Monday, March 23, 2009

Poverty in the news and poverty "in the field"

We make a conscious effort to use this blog to tell you great things about Haiti. In a way, we see this as an advocacy tool to counteract the totally one-sided and negative news reports on Haiti that, admittedly, provided us with all we knew about Haiti before we moved here. Let's face it, news about poverty and hunger and violence is sexy. It sells. And it also justifies the presence of UN peacekeeping troops and American aid dollars. And whatever kind of spin we try to put on what it is we're doing here, the kind of news and images (what Ben calls NGO porn) that come out of Haiti justifies the presence here of people like us, too.

These are among the top ten google news headlines on Haiti right now:
Do people know about dirt cookies?
Poverty undermines security in Haiti
Teens take up cause to free modern slaves
Batey Relief Alliance launches mission to poor Dominican, Haitian towns
Clinton urges more aid as he leaves Haiti

I would be willing to bet that not ONE of those articles fails to mention that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But how many of them mention the stark beauty of this place? Or how friendly and generous people are? Or how Port-Au-Prince is really a lot safer than Nairobi or Johannesburg or even all of Jamaica? Haitians have a lot of national pride and desperately want the world to know more about their country than that it has one of the world's lowest GDPs. When meeting us for the first time, so many Haitians ask us what we think of Haiti and if by being here we have come to realize that the news reports on Haiti are wrong.

But the truth is, even if they are totally biased, exaggerated, one-sided and often, like with the dirt cookies story, taken out of context, most of those news reports are not wrong. There is so much desperate poverty here that I fear I'm becoming desensitized to it.

Ben left today for two weeks "in the field" (forgive me, I always feel compelled to put quotation marks around "in the field"), which means he'll be working in the small, remote villages in the Plateau Centrale where the 18-month Chemen Lavi Miyo (CLM) program is selecting its next 150 program participants. The women that enter this program are referred to as the ultra-poor (which is a designation that I think is awkard and demeaning, but I digress) and are living in poverty that is beyond the shocking statistics you see in the news about Haiti. With his permission, I am providing links here to two blogposts by Ben's newest coworker, Kaveh, about these womens' economic situation: "Poverty is more than just a low income"and about what CLM staff is doing in the field (except for Ben who will be taking pictures and recording womens' stories): "Out in the field with CLM."

For the sake of complete honesty, I should tell you that the people I come into contact with in my day to day life in Port-Au-Prince are usually the educated, privileged and (by comparison) wealthy. My coworkers are jurists and activists. My neighbor is the president's girlfriend. And how many average Haitians could afford the membership fee at the gym where I teach pilates twice a week and take yoga? For that matter, how ridiculous would a gym seem to most Haitians when they are hauling water for miles, washing clothes by hand or digging ditches in a USAID food-for-work program?

-Lexi posting from Ben's account. Again.

1 comment:

Timbo said...

Hey Lexi--

I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject and am reminded of our conversation last summer while sailing across to the islands while camping.

I'm thinking of you guys and praying.


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