IN January 2010, Haiti was struck with by one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history, which killed more than 230,000 people, injured 300,000 others, and left 2.1 million people homeless.
The earthquake compounded the already huge development challenges faced by this country with some 80% of the population living below the poverty line.
I travelled to Haiti after being named as a 2014 recipient of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund in Ireland. The fund was set up in memory of Simon Cumbers, an Irish journalist who was murdered in Saudi Arabia in 2004.
The aim of the fund is to promote better quality media coverage of development issues in the Irish media and it was a huge honour to be selected by the fund so early in my career as a journalist to travel to Haiti.
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I decided as January had marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake that I would travel to Port-Au-Prince Haiti’s capital to investigate how and if the country had started to recover.
While in Port-Au-Prince, I spent two days with Goal Ireland and taking a look at two immensely important projects that have helped the people of Haiti begin a recovery.
The two projects focused on the agriculture sector and the displacement camps in Haiti which citizens have sought refuge in over the past five years.
On my agriculture visits I travelled 30 km from Port-Au-Prince known as Gressier to take a look at the Micro nurseries which are set up with the support of Goal Ireland and I also travelled up the coast to a region known as Jacmel to visit Plan Ireland’s work in the farming communities.
Gressier is a rural region where many people moved out of the city to after the earthquake. The area is high up in the Haitian mountains.
Like most economies the Haitian people rely on livestock and the farming markets as a main source of income to their lives.
I visited the farm of a local man, Souverain Jean Lucien. Mr Lucien opened up on what life has meant for him in the past five years since the earthquake shattered the world he once knew.
“I have lived in Haiti since I was born and I work here in this local community as a farmer.”
“We are the eyes of the community, as local farmers we work every day and organise the planting of the crops,” he said.
Mr Suvan is now seen as a leader in his community and told how he helps to provide training to other rural farmers and how he also helps to support the community.
“We work directly with Goal for the supply of materials and also building schools.”
Looking around the house the local farmer shared with his wife and children, the humble and forthright attitude that the Haitian people have is clear to see.
They are as a community and as a nation a very welcoming race.
As he gave me a tour of the hot pepper and cabbage crop in the Micro Nursery farm, he explained that these crops not only provide an income so that he can support his family, but also a sense of personal independence.
Travelling up the coast to Jacmel, the striking Haitian coastline came into view which has also become a unique selling point to cruise liners who dock on the coast for a day while eager tourists pay their $10 holiday visits and disembark to discover the wonders of the art galleries which Haiti boast.
While taking taking a look at Plan’s work in the agriculture sector it was empowering to see young women in charge of their own gardens and becoming self-sufficient by their sense of newfound independence and also business ventures.
Marie Odele, a young farmer in Jacmel explained that her vegetable garden was a lifeline as she was a vulnerable young woman before Plan reached out and provided her with her new found independence.
She now sells her crops to local markets.
Travelling across the Haitian coastline on motorbike and by jeep was a breathtaking experience which gave a real sense to what the people of Haiti have been through.
Through each small village you pass the cracks on the buildings are still clear to see but the inhabitants of the villages always smile and wave as each new face passes through.
Perhaps the strongest glimmer of hope came from the Pazapa special needs education centre in Jacmel as eager young eyes and minds were being taught at one of the top class education facilities in the region.
The Pazapa centre was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake but as the Director of the school, Marika McCrea explained that this was perhaps not a bad thing now looking back on the past five years.
“We now have the facility to care and educate these children in ways that were not possible five years ago.”
The school regularly welcomes visiting US students in the medical field who are eager to help out in the school.
Back in Port-Au-Prince Goal took me on a tour of one of their relocation camps, where many of the families affected in the 2010 earthquake were displaced to in 2010.
The shocking fact I learned upon entering Camp Acacia Cité 2 was not the horrific closeness that people are made live in but the fact that some families have lived there for five years and children have been born into the camp.
As we turned the narrow corners, the smell of the camp hit me, as eyes peered out from the cracks in the galvanised houses. Children looked on curiously and the innocence of these children was clear to see.
As I turned my camera lens around to show them their picture on my camera, their eyes ignited and their laughter for a moment took them away from their dull surroundings which they are forced to live in.
The lack of colour in camp is one thing that is so striking as further out the street stalls are covered in the most eloquent and handcrafted designs from locals art projects.
As one little boy who was only around 14 months old waddled across the clay path to look into the lens of the camera, his mother pulled him back and smacked him.
My heart sank for this defenceless of this little boy who looked up at me crying. I walked over explaining in what little French I had that he was not disturbing my work.
This of course is a classic example of the inequality for women in a country like Haiti.
They are treated in an inferior manner by males and many are dominated by their husbands, they are expected to control the children.
Some women are gaining independence outside the home but it is not without its difficulties.
That’s the thing I learned from the people of Haiti that in spite of obstacles and big ones like natural disasters, they are a country fighting to stand up to be independent and achieve a better economy and country for the next generation of Haitian people to be proud of.
As I sat on the runway at Haiti’s airport and staring out the window at what look’s like a baron grey and brown landscape to the naked eye, embedded in my memory is the laughter and smiles of a nation that are trying to re emerge and rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
It’s been five years since their world was torn apart and in the next five years with continued international support the story of Haiti will continue to evolve.
The important thing to remember that a country like Haiti may seem to be doing well but that does not mean that it is not broken.