There are few places in the world harder to live in than Haiti.
I wish this weren’t true, because it’s also a beautiful country in so many ways. But after having visited, I could say it’s easily the most difficult country out of the ones I’ve visited. The political instability, environmental issues, and persistent poverty create all sorts of trouble for Haitians.
My trip there last year was a reminder that no bit of infrastructure could be taken for granted. Neither could quieter moments without much political drama. I twice had to reschedule my visit there due to protests.
The people who lived there helped me understand the day to day challenges of life. “We in a country where everything is in disorder,” a woman named Gernita told us. “When you work, you can’t reap what you sow and we are poor people. This is just how life works.”
Natural disasters and environmental issues challenge Haiti at the same time, and this includes drought. “Sometimes you work and the dry season comes and it kills everything. Sometimes it’s the rainy season and it kills everything.”
She was one of many who expressed how difficult it was to simply survive and earn a basic living.
Haiti isn’t the easiest place to talk about, and yet it’s the perfect place to talk about.
For me, the challenge in talking about Haiti is wanting to go deeper than these problems. I don’t ever want a place and its people to only be defined by their problems.
Haiti possesses a rich and vibrant culture, enthusiastic and jovial people, and natural coastal beauty. This is as much a part of the country’s reality as the food insecurity and political issues. Telling one of these stories without the other doesn’t do the country justice.
I don’t want to make the mistake of not seeing people and only seeing the problems. Haiti is one of the countries that has suffered significantly as a result of many organizations and well-intentioned aid workers portraying the country this way.
I also don’t want to make the error of saying “oh, what happy people, who have so little and have so much joy.” To do so makes light of the reality of poverty and isn’t accurate to how most Haitians I met would want to be seen.
In spite of all this, Haiti is a clear example of how deforestation and poverty are interlinked.
Haiti is both the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the most deforested. These two issues are deeply interlinked.
Many of the problems manifest themselves in the soil. Deforestation leaves soil vulnerable. Haiti is a frequent site of hurricanes and natural disasters, and without the protection of trees, those events rob the soil of their nutrients.
The last time a hurricane swept through Gernita’s farm, it was devastating. “When the hurricane passed through the land it destroyed all of our plantations—all of our seeds.”
On our newest episode of Grassroots, we’re taking things to Haiti.
Honestly, this just might be the episode that I’m most excited about. The first time I heard back from the producers with the draft of this episode I was floored by how good it sounded. If you have to listen to just one episode, go with this one. (But don’t do that and listen to all the others.)
We worked real hard to make sure that Haitian voices were included- and not only that but also informing our storytelling. This meant staying on a call and spending an hour struggling through terrible internet connection. It meant searching far and wide for voice actors with the appropriate accent. But it was all worth it.
In addition to the Haitian voices– Dezo, the founder of Plant With Purpose’s Haitian program; Jeanetta, a community member who joined his staff; and Gernita herself, we also hear from people who’ve worked in country for a long time. This includes Margaret DeJong from the Mennonite Central Committee, Bob Morikawa from Plant With Purpose, and Brendon Anthony from HarvestCraft.
Grassroots is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and a bunch of other podcast platforms.