Travel: A week in Haiti

Posted on October 23, 2010


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Just returned from one week in Kamperan, Haiti, helping my aunt spearhead an ongoing daycare/early childhood education improvement project. There were a total of 8 of us on the trip carrying about 400 kg of first aid and educational material. I also provided a day of holistic nutrition and plant medicine training to a group of daycare operators. Four of the original group will remain in Haiti to provide ongoing training in education and first aid.

Haiti is a country of stunning contrasts. It offers lush flora and fauna typical of the Caribbean, has rich yet under-managed natural resources, and a fascinating, complex culture and history. It is also the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has a 48% illiteracy rate, suffers the stifling effects of an archaic French class system and a powerful old-style church and clergy. Haitians have an average life expectancy of about 60 years, and a 5% HIV infection rate. Malaria, Typhoid, and recently, Cholera, are rampant.

Although I have traveled extensively in many less developed countries, nothing could have prepared me for the devastation in Port Au Prince (pop. 4 million), the earthquake ravaged (Jan 2010) capitol city. At least half the buildings have failed structurally in some way, some reduced to rubble, many more balancing precariously. The air is thick with the exhaust of gridlocked vehicles and more prominently the inescapable, acrid stench of burning garbage. There is also desperation in the air and in the searching eyes of the people. A tense basic order is maintained by heavily armed UN soldiers.

(The first photos in the slideshow are of Port Au Prince, then the Kamperan area. The few beach photos are at Cayes.)

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Although our final destination was well outside the earthquake zone, we were required to drive through Port Au Prince from the major airport to reach the Southern-most Les Cayes region of Haiti, and the town of Kamperan (Creole spelling of “Camp Perrin”, pop. 70,000).

Life here is more like Haiti before the earthquake. The standard of living here is still shocking, if less desperate.
Especially notable to me was the sad state of nutrition which directly relates to lowered immunity against the numerous infectious and vector-borne illnesses prevalent in the area. The abundance of densely nutritious wild fruits and vegetables growing in plain view around town and in the surrounding forest, are almost ignored in favor of expensive imported white rice which tends to dominate every plate.

I raised the issue of nutrition with as many people as possible during my stay and it was very well received. The workshop I presented included the idea of holistic nutrition as a primary preventive measure, making full use of the natural abundance all around them, and a return to a more traditional local diet. We also asked people to bring local medicinal plants and spices. The idea was to encourage, validate, and expand upon local plant medicine knowledge and traditions. This ended up being a wonderful exchange of knowledge, and I learned at least as much as they did, if not more.

Thanks to everyone on the team for your pleasant company, knowledge, and insights; my aunt Denise, Francine, David, Manon, Guylaine, Farah, and Perpetue. Special thanks to Jacky in Kamperan for making our lives there so much easier.

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