When I heard the news of a 7.0 an earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, I never imagined Haiti would become the country I’ve visited most often, or I would fall in love with. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited since I started going in 2012 but haven’t forgotten the talented artisans I’ve met over the years and the many lessons learned from traveling to Haiti.
6 Important Lessons Learned from Years of Traveling to Haiti
The 10th anniversary of the Haiti quake is in just a few days. I have no doubt that there will be some coverage of the anniversary that discusses the poverty, mismanagement of aid money, and ongoing political turmoil. It will show buildings that were reduced to rubble, remind us of the number of casualties (approximately 316,000), and evoke the same sadness that we felt for the country 10 years ago as we wonder what might have been. To honor the anniversary, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned from traveling to Haiti along with some of my favorite photos from a country that I love.
Learn from Your Curiosity
I first traveled to Haiti in 2012, wanting to get to know the country beyond what was being reported on the news following the devastating 7.0 earthquake that rocked the island just two years prior. People who had spent time there told me the country was beautiful and the people were warm and wonderful.
I wanted to have my own experiences but before my trip, some friends questioned how a trip to Haiti fit for my blog. My response to them was: “Why isn’t it?”
I visited Haiti with an open mind, curious about what I’d learn about the country and those I met. Despite being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere that suffered mass casualties after the earthquake, Haitians have a spirit that is truly unique. They’re hard working, resilient (oh so resilient!), proud of their history, culture, art, and want to work to earn a living to support their families and send their kids to school just as we do.
If I had listened to the naysayers and not taken my first trip, I would have missed out on so much. Taking risks, being curious, and a desire to keep learning helps shape our perspectives and changes us, making us better individuals because of our experiences.
Champion the Truth
Through the years I’ve worked with artists in areas around the country, I’ve seen positive changes. Infrastructure has improved, interest in Haiti as a destination has grown beyond mission trip to tourism, and the true beauty of the country is constantly being featured on Instagram.
Traveling to Haiti gives me the power to alter how Haiti is perceived by others. I was angry, embarrassed, and disappointed by President Trump saying Haiti is a s#hithole. I took great pleasure in rejecting his irresponsible words through my photo-heavy post, Dear Mr. President: These 13 Photos Show Haiti is Not a S#hithole).
I felt an obligation to share the Haiti that I knew because his words didn’t reflect how our I felt about a country that provided unforgettable experiences and memories. Haiti is a complicated country that has been riddled by corruption for years but the President’s words are far from accurate.
Anyone with a Passion Can Become a Philanthropist
Anyone who champions causes near and dear to their heart can become a philanthropist. After 5 years of traveling to Haiti, a trip planned just two weeks after Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the southern coast led to me becoming an award-winning philanthropist.
Every time I’ve visited Haiti, I’ve always collected items to donate to various groups such as purses, menstrual hygiene products, and toiletries for women’s groups but with a trip planned just two weeks after the hurricane, friends wanting to help trusted me to provide direct aid. Some purchased basic supplies to replenish those lost from my Amazon Wish List. Others donated money to help defray the cost of bringing 4 huge duffel bags of supplies with me.
I didn’t do this to win an award but any philanthropist will tell you we do what we do out of passion and desire to help rather than win awards. Passion projects start with a seed an idea that grows into something larger so listen to that voice in your head and try not to be so dismissive of a child’s idea that may sound crazy.
Some of the best ideas can come from our kids when you least expect it. A winter walk without gloves inspired a friend’s daughter to start collecting gloves and mittens for a local shelter. I’ve watched my own daughter’s love for a friend with cystic fibrosis blossom into selling ribbon barrettes. Ribbon barrettes that sold for $3 and $4 each led to her being able to donate thousands of dollars to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in hopes that they will one day be able to cure CF.
Teaching our kids to care matters because they are the next generation who will carry on the important work of giving back.
Take Your Kids to Places that Challenge their Comfort Zone
Upon returning home from my first trip to Haiti, my daughter, Emily, asked when she could come with me. It took me years of traveling to Haiti on my own before she got to join me but it was one of our most special mother-daughter trips.
Emily has collected stamps in her passport from a young age but at age 11, she got to see Haiti with her own eyes. Her experiences contributed to her becoming more of a global citizen by allowing her to learn about the history, culture, food, and people that I had fallen in love. It also provided a deeper understanding of current issues that dealt with topics outside her comfort zone.
As a former teacher, I’m a firm believer in learning through travel. 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. The world is our classroom and travel is our opportunity to raise a new generation of kids who will better understand global issues.
Invest in Women
Q: Who runs the world?
A: Girls, or in Haiti— women.
The United Nations aims to end extreme poverty by 2030. I think that we can all agree that being born female anywhere means your life will be harder – but the poorer you are, the poorer your country is, the truer this becomes.
I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing Haitian women who are lending a hand to other women to rise up out of poverty. They exemplify the ways women are breaking down gender barriers and achieving extraordinary things by lifting girls and women in Haiti up to reach their full potential.
These 4 Women in Haiti Who Are Unlocking the Full Potential of Girls & Women have strong business models that empower fellow women through education and employment. These powerful programs improve the lives of girls and women. They’re things that those of us who care about the well-being of women and girls globally cannot ignore.
Practice Conscious Giving
Whether traveling abroad or supporting organizations whose initiatives reach around the globe from home, there ways to make sure you’re practicing conscious giving. Over the years I’ve learned many lessons about conscious giving. It’s one thing to help, it’s another to do it thoughtfully so the benefits last far beyond your visit. There are best practices and strategies to be mindful of to ensure you’re giving back in the most meaningful ways.
Sharing your passion, connecting through shared experiences, and being mindful about the nonprofit organizations you support are important elements of conscious giving.
Church mission trips, U.S. based organizations with long histories of working in the country, and organizations within the country can serve as entry points for volunteer opportunities, or voluntourism. Voluntourism can be controversial because some believe it hurts more than it helps, but do your research and look for these three things when choosing a program:
- Who runs the program? What is their history of working in the country?Established programs in the country are more likely to have sustainable programs in place. It’s also a good idea to check Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator that rates thousands of organizations on the true impact of their philanthropic efforts.
- What volunteer opportunities are there? Is there a chance to use what I know to teach community members a skill?Ensure you’ll be teaching community members skills that will build capacity and empower them.
- What have other volunteers said about their experiences? Yelp reviews from past volunteers can be helpful in providing insight about your experience.
To learn more about my past experiences in Haiti, read these posts:
- How a Single Trip Led to 6 Years of Traveling to Haiti
- Why Taking My Daughter to Haiti Was an Investment in Her Future as a Global Citizen” is locked Why Taking My Daughter to Haiti Was an Investment in Her Future as a Global Citizen
- Tough Lessons Learned About Conscious Giving from My 6 Years in Haiti
- Traveling to Fond des Blancs, Haiti to Visit the Haiti Projects Community Library
- Why A Bee Sting Allergy Couldn’t Keep Me Away from Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project
- Haiti Projects Pad Project Educates Girls in Rural Haiti About Puberty, Periods & Pads
- Still looking for more? All the posts I’ve written about Haiti can be found here
Personal funds plus scholarships from Everywhere helped 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 are copyrighted. For permission to use the photos, please email me. Amazon affiliate links included in this post.