and the remnants of old cinder blocks line the streets of Port-au-Prince. Vendors sell bottles of motor oil, gasoline, and packages of fried plantains on every street. Brightly painted pickup trucks with open air campers taxi Haitians to and from, with only a few traffic lights lay scattered throughout the city. Drivers aggressively yet patiently yield to others, narrowly missing the motorcycles making their way through the bustle of the morning rush.
In the the front room of Healing Hands for Haiti, the air is humid and warm. The room is softly lit, creating ideal conditions for me to write about what I’ve experienced so far. I arrived with our Haiti study abroad group only five nights ago, but already the chronic poverty has shaken each and every one of us to our core: some have mixed emotions or are confused about why this is happening here, but most of us are angry. Why is nothing changing in Haiti?
“A lot of the group is expressing anger or sorrow, but I didn’t feel that,” said Abi McNeill, 24, philosophy major at UVU. “I felt amazement, there was a lot about Haiti I thought I had prior knowledge of, but it turns out I was completely ignorant.”
The Republic of Haiti, located in the Caribbean bordering the Dominican Republic, has an estimated population of 9.7 million. The country’s turbulent history of exploitation, injustice, and political instability are the central focus in understanding the study abroad program through the peace and justice studies and nursing departments at Utah Valley University.
There are 12 UVU students and 2 professors on the trip. So far, we have met with representatives from UNICEF Haiti, World Relief, and Fonkoze, all nongovernmental organizations committed to alleviating poverty in Haiti.
On Wednesday, when we met with the representatives of health, water and sanitation, nutrition, and child protection with UNICEF Haiti. It was an insightful experience for me to listen to exactly what their jobs entail, dealing issues with immigration, human trafficking, and serious health concerns. It is eye-opening, yet inspiring, to learn what really is possible in partnering humanitarian and nongovernmental agencies.
The decision to study abroad in Haiti already has been one of the most influential experiences of my college career. I’ve learned so much just from coming to Haiti and being among the people, not to mention networking with all the organizations we have had the pleasure of being in contact with. I can’t say in all honesty that I wish I were anywhere else.
By Mallory Black – Asst. News Editor