26 July 2013 | By Prospery Raymond
We're tired of reading in the newspapers that there is no hope for us. Haiti may have made headlines for the utter destruction of the 2010 earthquake, but it's also blessed with some of the Caribbean's most beautiful beaches and was once a prosperous country.
Visitors to Haiti can help stimulate redevelopment and provide much-needed funds to boost infrastructure and create jobs.
Haiti achieved independence in 1804, the very first nation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite having to pay an extortionate independence fee equivalent to $21 billion in today’s money, the country was a prosperous, peaceful, and loving place to live.
Indeed, most Haitians were living a decent life before the 1960s, when Haiti could be compared with countries like Canada and Australia in terms of human development indices.
Along with pre-revolutionary Cuba, Haiti was the tourist destination of choice in the 1950s, attracting jetsetters and rich travellers from both the US and Europe. It was, as they used to say, the place to see and be seen.
Hope for Haiti
Unfortunately over the last 60 years the situation has slowly but surely deteriorated. Most people I meet think that the current situation here is desperate. But I believe that there is a lot of hope for Haiti, because we only got into this difficult situation a relatively short time ago.
If you look at the history of other rich countries, you’ll discover that they spent much longer immersed in difficult situations - they managed to fix their problems and Haitians will do the same.
Haiti earthquake 2010
The 2010 earthquake was a big wakeup call for all Haitians, to take control and rebuild Haiti back to how it used to be – or better - in those halcyon days of the 1950s.
Clearing rubble after the 2010 Haiti earthquake
One of the key ways I believe that Haitians could trigger their own redevelopment is throughtourism, particularly eco or boutique packages for those willing to experience something new, different and unique.
We already have a small amount of passing trade through international cruise ships but this is of no benefit to local people or to Haiti itself, as it is totally controlled by the cruise liner companies and elites.
Rebranding Haiti's image
Currently, the Ministry of Tourism here is rebranding Haiti as a tourist destination with the strapline 'Haiti experiences it'.
Last year we received 950,000 tourists (most of them from the cruise ships) compared to 4.5 million in Dominican Republic, but I know that we have the potential to double this at least.
If we can bring more much-needed funds flowing into the country, the hope is that this can then be used to improve our basic infrastructure, create jobs, and support some of the most vulnerable people on the island.
Haiti is a truly hospitable place, where local people enjoy life even when things are difficult.
Searching for a better life
If visitors started to come and praise the small progress we have already made here, it could drive some communities and leaders to take pride and really start working together in the hope of receiving more.
Haitians are not lazy people, sitting on a chair waiting for others to support them. While here, you will experience for yourself a vibrant, busy, resilient country, where people are looking for a better life, are working long and hard, and are committed to seeking opportunities around every corner.
We are tired of reading in the newspapers that there is no hope for us. Some of those articles are depressing and have even pushed some professionals still living and working here to think about leaving.
However, the good news is that some sectors here seem to understand the challenges of attracting tourists and are working together to move forward.
Haiti at its best
Admittedly, there are some problems which Haitians cannot deny, including the current food crisis in pockets of the island, but there is another side to the coin.
Haiti is one of the safest places in the Americas in terms of drugs and crime, and we are blessed to be home to some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches and unspoilt countryside.
There are countless places where visitors can enjoy authentic Haitian music, from classical to grass-root folklore (Rara), as well as one of the finest cuisines in the Caribbean, incorporating both French and African influences, alongside native Taíno and Spanish culinary techniques.
We tend to use a lot of different vegetables and meats, and combine them together with peppers to add flavor and a bit of a kick! And if you visited one of Christian Aid’s local Haitian partners, such as Koral and Veterimed, you might also get to taste our farmers’ famous organic yoghurt or cheese.
In July, people are busy preparing for the vibrant three-day Carnival of Flowers which will take place in Port-au-Prince. The last carnival we hosted was at the same time as the Rio Carnival, and it attracted more than 500,000 people.
Take a look at the Haiti tourism Facebook page and get a new sense of the country. The photos you will see represent the undimmed hope and light that Haitians would like to shine above the struggle we are now facing and make Haiti a wonderful place to live and to visit again.
Of course, a trip to Haiti is not for everyone and will not be perfect and polished, but it would be a truly unique experience.
If you can’t visit, maybe just take a little time to think positively about the future for Haiti and its citizens.
How you can help
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Find out more
Christian Aid in Haiti.
Haiti earthquake 2010.
Prayers for Haiti.
Prospery's blog was also published in The Guardian.