Back from Haiti

This post has been waiting its turn since November 20th, when we returned from Haiti. However, thesis submission pressures kept us from posting earlier.

The fieldtrip to Haiti was part of the IPSO practice project. IPSO is an international NGO working to relieve trauma in war or disaster-affected areas. The project had three main components: one in Afghanistan, one in the NGO head office and one in Haiti. While the whole team worked together for the Head Office component, John took the Afghan challenge to improve IPSO response to post-war trauma relief.  Julia, Michael and myself took the challenge of coming up with a plan to tackle post-earthquake trauma relief in Haiti.

Beyond the deliverables of the practice project, the trip to Haiti was a powerful growth experience in itself. Neither Julia, nor Michael or myself had travelled to a developing country before, and no amount of prior research could prepare us for what followed.

 Try and forget for a second that you are who you are. Close your eyes and picture yourself a small child, growing up in Haiti. See the perfect Carribean shores, feel the warm sun even in November, hear the French and the Creole spoken around you.   

See yourself playing in dust and mud, at the edge of what aims to be a street. There are holes filled with muddy water everywhere. The happy truck comes to deliver the goodies to those who can pay for them – the goodies are not icecream or candy, but small cans of drinking water. Drinking tap water can make you sick.

As a child, you can see your parents going to the public market every day, carrying fruit and nuts on their heads. They strive to make ends meet and you want to one day grow up and provide them with a better life. But that is for those who get schooling, and education is not free in Haiti. Every day you can see the children whose parents afford schooling as they go to school. They wear uniforms in the school colours, and girls have colourful ribbons in their hair.

You cannot go to school, so you spend the day helping around the house, or playing with your siblings around the remains of buildings which were destroyed in the earthquake. You can remember the earthquake, the earth shook many times, harder and harder, and houses fell to the ground. People ran outside, crying, and some people were hurt badly, and others never came outside of their houses anymore. You remember this well, and sometimes in your sleep you think it is all happening again, and you get frightened.

Your own house fell to the ground, and now you live with your family in a tent. Thankfully, the weather is never cold, and you can clean yourself using the public shower, right next to the street… 

Daylight is quickly fading, although it is only 6 in the evening, and the family gathers in prayer. Your parents teach you to be thankful that divinity takes care of you, and they call upon the help of Christian and voodoo deities to protect you and Haiti. There is no TV time, and no cartoons for you, as there is no electricity, so you spend the rest of the day around fires, or simply playing in the dark.

And now open your eyes to the miracle life that you have. Look around you at the safe and beautiful building you are in, notice the electricity powering your computer. Yes, you can drink the water, there is no sickness  in it. Yes, you can enjoy the salad bar, as it is also filled with life. You have the education and the resources to make your life into anything you want. It is ok to treasure all the things that surround you, just make sure you do not forget the child you were while you had your eyes closed.


The project introduced us to the realities of life inHaiti. Moreover, it revealed another rhythm, and in our search for partners we had a strong reality check of our pre-Haiti assumptions.


The trip to Haiti was a set of learning experiences all clubbing in at the same time. We were challenged on a personal level, we were tested as a team and delivered as professionals; we gained first-hand insights regarding the humanitarian aid world and until the final day of our trip were amazed at the extremes of Haiti.

Finally, we returned humbled by the experience. The project deliverables have been delivered. The personal impact, however, still unravels. Perhaps some years from now we shall have forgotten the nitty-gritty of the project deliverables, but for sure we shall remember the lessons of Haiti.