“Even through all the devastation, the people are still so happy!” they often proclaim. I usually smile and say yes, there is joy here, too. I’m not sure what people were expecting to find.
The truth that has been revealed to me is that Haiti is a place, just like any other place. People living under these conditions are still people, and they must negotiate what it is that they will be happy about, what they will be sad about, what they will be afraid of and how they will move on with their lives in the face of whatever uncertainties lie ahead. Living under the duress of chronic poverty does not make you more or less of a human being. Though it certainly doesn’t help, poverty does not categorically take away your ability to find hope in the life you were given.
What I have learned from the people and situations that I encounter every day is a new definition of hope. Hope is not just a warm, light feeling that we get when looking towards an optimistic future. It is the undying drive to seek more from life that is in the heart of every living thing. Hope is what keeps farmers in their fields season after season. Hope is what wakes a mother every morning before the sun to prepare her house and her children for the day. Hope is what keeps people rebuilding their lives, after earthquakes, after storms and unthinkable loss. With hope, the everyday citizens of Haiti continuously put their best forward and contend with whatever comes next. With hope, I see people doing impossible, amazing, sometimes ridiculous things to make it through the challenges before them.
And hope is a powerful force. Lespwa Fe Viv, they say. It is a Haitian proverb that rings universally true through its many translations. Hope keeps you alive. Hope is alive. Hope makes life. With hope we sow seeds, and with hope we water them, and with hope they grow. Our desire to continue living and to see good things happen in the world is one of the most potent forces in existence. When we hope, we are creating life. When we hope, we imagine what our futures can be, and we are strengthened in action to bring those futures to reality. Hope makes life, not only because the feeling of hopefulness is what makes life bearable. Hope makes life because hope is the main ingredient in any powerful human action coming to pass.
At the risk of contradicting myself, I also know that hopelessness does have its grip on people in Haiti and those who wish to participate in her growth. This is especially true among young Haitians coming into adulthood in a time where there are few jobs to apply for, and no president in the white house. Unreliable utilities, rising costs of living and stories of rampant corruption sow confusion and make it hard for young people to expect good things to come. Instead, many are packing their bags, moving from rural areas to larger cities, and from larger cities to foreign shores in a chase for a better life somewhere, anywhere else. Those left behind discover an even greater sense of despair.
“This is my future,” a young woman shared with me. “I don’t have a backup country.”
In an effort to stave off hopelessness, the young woman I spoke to is throwing herself into her daily activities, taking on tutoring hours to earn more money, and going to church more. But she has little desire to go out with friends or have fun.
“It doesn’t feel right to be happy at a time like this.”
Moments like these illuminate the fact that, if hope is what makes life, then this balancing act between hope and hopelessness is actually a matter of life and death. It also means that our work here at BRITE is critical beyond what it can do for our small community. As political and financial hardships mount, the foundational work that our organization is doing can be the difference between hope and hopelessness for many people.
When our school first began, it was just a small group of teachers putting all that they could into the minds and spirits of young children in Rodaille. Today our organization provides education to nearly two hundred students, offers healthcare and clinical hours to the entire community, and warm meals to all students every day. We provide jobs to nearly thirty adults who can at least find a minimum of stability in their employment with BRITE.
Each new advancement in our organization was born of hope. That hope has brought life into our community in the form of successful outcomes on national exams, and a new generation of students who now have access to education in their local community where there once was none. This hope has also engendered new chances to grow and more opportunities for collaboration between those in Haiti and abroad. Together we continue to work towards the transformation of our community and a positive future in Rodaille. In this sense, the difference between life and death has been made over and over and over again.
Our faith in a brighter future is what keeps us invested in Haiti, despite all the troubling news and obstacles that can make living here hard. Hope is the catalyst for life, and we have already seen new things springing forth in Rodaille, like our new school building that is steadily rising after months of planning and construction. With hope, one day the work we are doing now will bring even more life and growth for future generations.