As our plane began its descent into Port-au-Prince, I found myself preparing to be overwhelmed by what we’d see. I braced for the emotional response that was to come from returning to a place I had last visited 5 years ago, before the devastation that took thousands of lives and left many more homeless and struggling in temporary shelters.
What we encountered was much different. Tent cities were everywhere, and the worsened poverty and struggle were hard to witness. But the people of Haiti were the same – strong, resilient, and full of hope for a brighter future. As Donna Karan wrote on the 2nd anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, “Hope is all over Haiti. Hope is Haiti.”
There is a story written about Haiti that includes perpetual unrest, poorest country in our hemisphere, natural disasters, and unsolvable problems. It begins with a tragic history of oppression, references familiar names like Baby Doc and Aristide, and often ends with international intervention – emergency aid, UN soldiers, and numerous efforts to help create a better life for Haitians.
But we found a different story in the making, one of determination to change things. A Haitian beekeeper working to increase honey production for export, a local mayor focused on job creation for women. A community of business leaders looking to invest in Haitian-owned enterprises. And international organizations moving forward with housing, a modern hospital, and facilities to help Haitian and foreign companies grow and employ more people. It is this new story that that gives rise to a different kind of hope… not that things will someday change for the better, but that the change that is already underway will have a positive impact on millions of Haitian lives.
Prosperity Candle has always felt compelled to work in Haiti, even more since the earthquake. Our mission is to help women earn above a living wage through candle-making, an enterprise uniquely suited to rebuilding lives following conflict or natural disaster. In Iraq we supported women in starting home-based microenterprises because they felt unsafe outside their homes. In Haiti, we seek to assist a group of women to start a larger business with equipment to make many different types of candles for both local and international markets.
All of us here feel a deep connection to Haiti, and a desire to not only help, but also to empower. To blend assistance with self-determination, supported by the simple idea of commerce for good. On a recent Saturday afternoon I arrived in Port-au-Prince prepared for feelings of anguish and carrying a sense of determination. A week later, I left inspired again by a country and people who truly embody the meaning of strength, resilience and hope for a brighter future.