Comfortable, cheap, reliable, convenient, yet incredibly ugly. These are some of the ways in which people characterize Crocs, the foam shoe that took over the shoe market for quite some time a few years ago. To most, these $15 foam sandals are nice to wear here and there, but not much more than that. To the Haitians (especially on Mon Bouton), however, they mean much, much more.
For the residents of Mon Bouton, who take the treacherous hike up and down the mountain on a daily basis, sometimes more than once, shoes are a vital part of their "outfit." Real hiking boots seem ideal for this situation, but they actually pose several problems. First and foremost, they are too rare and expensive for the Haitians to come by easily. Next, in a place as hot and humid as Haiti, hiking boots would likely prove to be too warm and cumbersome. As I learned during my trip, mobility and convenience is key for the Haitians, as they are constantly on the move - in and out of dirt, mud, and water throughout the day. For these reasons exactly, Crocs are the ideal, multi-purpose shoes for many Haitians.
During my second trip to Haiti, as we made our way up the mountain to Mon Bouton, I traveled the same way the Haitians who were lucky enough did: in Crocs (others walked in sandals or with no sandals at all.) Now, the reason I chose to do so was that my other shoes were soaked from our earlier crossing of a river, so I was left with no other options. The seven hour hike up the mountain is hard enough as it is, but being forced to hike it with the traction-less Crocs was a tremendously difficult task. I was constantly slipping and falling over the dirt and rocks. For the Haitians (who also carried some of our bags full of soccer equipment), however, what seemed to me like an impossible task, was second nature. Like many other aspects of survival, their ability to not only stay on pace with us, with the extra baggage they had to carry, but to go almost twice as fast as us has not ceased to amaze me. Even when Toma's heels were basically touching the ground with each step he took, due to a huge hole in the bottom of his Crocs, he was able to keep up his pace.
At the end of our journey on Mon Bouton, we all left our Crocs for Toma and the rest of the Mon Bouton residents. It was the very least that we could do after they hosted us in their "houses", and more importantly, created an experience for us that we will never forget. Toma took them reluctantly, thanking us endlessly, as if we had just given him the world's greatest gift. To see how grateful he was for what seemed to be a simple, somewhat useless thing truly put things into perspective for me. Omri, Drew, my Dad, and I gave our Crocs away without a second thought, and in the process, changed the way Toma and the others would live - at least until they got holes in their new Crocs. While I thought about the way the Crocs looked, Toma only thought of them as a tool for survival. As usual, he (representing the larger Haitian population) was able to make the most out of the least. My struggles climbing up the mountain with Crocs, not to mention the others' struggles with normal shoes, magnify the Haitians' ability to work through their troubles with persistence and resourcefulness.
While this may seem like a trivial issue to most people, it is in fact a matter of survival for Toma, Jacob, Destine, and countless others who live in similar situations in Haiti. Next time I see a pair of Crocs I'll think of them differently: not as unnecessary, ugly sandals, but rather as a basic necessity.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Over the past year, quite a lot of stuff has happened in my life. I finished Junior year and all of the tests and schoolwork that come with it. I played some soccer. I started One Love Advocates and travelled to Haiti. I met new people and made new friends. I applied to college. I started making a basketball polling website (fansfive.com). I turned eighteen. As you can see, this year has been an exciting, happy, and rather monumental year for me, and many other teenagers around the world as well.
On the other hand, however, Haiti and its people have experienced, arguably, the worst year in their history. The devastating earthquake that shook the nation on January 12th, 2010 (exactly one year ago) has left the already-struggling country a mess. Over 230,000 people have died. Hundreds of thousands of people have been injured. Almost 2 million people are homeless. Thirty percent of civil service jobs have been lost. All but one of the Haitian Government's buildings have been destroyed. Thousands of children have been orphaned. A very large percentage of the money that was pledged to Haiti is yet to reach the Haitian people. A recent Cholera outbreak has already killed thousands of people. Unfortunately, the list of problems seems to be never-ending. Haiti, which was already plagued by great poverty and a virtually non-existent infrastructure, was the perfect "target" for the disaster. The government, the buildings, and the people were all unprepared for the earthquake, leading to the awful situation that the ravaged nation is in today.
