Hope in Haiti, Day 2: First Impressions

Eric Olson, SBJ Editor“Is there any hope in Haiti?”
I’m told by our veteran travelers most visitors to Haiti find themselves asking that question.

Two years ago, the airline terminal in the capital city of Port au Prince was a warehouse that spilled guests out to a plywood walkway over puddles of water. The old warehouse left people scrambling en masse to locate their luggage and getting swarmed by locals to help carry it for tips.

Today, the terminal is state of the art by Haitian standards with A/C, duty free shopping, security cameras and baggage claim turnstiles. Now, there is a welcome band playing Haitian music and full-color backlit tourist ads sprinkling the walls on the way out.

Certainly, the doubt-filled pursuit of hope is with reason. On the surface, Haitian road and sewer infrastructure is inept, post-earthquake tent cities still exist and there’s the history of government distrust.

Driving through the streets of Port au Prince, women commonly carry goods such as rice and laundry, on their heads, one with crates of eggs six rows high. Men are often repairing broken down vehicles or selling diesel by the jug stacked on roadside tables – the city’s equivalent of a gas station following the earthquake.

A roadside gas station and bank in Port au Prince.

A roadside gas station and bank in Port au Prince.

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People are everywhere. There are more than 1 million people estimated to live in Port au Prince, which at 14 square miles is only a fifth the size of Springfield, Mo., where the population isn’t yet 200,000.

Those harsh facts are getting chipped away.

The locals say conditions were worse before the earthquake, noting the improvements in newly laid streets.

“The world community is really what’s making it happen,” says Karl Olsson, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist who works for Convoy of Hope, pointing to donations by the World Bank, NGOs and various countries.
“Haiti can’t pull it in their own. Some day, they have to.”

That’s the hope. Other evidences: a new soccer stadium is under construction, led by cell carrier Digicel; solar powered street lights have been installed; textile mills are chugging along; Canada built an electric power plant; and there is big business, one company employing 10,000.

Perhaps, the biggest game changer is the new presidential regime. President Michel Martelly was voted in about two years ago.

“Haitians say there is a new wind in Haiti,” Olsson says. “So there is hope.”

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