I expected to be disappointed. Disappointed that more had not been done; disappointed that there were still families living in squalor in tent cities; disappointed that there was still no
education or health system; disappointed that there wasn’t more progress. And while I saw things that made me frustrated and angry on my fourth trip to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake, I also came away with a real sense that there is a chance for this country. A chance that wasn’t there before. A chance for a better future in a place that never seems to catch a break, whether from natural disasters or bad governance. There was a very different feeling, a palpable sense of hope in the air this time—especially from Haitians themselves.
While it’s far from the most important thing, the streets are finally mostly clear from rubble (80% now cleared, according to the UN) and the listing or crumbling buildings are finally down, from the Presidential Palace to the Ministry of Finance to many of the flattened apartment buildings. Even though families are still far from housing secure, more than 70% of those displaced by the earthquake are no longer living in tents. Importantly, small businesses are booming, with most average Haitian citizens working in small local enterprise. The economic growth is not as robust as we all would have wanted, but it’s expected to be close to 3%—which, in the current global slowdown, is better than many countries.
But what’s most promising to me is the state of Haiti’s children. The acute malnutrition rate in Haiti in 2006 was running over 9% for kids under 5. Today, that rate is 5.1% and decreasing. Three million children under 10 are now vaccinated against polio, measles and rubella. And the biggest achievement in my mind is that, according to the UN, 77% of kids of primary school age are attending school, up from 50% before the earthquake. It’s a long-term bet, but I would put my money on getting more kids into and through primary school than any other efforts in Haiti today. It will change the country for the better—and it’s the only thing that will change it for good.
This is a huge area of focus for Save the Children, and it has been since before the earthquake struck. A high point of my trip, in addition to seeing our hardworking local team, was a visit to some of our education programs in Leogane and Port-au-Prince. At a school called Ecole Nationale de Flon, I saw an innovative early learning program that was teaching first graders to read in native Creole rather than French. While French is critical as the language of business in Haiti, it’s hard—and discouraging—for kids who only know how to speak Creole to begin reading French on their first day of school. The new Lekti se Lavini program starts first graders reading in Creole and then adds French in the second grade. So far, the results are very promising; this approach is a great way to ensure that kids get through primary school with the basic skills they need. And that’s what Haiti needs too—a generation that has moved ahead with a higher literacy rate and can take the country forward.
You’ll hear many stories about what hasn’t happened in Haiti and there is a lot to write about. But after four trips in the last three years, I can tell you that there is reason to have more hope than despair. The beautiful children of Haiti—their progress and their promise—demonstrate that hope to me more than ever.