Until I visited Haiti I honestly thought that it was a country comprised of slums. That’s all I heard. The news beats a drum about the millions of international aid dollars going into the country and all the good people flying over to “save” Haiti. After the earthquake the piercing images of devastation created an even stronger frame of poverty in our minds. “Oh, poor Haiti. That’s just terrible for them.”
I thought I had a semi-well informed opinion of Haiti but when I moved to Boston I started to meet a lot of Haitians who told me a different story about their home. The true Haiti. It wasn’t about rubble or beggars. In fact, poverty didn’t really come up. Instead they told me about a country filled with beautiful mountains, breathtaking landscapes, pristine beaches, and 160 different kinds of mangos!
“Wow, so Haiti has mountains and…how many mangos?” Wow.
“Haiti will surprise you,” one friend remarked.
What took me aback the most was when my friends told me about the people. They described a population with true fight, pride, perseverance, and ingenuity. They didn’t sound like the type of people who needed to be rescued.
So I decided to experience the true Haiti for myself and bring back the stories I encountered. This portrait project is about the side of Haiti we rarely see; the other side that inspired me and made me smile. The parents waking up at 4 am to work and send their children to school, the people hustling to improve their community, the neighbor who sweeps their doorstep to keep it clean, and the students attending school in hopes to change the future of their Haiti.
A defining portrait that captures my new view of Haiti. Children shouted “blanc, blanc, blanc” as I walked by while he looked intently at me, holding his goats.
Renand started the first bike shop in Pignon after being one of the first motorbike taxis in town. His shop is key to the community as he stocks almost every niche bolt, screw, and tool usually only available in large cities like Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien that are hours away.
When rain falls on Haiti it can cause issues for the children in the village of Bouyaha. The students normally make the hard trek to their schools in Pignon, but high water levels following a rainstorm in the river can block the children from going to school for weeks at a time. Pastor Mioche established the Friends of Christ Christian School in Bouyaha to ensure the children have access to education even when the rains are heavy.
Pastor Mioche is a respected figure in Pignon who returned to his hometown after studying in the US. He leads community development efforts including building a village school and increasing access to clean drinking water.
Danielle comes to the market every Saturday with her younger sister intent on providing their family with some income for the week.
Jesly and Lidie are siblings who recently lost their mother due to anemia. Despite their loss I hope to see them continue to persevere as the community huddles around them to see them achieve their best.
Madam Deganis greeted me cheerfully as her daughter pointed her out to me as a “true businesswoman.” She sells avocados and purified water in her small village community.
When I met Diola she welcomed me into her home and began to tell me about her “children.” She adopted all of these children as their parents have all passed away. As we continued our conversation she remarked, “I’m sorry I have nothing to offer you but my time and hospitality.”
This couple sold the basic necessities for any Haitian pantry: bouillon cubes, rice, cooking oil, beans, and the like.
Principal Isaac manages the village school. He hopes the school raises enough money to expand and build new classrooms to replace those outside separated by tarp. Pictured here are several classroom pushed into one small space.
Madam Auvrice smiled and hummed as she prepared tipate (fried dough) on the street. Her children huddled near the stand – “My pride.” Madam Auvrice said.
Martha smiles as she prepares beans for dinner.
Clarix currently helps his mother with a small shop that operates out of their home and hopes to someday attend college. He was one of the most active students in the entrepreneurship class I taught and showed a lot of initiative, strength, and leadership.
As I walked into the market I saw Ellen perched on a platform. She watched as her parents worked and sold belts, shoes, and other wares.
Stanley speaks more English than anyone his age because of his curiosity. There’s a steady stream of English speakers flowing through Pignon as part of local hospital mission trips and he takes full advantage. We sat in the car together in Cap-Haïtien as I quizzed him, zanmi – friend, igles – church, kote – where.
Daniel was one of the hardest-working and humble people I encountered. He served as my guide/lighting assistant while also being on call to help his family complete simple errands, looking at the generator, and helping visitors find the Digicel shop to refill cell phone minutes.
The roads can be harsh in Haiti. Most people don’t have cars so the top methods of transportation are either motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot. Granted, they still have beautiful landscapes to encounter daily.
Camilia and her daughter
Ralph and his friends often ride miles in mud just to get to school in the morning.
Oliver and I hung out in the river as his sisters did laundry. As he frolicked in the water I couldn’t help but appreciate his genuine joy.
Simple things like soda travel miles and miles to end up in areas outside of major cities like Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien. Most vendors like Manno usually make weekend trips and travel over 9 hours to bring items back to their communities.
Israel told me that he wanted to find more clothing catalogs so he could use the designs as inspiration to make even more clothing. He held up a huge 300-page catalog, looked up at me, and said, “I’m going to make all of these for people. I want the best clothes for Haiti.”
Digene returned to his hometown after living in the Dominican Republic. He’s known for providing the upscale items in town. Need some cologne, perfume, or nice shoes? Digene’s your man.
Special thanks to Raul and Mioche for your hospitality in Haiti, Lukenger and Daniel for showing me around, my Haitian friends in Boston who built my curiosity, and to some of the photographers who inspired me in this project: