What is the “story” of Haiti? In part, this is the story I have come to hear, to look for, and to learn from.
I have written about my own “stories”, as they shape my reality, but there are bigger stories too, that whole cultures and nations tell themselves. One of these is the official “story” of Haiti, as presented by NGO’s, the news media, and the government. It is a frightful tale of natural disaster, corruption, ecological genocide, and a helpless and impoverished people. While there is of course some truth in this story, it is by no means the only story to be told.
Here is a different take.
Down the road from our house in Mirebalais is a simple, concrete, one room shop, with a concrete pad in the front, resting in the shade of a flamboyant tree.
The shop is owned by the Estime family, run mostly by Mikenson, and his brother and sister. I met Mikenson alongside Dr. McGrath and the rest of last summer’s interns, and his shop became a convenient and enjoyable way for us to get out of the house, learn some Creole, and meet some local Haitians.
Mikenson and I kept up occasionally on Facebook, so I was eager to visit him again when we returned. Upon returning, I was happy to find that my friend was doing quite well. His shop had a new paint job, he had a good show of customers, and, much to my surprise, he was to be getting married in August, and he was in the process of building a house on the back of the shop.
Mikenson is a scrapper, in the entrepreneurial sense. The whole family is engaged in the running of the shop. His mother and sister cook street food out front, while he and his brother switch out manning the store. The whole family is tailing along as they raise their standard of living.
Entrepreneurialism is truly the spirit of Haitians, as I am discovering more and more often, but Mikenson’s story does not end with his own success.
Along with his elder brother who is a pastor, and a few other friends, Mikenson has started a nonprofit in their community. Barely out of poverty themselves, these five Haitians are desperately trying to fund a feeding program for children in their community who go to school hungry. Proudly they showed me, a video of a room full of young children, eating spaghetti, and the video pans over Mikenson sitting among them, smiling.
That’s a real story of Haiti, in the present. To me, it is a story worth hearing. Their government is rotten by corruption, the infrastructure is weak and falling apart, and the tourism industry is struggling to gain any ground.
But there they are, anyways, doing what they can to lift their communities up.
*The program does have a budget and mission statement. Please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in supporting their startup.