Lean On Me – The people behind the headlines in Haiti

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If you see the term “corruption” in a headline today, your mind might jump to the debate surrounding the Trump impeachment probe.
Instead, I’ve been reading similar descriptions over and over regarding the current protests in Haiti.
Whether the articles focus on the country’s contentious president or the people’s violent response, Haiti is being described as a “country that is deteriorating every day.”
In 2017, I had the opportunity to spend time there.
While there, I worked at a local trade school, helping to take care of and teach children.
It was the first time I traveled outside of the country. I thought I was prepared to see the poverty there, but I don’t think I could’ve braced myself to see the pain Haitians are exposed to daily.
We were picked up from the Port-Au-Prince airport late in the evening, by a beaten down, but brightly painted, former school bus.
We spent a couple hours driving over bumpy, unfinished roads that were crowded by people, animals and trash before we reached our destination.
The buildings along the way hardly constituted actual buildings, as most were at least partially crumbling and many of the other shelters were simply lean-tos or plastic tarps.
Imagining a homeless camp that encompasses an entire country is the closest comparison I can draw.
It was almost too difficult to comprehend how human beings could live in these conditions. I didn’t think you could have any joy in life if you were constantly focused on surviving crime or illness.
With a backdrop like this, it’s pretty easy to picture the disarray the country is facing.
But, I think that’s a picture that overlooks many of the Haitian people.
When we first opened the gates to the school grounds (which were surrounded by walls and protected by guard dogs), cheering kids sprinted in to latch onto me as I led them to our classroom (an unfinished, cement brick building).
There were very few times that at least one child wasn’t laughing, so I spent most of my days laughing, too.
I couldn’t speak Haitian Creole and most students couldn’t understand English, but we learned songs in each other’s languages and drew pictures to communicate.
Most of the children wore the same, dirty, too-small clothes every day I was there.
Their mix of excitement and desperation made it obvious that the highlight of their day was getting a Dixie cup of water and plate of cornmeal and beans from us.
Given the circumstances, it baffled me that these kids could be so overflowing with happiness, that they were actually the ones making me happy.
Which makes it especially heartbreaking to read about the suffering their country is experiencing.
Thankfully, the family I stayed with is in relatively safe conditions and they have enough food and water reserves for themselves and the school. Regardless, they are fearful and every day is marked by uncertainty.
However, I think we sometimes get caught up in the uncertainty and forget about the people behind the stories.
While I’m eager to see how everything is resolved, I’m thinking more about the little kids I met there instead of just reading about an impoverished country.
-Kayleen Petrovia is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.



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