In a life prior to Thread, I spent three years working and living in Haiti’s Artibonite Department (an administrative division, like a province or state). It’s been a short three months since my return to Pittsburgh and I have yet to fully digest the experience.
A few weeks ago, I went back to Port-au-Prince to setup quality control labs for the plastic that ultimately becomes Thread Ground to Good™ fabric.
The changes since the first time I arrived in Haiti were striking – improvements to the airport, a few new roads, new construction – but everything felt the same as it had while I lived there: incessantly vibrant and often frustrating. I started to think about the Haiti I first experienced and the nation it has grown to become. It’s the small changes that I’ve witnessed since 2012 that have revealed the country’s advancement. None of these are direct fixes to the poor availability to health care, lack of adequate schooling, or the vast need for jobs, but they’re small and encouraging steps forward.
It’s amazing how much things can change… and how much they don’t.
While I lived in Haiti, I worked about a two-hour drive north of Port-au-Prince at Hospital Albert Schweitzer Haiti. In the valley considerably closer to the center of the small country, it’s much quieter, serene, and less chaotic than what you experience in the city. The road from P-au-P to the valley, Route Nationale #1, was completed in 2011 shortly before I arrived. The alternate route cuts through the mountains as an unfinished, rough, and time consuming testament to the Haiti of ‘before’ and the first major improvement I was able to experience.
The evolution of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport is easily the most dramatic example of change that I witnessed from 2012 to 2015. About every three or four months I would head back to the US for a short break with family or friends. Very literally, every single time I would pass through the airport, construction was underway, security lines had moved, walls had appeared (or moved), and seating had been drastically rearranged. This December, I saw the new and relatively large duty-free shop directly behind the customs agents. Construction is nearly done, if not already. Even more impressive is the brand new building that will be used for domestic flights that’s been built just down the runway.
Timeout! As I’m writing, I can’t help but think, “holy $#-! this is boring – who cares that the airport has changed?!” Perhaps, but the improvement of the airport and other large infrastructure projects are huge steps considering the traditional instability of the government and where things were in 2010:
The most visible improvement to the infrastructure of P-au-P was the Delmas Overpass. It’s over 500 meters long, cost millions of dollars to construct, took all of three years to finish, and is vital to reducing the traffic jams at one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Traffic patterns in P-au-P are self-regulating, right of way is determined by vehicle size (and often speed), and there’s always room to slip into any lane at any time. Traffic is also incredibly heavy during daylight hours, which turns a 10 minute trip across town into an adventure of one or many hours, depending the accidents and road blocks that frequently appear at the worst times. Even with the new overpass, avoid driving in P-au-P if you’re an impatient person. Ye be warned.
And, finally…motos! – a mode of transportation I love very much, but never purchased or drove myself because I am a good son who loves and listens to his mother (hi Mom!) – are more popular than ever. Back at the hospital, the increase in trauma patients due to moto accidents was a very real indication of how the new roads, increasing number of vehicles and higher speeds allowed by the fresh asphalt were changing life across the country.
Small, vital steps.
Infrastructure isn’t what I expected for my first Thread blog post, but it’s essential to the makeup of the country. It’s an important part of how you feel when you step off of the plane, roll into traffic, and start absorbing everything around you.
This weekend I was at a good friend’s wedding, talking to another friend of his that I’d just met for the first time. The topic moved to Haiti, the work Thread does to support sustainable jobs, the future of the country.
This person’s response was typical: “Haiti will never improve, the country hasn’t improved since the earthquake, and it will always be one of the poorest countries in the world.”
We all get it. Haiti is economically poor. It’s an easy observation that we’re all tired of hearing (and I’m sure no one more than Haitians). This reaction is totally wrong and not just because of the examples of the most noticeable infrastructure improvements since 2012. The improvements are only a small indication of how Haiti has changed over the last few years. It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, these changes took hard work, organization, and expertise. You can’t and shouldn’t rule out a country’s future because of articles focused on elections and immigration problems.
I’ve personally witnessed small, yet great improvements to Haiti throughout the country. I’m looking forward to seeing more every time I go back.