Giving something back
A trip to Haiti is about being a guest in someone else’s home. Haitians welcome guests, but can frequently be sensitive about the motivations of foreigners coming to Haiti, an understandable reaction given the country’s history. Reading up on that history, as well as Haiti’s culture and many achievements (as well as its troubles) before you travel will help you settle in once on the ground, and will help break the ice with locals once you’re there.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to travel to Haiti may be to return home and tell people about your experience. Haitians are acutely aware that much of the world sees their country through negative media stereotypes, rather than as somewhere proud to have found its freedom through the world’s only successful slave revolution and which has gone on to build a country with an immensely rich cultural heritage. Going home with an honest picture of Haiti and being able to tell even as simple an anecdote about having a cold beer on the beach with new friends can be an important counter to those stereotypes. In this instance, the responsible traveller may even be he or she who goes out to enjoy Haiti the most, as well as trying to understand its complications
You can find good advice on being a responsible tourist from the UK-based Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk). To offset your flight’s carbon footprint, try www.carbonneutral.com, a website that has an easy-to-use emissions calculator and a range of offset programmes.
Organisations in Haiti
It’s not for nothing that Haiti is jokingly referred to as the ‘Republic of NGOs’. The country has the highest density of NGOs per capita in the world. These range from the big players such as Oxfam and the Red Cross through tiny ‘mom and pop’ set-ups and church groups to the many Haitian grassroots organisations. The figure of 10,000 organisations is often wheeled out by the media, and while this is almost certainly an exaggeration, no-one really knows the exact number, as the majority of them are not centrally registered with the Haitian government.
Before donating, take time to listen and learn about operations on the ground. Are they building long-term capacity or offering short-term aid? (Note that development is harder than emergency work.) Are they Haitian-led? Are they trying to do themselves out of a job through lasting and self-sustaining programmes? It can be hard to find easy answers, but asking the questions is an important first step.
If you’re travelling to Haiti as part of a church volunteer group, a thought-provoking read is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, which tackles many of the complicated issues (and unintended consequences) arising from short-term mission trips.