MILOT, Haiti—When Ron Daniels invited me to accompany his Haiti Support Project's pilgrimage to the cities of Milot, Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince last week, I had mixed feelings. I have traveled around the world, but my trips to the pyramids in Egypt and the Door of No Return on Goree Island in Senegal were the most memorable — and emotional. I had no doubt that a trip to Haiti would also strike a special chord.
Since childhood, my stepfather had told me how Toussaint L'Ouverture led a successful slave uprising against the French, paving the way in 1804 for Haiti to become the first independent Black nation in the Western hemisphere. We are all Africans, whether living in Haiti or the United States.
Usually, when public officials or leaders mention Haiti, they invariably describe it as "the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere." With most Haitians earning only $2 a day, I didn't know how I would react to seeing such massive poverty. In talking with Joseph Leonard, executive director of the National Black Leadership Forum, I learned that he, too, was experiencing the same kind of conflicting emotions. We wanted to see Haiti, but we really didn't want to see the poverty.
After a four-hour trip from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport aboard an American Airlines flight to Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, we transferred to small puddle jumper for the 30-minute trip north to Cap-Haïtien. We attended a reception that night hosted by Minister of Tourism Patrick Delatour, a graduate of Howard University. The next morning, we were bussed 30 miles to Milot, and that's when we really got a look at abject poverty.
Although the poverty may be more concentrated in Haiti, it is not noticeably different from the poverty I had observed in Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt or the back roads of Cuba. But seeing so many people — children in particular — being so poor prompted two immediate actions.
First, I realized that poor people back home seem wealthy when measured against the typical Haitian. Second, I couldn't help but think, suppose I had been born here? What could I realistically expect from life? After reflecting, you thank God for your blessings.
Much has been written about the dire poverty in Haiti, but rarely are articles written about the creativity or ingenuity of the people. There are talented artists living in every region of the country and they are eager to negotiate an acceptable price for their works. The arts and crafts are impressive. And if I were to count people in Haiti who tried to sell me something rather than seek a handout, the entrepreneurs would lead at least by a 4-to-1 margin.
Ron Daniels, Black America's unofficial at-large ambassador to Haiti, had a twofold goal for this mission. One was to take 50 people with him to see for themselves what Haiti is like in hopes of making them ambassadors. The other was to announce a "model city' program in which the Haiti Support Project would adopt Milot and actively aid in its economic and educational development.
The touring African American guests were given access to the highest levels of government. Janet Sanderson, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, hosted a reception at her residence, and President Rene Preval gave a farewell reception Monday in the group's honor at the Presidential Palace. But neither of those was the highlight of the trip.
That honor came when Daniels was unveiling the architectural plan for an empowerment and visitors center in Milot. Hundreds of children had gathered for the presentation and when the drawing was unveiled, they cheered loudly, excited that descendants of Africans in America had not forgotten about the descendants of Africans in Haiti.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service.