Haiti is full of surprises. No matter how much you read or watch, the country is bound to shatter your expectations. From the moment you exit the airport in Port-au-Prince, you begin to discover the reality of Haiti today. Like any country, people are busy living their lives. They rush off to work on fully packed tap-taps, sell meat and rice by the road side, and attend community meetings and workshops.
Unlike other countries though, the legacy of January 2010’s earthquake is readily apparent in every internally displaced person (IDP) camp, where semi-permanent tents span every open space in the city. As one of very few blancs walking around (as opposed to driving in an air-conditioned SUV), the still toppled national palace (and tent camp in front of it) spoke volumes to the current situation. While many of the large disaster relief NGOs are pulling out after two years, questions remain as to what the new phase of Haiti’s development will look like.
Has the global political situation changed enough to allow and support development and growth? Will France ever return to Haiti the 60 million francs they had taken in the 1800’s for the loss of their slave colony? Will America ever stop flooding Haiti with subsidized rice, killing all local production? Will the Western media ever stop portraying the vibrant communities of Cité Soleil as “the worst slum in the Western hemisphere”?
These large questions can be daunting unless discussed over a bottle of Prestige with local partners and friends. Working on the tangible while contemplating the bigger picture is what makes spending time in Haiti such a powerful and worthwhile experience. On an OG trip, you’ll get a chance to see the real Haiti, beyond the disaster and the crime statistics portrayed in the news.
Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms.
Take the bus to the Dominican Republic and see how different life is just 60 kilometers away.
Relax on the Caribbean coastal beaches near Jacmel.
Make the long trek up to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city.
WITH OG YOU LIVE LIKE THE LOCALS.
Most of the program will take place out of the Operation Groundswell home base. In our safe home, participants will feel comfortable exploring the larger city and going out to work on projects each day. Although the house is fairly modern, Western comforts such as continuous electricity or hot water showers should not be assumed. Having a wonderful communal home, however, is one of the highlights of being part of the OG Haiti team and you can expect great food, great friends and nightly discussions and programming.
Following the airport pickups from Mais Gate Airport, the group will have an in-country orientation in Port-au-Prince. We will be staying at Haiti Communitere, which serves both as a home base and a showcase for sustainable design techniques now being employed throughout Haiti. We will be introduced to current projects at HC and learn about Ubuntu, the ingenious building material made from recycled Styrofoam which our groups made last year! Participants will ease into Haitian culture by trying local cuisine, picking up the basics of the local language, and visiting local historical sites with long-time residents of the city. Understanding that Port-au-Prince is so much more than temporary shelter camps is the main goal of our time in the capital. Participants will meet with dozens of aid workers from a variety of NGOs in order to learn the daily challenges and realities facing development work in Haiti.
On the Grassroots Education trip, we will get to know the community personally by running English classes for adults in Port-au-Prince, providing tutoring for Haitian teachers as well as offering English, art, and sports to orphans and hosting language exchanges in Cite Soliel. An equally important aspect of OG trips is the personal project. Participants will have the opportunity to take on projects in Haiti that focus on creating sustainable change in the communities of Anse-à-Pitre, Jacmel and Port-au-Prince. Working with numerous local NGOs, we aim to provide the freedom for participants to discover projects that interest them. While certain projects have been selected to be our principal focus, past OG participants have constructed benches, retrofitted an Internet resource center, created girls leadership workshops and more.
Throughout the volunteer project time, we will explore Port-au-Prince, as well as the surrounding countryside. Participants will work from sunrise to sunset, Monday through Friday with weekends being reserved for group exploration. Planned weekend trips include: a hike through the mountains of Kenscoff, going out to celebrate Haitian holidays including Carnivale, the famously crazy holiday all over Central and South America, relaxing on the beaches of the Caribbean coast, and so much more!
Participants will also have Independent Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, participants are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for themselves. Participants are given the emergency contact number of trip organizers during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. ITT is the ideal time for participants to learn more about their specific interest, whether it’s by volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing. Haiti is a true, untapped destination for backpackers. Although getting around may be challenging, past participants have found it is well worth the effort.
The group will reconvene for a trip debrief known as the ‘Disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will take place in Jacmel, one of the most beautiful spots in all of Haiti. We will discuss our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch and what future projects we can collaborate on before returning everyone to the airport for some tearful goodbyes.
MEET YOUR TRIP LEADERS
Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them.
After spending 2 months in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake, Steph Price developed a major crush on Haiti and the two have been together ever since. Before they met, Steph was working as an advertising copywriter in New York City making commercials and print ads for various booze, technology, and personal grooming products. But after their initial meeting, Steph and Haiti found a life together working with one of Port-au-Prince’s only free, adult English schools. Sure, she’s cheated at times, having spent time working with University women in Cambodia, building homes in Cameroon and living in a tribal village in Southern India, but those were just passing fancies. Steph and Haiti are both super grateful that Operation Groundswell has given them a chance to be together yet again and she’s excited to introduce many more people to this complicated, dysfunctional, yet utterly crush-worthy country.
Nathan had his first OG experience while living it up in the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince during Carnival. He watched the biggest celebration Haiti has to offer while standing on top of a parade float with an OG crew as the parade marched on in front of the ruins of the National Palace. At the time he was the Associate Director at Haiti Communitere, one of OG’s core partners in Haiti. He has since decided to join the OG darkside and is now one of the OG Trip Leaders for Haiti. Excited to put his BA in Intercultural Studies to work, Nathan’s work has dragged him into crazy stories in almost a dozen countries on three continents over the years. He currently splits his time between PAP, Haiti (running awesome trips for OG!) and NYC where he is helping in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. He is an unapologetic coffee snob and is always ready for Z-day…always.