I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about our trip to Haiti while editing countless photos documenting our journey. As a veteran traveler to Haiti, this trip was very different for me because I brought my 11 year old daughter, Emily, along. To have the chance to see the country through Emily’s young eyes was refreshing but the vibrant photos of Carnival, gorgeous architecture inspired by the French in Jacmel, making of the traditional Haitian handcrafts, and the country’s tumultuous history riddled with political turmoil and natural disasters before the 2010 earthquake represented only part of the important learning that occurred during our trip. Indeed she fell in love with the country that has grabbed hold of my heart, soaking in the sights and sounds during our five days away but the learning that occurred goes much deeper than what can be seen in pictures as she continues to develop into a global citizen.
Encouraging Global Citizenship
With stamps in her passport from trips to Mexico, China, Hong Kong, and Japan she adds Haiti to a list of countries she’s visited while maintaining a wish list of places to go next. Emily’s wanderlust forms out of curiosity to better understand people around the world and their cultures through history, traditions, customs, and foods. As a former teacher, I’m a firm believer in learning through travel. The world is our classroom and travel is our opportunity to raise a new generation of kids who will better understand global issues.
Certainly the White House is interested in getting more college age students to study abroad (#StudyAbroadBecause) so we can be competitive on a worldwide level but what about starting kids at a younger age?
So much can be learned through travel especially when you travel so far out of your comfort zone. I know Haiti is probably isn’t towards the top of anyone’s vacation list just yet as we consider summer travel destinations but like so many other countries, there is so much we can learn from a neighboring country that’s a short two hour flight from Miami.
The Importance of Scratching Below the Surface
Haiti is more than post-earthquake tent camps and the Labadee, the private destination for cruise ships on Haiti’s north coast. To get to know the real Haiti, you need to scratch below the surface. While I wanted Emily to see the country, I also wanted her to better understand the important issues that the country faces including its stark contrasts and occasional irony as well as the overwhelming beauty.
Emily has heard me talk about the security risks that come with tent camp living and despite the hardship of the conditions, seeing children dressed in the whitest of shirts (thanks to hand scrubbing on a washboard), crisply ironed school clothes, and the most perfectly curled ribbons in their hair, she agreed that their appearance put our family to shame.
She knows that the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund was instrumental in helping rebuild the country’s artisan sector through the formation of the Artisan Business Network (a successful sustainable business model that employs artists all over the country) but that President Clinton sent warships to enforce a trade embargo during his presidency.
Emily saw the United Nations peacekeepers who came after the earthquake to help but instead brought cholera to the country. She soaked in the beauty of the coastal city of Jacmel while dipping her toes in the ocean but only after we drove through streets that had been flooded by Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
I also wanted her to understand the country’s history of slavery. She’s learned about slavery in the United States at school but in Haiti, childhood slavery exists. Some children in Haiti- her age and younger- will never experience the kind of freedom she and her younger brother enjoy simply by birth right.
Haiti has been called “one of the worst countries for child slavery” by Business Insider and ranked second in the world in modern slavery by population. There are almost 250,000 enslaved children called restaveks who are sent by their families from rural areas to wealthier families who live in Port au Prince. Business Insider reports “Poor parents may hope their children will be better cared for and educated in exchange for contributing to minor chores for the wealthy host family, like cooking and washing clothes” but in fact, their vast hardships were recently reported by Nicholas Kristof in his A Path Appears PBS documentary, inspired by the book of the same name. Kristof’s feature on the restaveks is heart wrenching and uncomfortable, yet incredibly powerful and a story that I felt Emily should see before we traveled.
Watching the documentary together, my husband and I agreed that Emily needed to know about the restaveks but how much would we show her? What would we talk about and how deep would we dive? Issues like childhood slavery, rape, and a family not wanting their enslaved daughter back are not easy but they’re topics important enough for her to understand given her deep desire to truly know about Haiti.
It’s easy to talk about the country’s beauty, the warmth of the people, and the prevalence of art made by incredibly talented individuals. It’s hard to talk about rape, disease, slavery, dictatorships, and death but many times we need to challenge ourselves to go outside our comfort zone in order to do our best learning.
Being in a country to experience it first-hand is an education like no other especially when you intend to be more than a tourist.
Emily wasn’t ready to leave Haiti and now that we’re home, she’s already planning her next trip in her head. She’s become a young ambassador for the country, sharing her experience with anyone who asks like her curious classmates who initially thought she was moving to Haiti, their interested parents, and our family members. Emily proudly wears the metalwork shell she bought in Croix des Bouquets, sometimes layering it with the horn heart selected from Atelier Calla.
She’s found a place for the soursop painting thrown up to us by street vendors as we stood in a Carnival viewing stand on Champs du Mars.
She excitedly recounts our night at Carnival, sharing how we left at 11 pm as the first floats of the night were passing by thanks to an 8 police escort team ordered by the Prime Minster of Tourism to help us make our way through a street packed with revelers.
Teaching others about Haiti through her experience is a perfectly fine next step for Emily as she processes our incredible adventure full of varied learning experiences. Will our trip inspire her to do more? Probably. Though I can’t say how or when.
For now, I’m content knowing that I’ve provided my daughter with an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as a global citizen by traveling to a place whose issues differ greatly from those we face here in the United States but whose people aren’t so different from us.
I received a scholarship from Everywhere to help cover some of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line. Emily’s trip was personally paid for by our family. All opinions are based on our experience. Photos taken with a Samsung NX1 and NXMini and are copyrighted. For permission to use the photos, please email me. Amazon affiliate links included in this post.