What do you think of when you hear someone say, “Haiti?”
If you tuned into the news during the last couple of months, there is probably one word that comes to your mind rather quickly (courtesy of our commander in chief).
Aside from that offensive adjective, you might think of the 2010 earthquake, or cholera and drought. Maybe you think of Caribbean blue waters and bright colors. These are all things that come to my mind.
If you know me, you know I love to travel to new places. Whether that means camping in a new place or buying a random round-trip flight overseas, I travel purely for the adventure and the chance to expand the boundaries of my personal comfort zone. Meeting new people and experiencing different cultures are some of my greatest joys in life.
Haiti is one of the few countries that had not made it onto my ‘Travel List,’ until I became a brand ambassador last spring for the Haitian jewelry business Ila Joi.
Ila Joi began in the months following the 2010 earthquake, when three Haitian mothers sat under a tent using paper scraps and debris to craft jewelry. Their hope was to sell their items to feed their children and eventually rebuild their lives.
As a brand ambassador, it was and is my responsibility to facilitate the growth of Ila Joi through social media and other multimedia projects.
During these months, I grew to know the artisans through their craftsmanship. Marjorie often incorporates twine and rope in her jewelry. Darline designs a variety of brightly colored bracelets in intense shades of bright orange, yellow, pink, green and blue. And each bracelet comes with a prayer that the artisans chose as a personal message of gratitude.
I had hoped to meet these artisans someday to tell them that their efforts are inspiring and I admire their strength as women, mothers and artists. Fast forward one year and I am less than two weeks away from embarking on a trip to meet all of the Ila Joi artisans, and I could not be happier.
But, my friends and family feel completely opposite.
Over the last six months, everyone I know has asked me the same question: “Why would you even want to go to Haiti?”
It’s a valid question. There are many reasons why the average person doesn’t want to go to Haiti.
One reason is that Haiti continues to suffer from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.
The disaster occurred over eight years ago on January 12 with a 7.1 magnitude affecting Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The estimated death toll was between 220,000 - 300,000 people with an estimated 300,000 people injured. About 1.5 million people were displaced as a result of the disaster. Also during this time, Haiti suffered a cholera outbreak brought by U.N. aid workers that killed more than 10,000 people.
Despite the years since 2010 and the $13.34 billion promised aid and relief to the country until 2020, Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the Americas and the world.
About 59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty line ($2.41 US Dollars), according to the World Bank. A 2017 United Nations report stated that 2.5 million Haitians were still in need of aid and recovery following the earthquake and the effects of a three-year drought exacerbated by El Niño in 2015, and a Category 4 hurricane that killed more than 400 people.
Couple these natural disasters with the most recent news headings of Oxfam’s sexual exploitations in Haiti and the famous Iron Market being destroyed by a fire, and it simply does not seem like a good place to go.
I do want to go. Here’s why:
Haiti was the first independent black republic. A slave nation first colonized by the Spanish and then French, the slaves revolted and defeated Napoleon’s army. Haiti would declare its independence formally in 1804.
Immersion in the Haitian Culture
Haitians share a rich diversity of African, French and Spanish elements with Caribbean influences. This will be my first trip to the Caribbean, and I’m excited to experience the vibrancy of this culture.
Haitians have demonstrated incredible resilience, and I hope to learn more about this strength during my trip. Despite the negative stigma surrounding the nation and its people, the natural disasters, the political turmoil and the recent snub by our president, the people have withstood the damage and continued to rebuild.
Ila Joi’ means ‘from the island rejoicing. The organization currently has 28 women and men crafting jewelry through the nonprofit Chances for Children. With each purchase made, 55 percent of the sale goes directly back to the artisan in the form of a paycheck, 30 percent is directed towards the purchase of supplies for the jewelry and 15 percent is set aside in a savings account for each artisan. It is the nonprofit’s goal to assist each of these artisans in creating a sustainable income for themselves and to support their families, as well as to create a savings account that empowers and enables these artisans to pursue an education and a career.
I am incredibly proud to be a brand ambassador for Ila Joi, and even happier to be a part of this trip. This is the first of six blog posts to come in the following month, and I hope that I have set the tone for what will no doubt be an adventure. I hope that over the course of these posts I can alter, if not altogether change, the negative perceptions surrounding Haiti and its people. I also hope that I can inspire some of you to test the boundaries of your personal comfort zone, and perhaps travel there for yourself someday.