For many people, Haiti conjures up images of the natural disaster that claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people. The quake destroyed almost 100,000 homes in and around Port-au-Prince, and damaged another 200,000.
Aid organizations have spent years in the nation, working to restore health and hope to a population devastated by the disaster. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the nation ultimately affected the lives of over 3 million Haitians. And today, two years after the disaster, half a million survivors of the quake and ensuing flooding live in tent camps.
But when Amy King visits Haiti, she sees more than the devastation and destruction covered in the news media. “I can honestly say I've had a buoyant feeling every time I've visited Haiti since the earthquake,” she says. “There has been rubble cleared. There have been schools rebuilt. Many buildings and hotels are being constructed in safe ways. There is a new president and prime minister and a seemingly more confident level of global support.”
A recent Voice of America report says that progress is happening, however slowly. “At first, emergency relief was the primary focus of the combined effort, but gradually shifted to reconstruction. So far, for example, about half of the 10 million cubic meters of rubble created by the earthquake has been removed, and about two thirds of displaced Haitians have now left the refugee camps for more permanent housing,” according to VOA.
King isn’t blind to the mess around her when she visits the recovering nation. “Of course there have been shortfalls and corruption,” she says, but that doesn’t stop her from focusing on the positive aspects of the healing process taking place in the country. “Maybe if we focus more on the positive, then the momentum will keep pushing us toward successful collaborations and achievements,” she says.
Indeed, there is a certain momentum to the positive changes taking place in Haiti. Nonprofit groups from around the world are making an impact. Large organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision have made inroads in improving healthcare and providing aid. Forward Edge, a Vancouver faith-based organization, is among many nonprofits working to assist Haitian entrepreneurs in starting their own small businesses, such as chicken-breeding, to help strengthen the fledgling Haitian economy. According to their website, Forward Edge “exists to share Christ’s love with those affected by poverty, disaster and sickness in the U.S. and around the world.” The organization says that by “mobilizing hundreds of people each year to participate firsthand in our long-term, need-meeting projects, we empower individuals, churches, campus fellowships and businesses” to extend help to those hurting in Haiti.
Through the work of Heart to Heart International, a Kansas City-based nonprofit organization, more than 100,000 people have been treated by medical professionals, and nearly a dozen communities have reliable access to healthcare services. The organization says that throughout the process, their greatest inspiration has been the Haitian people, “So resilient and hopeful, they have strengthened our resolve -- forming an unshakable resolve -- to help our partners make a lasting impact throughout Haiti.”
Amy King believes in building the developing nation’s economy through raising its profile as a tourist destination. “It's a beautiful country, and every single Haitian has captured my imagination,” she says. She first traveled to Haiti in 2007, and, as she puts it, “I haven't looked back. Haiti has been my greatest teacher and holds all my biggest memories.”
For those who wonder whether tourism is even possible in the quake-ravaged nation, Amy King answers with a resounding “Yes!” Haiti has tourism, she explains. “The right connections can be made, and a safe trip can happen.” She says that responsible tourism is a way to pump money directly into the local economy, which “benefits Haitian-owned restaurants and hotels and galleries, Haitian artisans, cooks, travel guides and drivers.” According to King, there is no shortage of beautiful destinations to explore on the island. “There are beautiful beaches and waterfalls, hikes, dancing, service projects and complete cultural immersion to enjoy,” she says.
The positive response from Haitians makes any trip more than worth it, she says. “When a Haitian finds out we are there for tourism, or an artisan sells us souvenirs, the energy and excitement is palpable!”
King suggests signing up for what she calls a “socially responsible tourism trip” through The Village Experience. Upcoming trips revolve around social justice issues in Port au Prince, rural development project in Fondwa, art with street kids in Jacmel, and include a hike to Bassin Bleu and local beaches. Opportunities for sports and exploration in Haiti abound. King says that adventurous travelers can sign up for an expedition through Travelcology / Tour Haiti, which she says involves surfing, kitesurfing, mountain biking, hiking, exploring, bird watching, forts and historical tours, coffee tours, snorkeling, boating, yoga and more.
Amy King networks extensively with nonprofits and individuals in the process of supporting relief and renewal efforts in Haiti. “Contact me if you'd like to donate towards medicines, sewing machines, fish farms, chicken coops, motorbikes, container gardens, school supplies, computers, clean water, chlorine generators, or any other income generating project,” she says. “I love networking for all things Haiti!”
Opportunities for readers to make a difference in Haiti exist in many sectors. Whether it’s traveling with The Village Experience, exploring ways to help on the Provocate Haiti website, or taking a trip with a church or nonprofit group, chances to get involved abound. For those interested in medical missions, organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and Heart to Heart International provide hands-on opportunities to work in the country. Readers interested in working with children in Haiti can find more information through World Vision.
Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].
Publication date: February 6, 2012