In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Somewhere there is a nation...

According to the world bank, over half of Haiti's people survive on less than $1 (USD) per day. To make matters worse, inflation is sitting at almost 20% and the economy is declining. This ranks Haiti among the world's poorest nations.

This is a country which lacks the most basic infrastructure. There are few paved roads, leaving the rural population isolated from more developed parts of the country. There are no nationwide programmes for rubbish collection, for the provision of piped water or for the treatment of sewage.

Visualize settlements built on refuse dumps, where open sewers contaminate a stagnant water source. Imagine a country where, surely, rats outnumber people.

It has been estimated that 1% of the country's population controls 50% of it's wealth, a situation which creates marked inequalities in health, housing and education. With this comes an epidemic of organised crime that has overwhelmed Haiti's police force, and even its military.

Who looks, and really sees the bare-footed toddler with streaming nose and old-man eyes, wandering these streets?

Only 30% of Haitians have access to a safe water source and there is just 1 doctor for every 10,000 people. As a result, according to UNICEF, 60% of Haiti's people (mainly those from isolated, rural areas) do not have regular access to medical care.

It is the children that suffer the most. In a country that lacks food security and has a high prevalence of tropical disease, 1/5 die before reaching their 5th birthday. Of those who survive, half will suffer acute or chronic malnutrition and only half will begin primary school.

Among the country's child population of 3 million (aged 0-15 years), are 200 000 orphans and 300,000 bonded labourers, known as “restaveks.” Every year, 2000 children are trafficked to the Dominican Republic. Thousands more eke out a living on the streets of Haiti, where they beg, work as prostitutes, or are recruited by criminal gangs.

Who has cruised the waters of the Caribbean sea? Who has been to Disney World? Who among those travellers knows, that just 600 miles of the Florida cost, there is a nation called Haiti? 600 miles: roughly the distance from the London to the northerly-most islands of the British isles. Wouldn't there be an outcry if conditions such as these were on our doorstep?

They say seeing is believing, so if, like me, you didn't know, please view this UNICEF photo essay.

Why Haiti?

Because somewhere, not so very far removed from “our world”, there is a nation; a place where a greater proportion of children experience chronic hunger than those in Angola, a country whose people have less access to treated water and adequate sanitation than the Ethiopians, a country where death rates among infants exceed Sudanese figures. (UNICEF, 2004).

Why Haiti? Why not?

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