I’m a native New Yorker, who grew up listening to Moman Kreyol every Sunday morning on WLIB – the AM radio station that was the New York Haitian community’s weekly connection to life in Haiti. Every summer I would make my pilgrimage to Haiti to see my grandmother who was determined that I knew my Haitian roots. I’ve borne witness to the fog of dictatorship and the chaos, excitement and hope during the advent of Democracy. Somewhere along the way the seed was planted that I wanted to do something to help.
My time at the Clinton Foundation began the year of the earthquake, when Haitians – both in Haiti and abroad – were attempting to piece back their lives, mourning the loss of loved ones. The numbers were staggering: over 250,000 people killed or injured. My heart ached as I watched the TV screen displaying the devastation.
In half a decade I’ve been inspired by people coming together to drive progress. As the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti shifted from relief to helping Haiti create models of economic growth, we began having conversations with investors about sustainable job creation. These conversations excited me – I wanted to change the aged Haitian mantra “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” I have also noticed a renewed interest by young Haitian Diaspora in their efforts to make a difference in the country. Some were like me and had been visiting since childhood; others hadn’t been back in decades or had never been, but they all wanted to do something to help Haiti in a way that it could sustain itself … and I was one of them. As a result, on each trip to Haiti, I’ve noticed the country slowly resembling itself. The rhythm of the country has slowly found its melody.
Working with various business partners to create sustainable businesses in Haiti has been one of my greatest joys: I’ve seen and shared the beauty, and potential, of the Haitian countryside with the world. Through the Clinton Global Initiative network, I was able to see many projects from members’ Commitments to Action to fulfillment, such as Digicel’s 150th school construction in Saut d’Eau, working with organizations like NRG who have brought solar to hospitals and businesses, West Elm buying products from Haitian artisans and selling these products globally, as well as creating literacy training programs. I specifically remember sitting at the graduation of West Elm’s literacy program and watching a women in her 50s sounding-out and reading her diploma. At that moment, I felt nothing but pride for her achievement. This skill would enable her to earn a better living and create a better life for her family.
My experience working in Haiti has been eye opening: It’s been a humbling experience of how one by one, we can help make a difference through our strengths. I am by no means saying that Haiti’s problems are solved. But I am happy to be a part of a team that has planted some seeds of progress. “Ayiti kenbe fò nou bèl et nou la” is a play on the Haitian saying, “Haiti stay strong - we are ugly and we are here.” I prefer to say: “Haiti stay strong – we are beautiful and we are here.”