Boarding Flights of “Hope”?

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This photo and information is NOT meant to exploit the desperation of the people in Haiti. It is a wake up call for us to see how urgent the situation is. This is what the small airport in Port-au-Prince looks like everyday. Hundreds of people are waiting to board flights for what they “hope” is the opportunity to find jobs in Chile and send money home to their families in Haiti.

This means parents leaving their children in hopes of providing them with the means for a better life. My 15-year old Haitian friend Jean has written a message he wanted me to share.

The English is edited but these are his words.

Jean

“I want you to know how beautiful my country Haiti is. We would like to help people at the market because they don’t have much. It is not good to bring something from your country that we have here to sell. A lot of the things you have in your country we have here too, my friends.

 

If you bring everything here we won’t make any money or have jobs. People living in Haiti want to go to Chile to find jobs. The president of Chile says there are lots of jobs but there are many people that do not find work there. This does not make sense to me. Mothers and fathers are going to Chile so they can send money to their families here.

This is so sad when you have to leave your friends and relatives. If they can’t find jobs they don’t have any money to come back to Haiti. I have friends who have no mother and no father because they are in another country looking for work. If we can help them make money and have jobs in Haiti they can stay together as a family.
My country of Haiti is a beautiful place.”

Why are so many Haitians going to Chile? 

Just the past few months alone we have seen 3 teachers and 10 children, in our 4 small schools, leave Haiti. They’re setting off in search of something, anything, that provides them with a glimmer of hope for the future.

The Chilean government has been enticing Haitians to come to their ‘prosperous’ country for a few years, promising them jobs and a better life. This disillusioned promise and a growing sense of hopelessness has sadly caused a mass exodus of Haitians, hundreds every day, to leave their beautiful country. Many have been forced to borrow money from friends and family or sell valuable possessions just to broker a plane ticket to get to Chile. Then they sit in a park across from the airport, some for days, waiting for their flights. They don’t know what to expect from a country where they don’t even speak the language, but their intention is to secure employment so they can send money home and support their families.

In 2017, 105,000 people left Haiti for Chile. That’s 1% of the population. (Source: Chilean State National Tourism Service) The majority of Haitians leaving are males 15-44 years old. Where does the future of Haiti rest when the youth and professionals are leaving the country?

In February of 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the young men at the small airport who were leaving for ‘a better life’. One gentleman told me, “I am 19 years old now. It‘s my turn to support my family. I am a man and it’s my responsibility. I know in my heart I will never see my beautiful country again, so I am just trying to look out the window for as long as I can.” All I could say as I choked back tears was, “I wish I could give you all jobs so you could stay here with your families.” His eyes now meeting mine, he says, “My friend, I would like that too.”

Multiple stories have made it back to Haiti, stories of backbreaking jobs where workers are abused and underpaid, forged documents created by middlemen making a ‘quick buck’ off others’ desperation and reports of people having even less than they had in Haiti. Now the new problem arises, how do you come home to a place where you’ve sold belongings to leave and now, can’t even afford to buy a return plane ticket?

Our friend James, 15, has no father like many Haitian children. Maybe his father is out there somewhere but certainly not taking on a financial or emotional support role. James’ mom left Haiti in October to search for work so she can send home money to James and his brother who now live alone. They know she arrived, but that’s all they know. When I asked James if he’s heard from his mom and if she got a job yet, a look of sadness fills his eyes. How do I console this young man when he tells me that he misses his mom and doesn’t know if she’s safe or if he will ever see her again?

There are so many statistics and stories, most of which we skim over because as I’ve been told, “we are just tired hearing about Haiti and all it’s problems. It’s obviously not ever going to get better”. I can guarantee you Haitians are also tired of the natural disasters and corrupt governments as well. They’re also tired of foreigners in colourful, matching t-shirts, written in a language they don’t understand, descending upon their country. They come well intentioned with hockey bags and suitcases filled with items sold in various markets all over Haiti.

We need to take some of the responsibility for people not having jobs in Haiti. More than one shopkeeper or market vendor has been put out of business because of our constant donating of “stuff”. Paternalism ruins economies. We know this and yet people still ask. “What can I send with you on your next trip?” If my answer is, “Money, so we can buy supplies in country or pay local labourers”, would you still want to participate? Sadly, in my experience, the answer is less than half will. So then we need to ask ourselves, “Do I want to participate to make myself feel better or do I want to hear the answer even if it isn’t what I expected”?

Haitian store in Port au Prince

Sometimes I stop and ask the ‘easily identifiable’ teams in the airport on their way to Port-au-Prince, “What’s the goal of your trip?” I have heard so many different versions of the same answer, “We’re bringing the Word of God to Haiti”. If you think you are bringing Jesus to Haiti, you have never had a Haitian friend. The Haitians have taught me more about faith and family than I ever learned at home in North America.

So, we keep going, and we provide much needed education and we try to create jobs so families can stay together. We come alongside locals who are making it work, with their ideas. I am the first to confess I have made mistakes and I probably will make more, but I pray for wisdom and hope my mistakes make me humble and teachable. We ask the right questions (and yes, sometimes the wrong ones), we learn the language, we do the work, we certainly pray, and we patiently wait.

It takes time, and it is not simple, but nobody ever promised it was going to be easy!

 

Wendy Thiessen
Project Coordinator Haiti Christian Schools (HCS)

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Yalexis Barr
is the Latin American Partnership Manager at Partners International Canada. She has a postgraduate degree from Humber College in International Development and university degree in International Relations. Yalexis is passionate about building the church, empowering women and advocating for the voiceless. She values building relationships with ministry partners and learning about the work they do in their local context. Yalexis loves eating great food, spending time with her husband, family and last but not least their two cats.