Surprised By Haiti
By: Joanne Antoine
Monmouth University Graduate School, Public Policy, Class of 2011
Some may disagree, but I find being Haitian-American to be very challenging at times, especially for those, like myself, who want to help their parents’ native country. I have had to deal with negativity and criticism from both Haitians and Haitian-Americans who, for various reasons, find something wrong in my wanting to help Haiti. These same feelings are also shared by many Haitian adults, my parents included, who feel as though Haiti is not my problem, so you can only imagine what I had to go through in making my decision to go. After having heard nothing but reasons on why I should not, I decided to just put that all to the side, book my ticket, and prove all of them wrong; this experience helped me to do just that.
Having had the opportunity to work with people from various backgrounds who share my love for the country and passion for helping truly was a blessing. Volunteering with the Haitian American Caucus (HAC) at the Shalom Community Center in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti is an experience that I will never forget. Having not been to Haiti in nearly 6 years, I expected only the worst, especially after the January 12th earthquake, but entering the situation with HAC left me with not images of the current state of the country- instead only thoughts and images on what the country could/will be like with the help of us all. Things like HAC’s goat project and micro financing project help to begin providing long-term financial solutions for those in the area while other projects like the weekly women’s empowerment meetings and future leadership events help to empower those in the area which, hopefully, will continue on into future generations.
During my time there, I would have to say my most memorable moments were my visits to the orphanages, helping in the teaching of English classes held on the compound, and being able to sit-in on a staff meeting. The conversations had while at these places, I believe, had the greatest impact on me. Listening to the people at the orphanages tell me about the children, their backgrounds, and the great amount of help they need was definitely new knowledge to me because we hear close to nothing about these orphanages and how we can help them. With the English classes, although my job was to help teach English, I found that the students and I engaged in conversations, in English of course, on topics ranging from politics to how they believe someone like myself could help the country which, in turn, helped me understand what they view to be issues of priority. Being able to sit-in and having the opportunity to actually participate in the HAC staff meeting was very beneficial. Since some days are slower than others, just being at the compound alone will not give you a full perspective on all of the work being done there, but attending this meeting helped me to understand all that the organization was currently doing, what their future projects were, and how we back home can help in their efforts.
All in all, the decision to volunteer with HAC is one that I do not regret. Being in a safe environment with people, both staff and HAC members, who share your passion and make you feel right at home truly makes your time there even better. Not only did I get to begin providing hands-on assistance for the country I love, I also got to prove those people, who emphasized the negative, wrong. My only regret is not having been able to stay for a longer amount of time, but I will definitely be going back soon.