Stories of hope in Haiti

January 15, 2019
Written by Kieran McConville

The people of Haiti have had more than their fair share of tragedy and disaster over the years — economic, social, and environmental. But there is hope — and we are working with the most disadvantaged communities to build new opportunities that are paying off in very real ways.

Loud and proud

Lunes Duvil is a quite the character. Tough as nails, but with an impish grin, she talks loudly and laughs easily. Here on the side of Route 9, everything is loud, as endless trucks, buses, and motorbikes roar past, crashing gears and bouncing through potholes. Known as Route Soleil, it connects the west of Haiti with the north, and serves as the boundary of Cité Soleil — which the internet will tell you is the biggest and poorest urban slum in the Caribbean.

“Now, I make more money.”

This is where Lunes set up her business 10 years ago, in a cramped metal cabin just a few feet from the passing traffic. “A lot of my customers are people passing by,” she yells, “but some are also my neighbors.” As a widowed mother of 7 kids in a vulnerable community, Lunes is the definition of resilience and determination. But recently she’s had some help, and life is getting better. “Before Concern, I had less stock and no freezer,” she tells us. “Now, I make more money.”

Lunes outside her store on Route 9 at the edge of Cité Soleil Photo: Kieran McConville

Lunes is part of an ambitious project to bring new hope and opportunity to an area where that has been in short supply for a long time.

“Lasting change takes time and effort… and it’s not just about dealing with one problem,” according to Concern’s Katia Antoine. “We’ve been working with the community here to build a plan that tackles some of their biggest challenges — violence, waste management, governance, and livelihoods.”

Lunes was one of an initial group of 400 people (mostly women) who were chosen by members of their own community to benefit from cash payments, life-skills and business training, and a lump-sum business investment. And it’s already making a difference.

Lunes Duvil has expanded her stock and equipment. Photo: Kieran McConville

She can now sell cold drinks from her new freezer and stocks a wider range of products, attracting more customers. The business training has been invaluable too. “I have invested the extra money into a consortium with some neighbors and the profits from that are going back into the business.”

Ultimately, her family is the beneficiary of her efforts — more (and more nutritious) food on the table and school fees for the education that will transform their young lives.

Learning new skills

Dolores Remy leads a professional skills training course, part of the “Building Hope & Opportunities in Haiti” integrated urban program in Cité Soleil, Port au Prince

Dolores Remy leads the cooking skills training course. Photo: Kieran McConville

“These are really good!”

A couple of miles from Lunes’ little store, a group of about 20 young women are enthusiastically mixing, rolling, and cutting confectionery under the watchful eye of Dolores Remy. Today they’re making brownies, and Concern’s Michael Salvador has timed his visit to the cooking school well  — every kitchen needs an impartial taster. “These are really good,” he says with his mouth full. “Good work!”

Lamartiníere Rose-Laure (32) taking part a professional skills training course, part of the “Building Hope & Opportunities in Haiti” integrated urban program in Cité Soleil, Port au Prince

Lamartiníere Rose-Laure with a sample of today’s work. Photo: Kieran McConville

More importantly, income-generating work is what this program is all about. These women have been selected by the community to receive professional training, with a view to either getting a job or starting their own business. “There are seven of us here from my area and we plan to open a bakery together,” Rose-Laure informs us. “It will be called ‘Têtes Ensemble.’ ”

Young women taking part in a professional skills training course, part of the “Building Hope & Opportunities in Haiti” integrated urban program in Cité Soleil, Port au Prince

The cookery skills class in full swing.

Like so many others here, she has scraped by on petty trading for years — but her young family has been living on the edge. “I can only afford to send some of them to school,” she says. Annual school fees are around 10,000 Haitian gourdes ($130) and half of that amount is due at the start of term — a huge cost burden for a low-income family. Rose-Laure is determined to grasp any opportunity that comes her way, so we expect to be buying our donuts from “Heads Together” bakery on future visits to Haiti.

Back to school

Not far away, from a tiny school-room on the edge of a plastic-choked waterway (a subject of future reporting here) come assembled voices counting in unison, “Un, deux, trois, quatre…”

“I am so happy to be here, learning.”

It’s the distinctive sound of learning, but these are no kids.  Merana Previl and her fellow students are taking part in Concern’s adult literacy and numeracy training project — they’re learning to write and count. For many, it’s the first time they have ever received any kind of formal education. Merana is 63 years old. Her parents died when she was young and she found work to support her brothers and sisters. They went to school… she never did. “I am so happy to be here, learning,” she says, smiling broadly.

Merana Previl sign her name.

Merana Previl displays her new signature. Photo: Kieran McConville

The skills being taught here may be basic, but the value to those who are learning is immense. This is not just a novelty or a gesture — it’s enabling people to achieve a sense of self-worth and dignity that comes with knowledge. It’s drawing a line under the past and putting up a signpost to the future.

A new and better future for the people of Haiti requires two things: opportunity and support.  The Concern team goes to work every day knowing it’s our job to help secure both. We are on a journey toward lasting change with people like Lunes, Rose-Laure, and Merana.  You can join us.

Merana Writes Her Name

Amazing things are happening in a small classroom on the edge of Cité Soleil.