While these problems may seem insurmountable, it is our duty to continue to work for the struggling people of Haiti. Despite the challenges, hope persists - aid agencies and individual donors continue to open their hearts and their wallets to help Haiti. Progress is incremental, but improvements are being made every single day. Many organizations are still raising money for Haiti and plan to implement special projects to help people get jobs and education, which will help in both the short-term and the long-term.
One Love Advocates has come a far way as well as it has grown in many ways. Starting as a simple blog with news updates about the situation in Haiti, One Love has grown into a full-on non-profit initiative. Donations have exceeded $15,000 and continue to come in. Thousands of soccer shirts, shorts, and balls have been donated to schools and communities in Haiti. Other high school students have been able to join the One Love cause and help with anything ranging from online solicitation to actually traveling to Haiti. The One Love Advocates Computer Program has expanded and now contains three teachers and more than fifty OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) computers.
These exciting advancements help us see some light at the end of the tunnel that is the disastrous situation in Haiti. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we do not forget about Haiti and its people as there is still a great need for help. While it may seem impossible, Haiti can be fixed step by step, little by little, and it is our job to help fix it.
Monday, January 3, 2011
One of the major differences between the second trip and our first trip was that we were able to develop actual and authentic relationships with local Haitian people. Simply by the nature of the first trip, which involved work with schools and orphanages, there was less room for casual conversation. On Mon Bouton, however, we were able to learn from and about others during meals, hikes, and virtually any other activities. One of the people that we met and befriended is Sophonie François.
Sophonie, 22, traveled up to Mon Bouton along with us and Randy, whom she knows through her sister who is currently living in Rhode Island. We first met Sophonie outside of the hectic airport in Port-au-Prince, when we were focused on guarding our bags and searching for our ride, preventing us from properly greeting each other. After seven of us squeezed into the small 5-seated car, we began our journey together towards Mon Bouton, where we would spend the next week together.
Prior to the trip, we knew very little about Sophonie. In fact, all we knew was that she would be joining us on our adventure to the top of the mountain. However, after spending several days together, we came to learn a great deal about her life, her family, and her dreams and aspirations. Sophonie lived in a house in Port-au-Prince with her parents and one of her older sisters.Although they were forced to move into a smaller house, Sophonie's family remains among the lucky ones in the city, as they actually have a house, and do not live in a tent. Throughout our two trips to Haiti, it seems as though virtually every person that we met has terrible stories such as this one.
Despite the hardship, however, Sophonie (like many other Haitians) remained tremendously kind, positive, and optimistic. During our stay on Mon Bouton, she spent over an hour giving us a detailed account of Haiti's history, answering all of our questions happily, despite her struggles with English. Later, when we returned to Port-au-Prince, she kindly invited us to her house for a dinner that she cooked just for us. And another night, she took us out to her favorite restaurant in Port-au-Prince to give us a sense of the local culture. All of us (Omri, Drew, my Dad, and I) had a lot of fun with her as a friend, and learned a great deal from her as a role model.
Ever since finishing High School, Sophonie's main goal has been to continue her education at a university. Unfortunately, this was never possible because her family did not have enough money to support her. Now, after many years of waiting, Sophonie is finally able to fulfill her dream as she attends a school in Senegal. There is nobody more deserving of the opportunity to achieve a dream than Sophonie, and I wish her only the best in her future endeavors. Personally, and also on behalf of the rest of the One Love crew, I don't believe I have ever met anybody like Sophonie. Her honest, driven, and likable personality has inspired me to become a better person in all aspects of my life, and I'm sure she will continue to affect people the same way in the future.