A Closer Look Into Life in Haiti

July 3, 2024

Port-Au-Prince pinned on a map of Haiti

Over the past few years, Haiti has been frequently described in challenging and negative ways. These words and images, however, do not capture the full picture of the place that, for millions of Haitians, is simply “home.”

In recent years, Haiti has endured a devastating earthquake, hurricanes, and ongoing issues related to poverty, crime, and governance. In Port-au-Prince, where the difficulties are concentrated, various embassies have evacuated part of their staff and citizens, the airport has been closed and curfews have been enacted. Pharmacies and hospitals are vandalized, exacerbating the crisis. Roadblocks put up by gangs are common. People demand security and a better life.

In addition to these issues, understanding the situation in Haiti is complicated due to a lack of reliable data, as the last census was conducted 20 years ago. The country has not had legitimately elected authorities for a long time, and the international community is attempting to establish a transitional presidential council to organize future elections.

Beyond these issues, at the core of Haiti, are people who have the right to live in a safe and stable environment within their own country. One of these resilient individuals is Mercidieu Josaphat, coordinator of a CWS partner organization in Jean Rebel Dos d’Ane, Northwest Haiti. In his home, Mercidieu lives with his wife, three children and two cousins. Like many of his fellow Haitians, Mercidieu sees the duality of his country: a home that he loves but a place with many challenges.

These challenges can begin at the most basic level with difficulty accessing transportation. “Transportation has become increasingly challenging due to security issues, with gas becoming scarce, making basic necessities even more difficult to obtain.” In rural areas like the one where Mercidieu lives, children cover between two to four miles to reach their school.

In rural areas where CWS programs support farmers in expanding their livelihoods and agricultural capacities, farming is becoming more and more unreliable with the rapidly changing environment. Mercidieu shared that “90% of the community relies on farming, which is heavily dependent on rainfall. Sometimes they make small profits, but other times they lose all the crops they invested in with their courage. In terms of food in rural areas, it’s very difficult because insecurity prevails, making life very expensive in the communities.”

Even if an individual is fortunate with their livelihood, stability in Haiti is difficult to obtain due to the long-term impacts of a brutal history of colonialism, foreign interference and political and economic barriers. “With bandits and thieves frequently causing chaos, merchants face constant threats to their livelihoods, making life incredibly difficult for their families. This complexity has led to communities struggling to maintain their way of life,” said Mercidieu. He added that while “Haiti is a good country,” it is for these reasons that many Haitians choose to leave or move back to their rural communities.

For those who remain in Haiti, maintaining good mental health has become a daily challenge, especially as resources have dwindled. Mercidieu noted that many feel “disheartened,” especially the young people who have little to no opportunities after finishing school, and the elderly who have few to take care of them. “In our area, many elderly people become like children again because they cannot take care of themselves,” he says. To address and promote mental health in Haiti, CWS provides trauma-informed care for vulnerable communities. One of our ongoing projects focuses on supporting both children and adults affected by recent earthquakes and offers individual therapy sessions, group sessions and therapeutic activities such as dance and play.

For those who choose to leave Haiti, pathways are becoming far more restricted and dangerous. “Legal ways for someone to leave the country include applying through official channels. However, due to the high level of insecurity, even obtaining a visa at the American embassy in Port-au-Prince can be challenging,” said Mercidieu. He added that one common alternative method is departing on boats; a path which unfortunately can end in tragic deaths. For the Haitians who make it to the U.S. to seek asylum, CWS local offices are ready to support in every step of the resettlement process.

In the 70 years that CWS has worked in Haiti, we continue to support both the right to remain and the freedom to leave. We currently work in two of the ten departments in Haiti: Grand’Anse and the Northwest Department. We have ongoing disaster response and long-term recovery operations which are focused on livelihoods, agroecology, climate change resilience, housing, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), and mental health. Our team in Haiti consists of twelve Haitian staff members who work as engineers, mental health professionals, livestock specialists and program managers. Together, we all remain committed to caring for our Haitian neighbors by helping them create a safer home, whether in Haiti or elsewhere.

To learn more about the work CWS is doing in Latin America and the Caribbean, click here