I never thought I would travel to Haiti, let alone be building a business around one inspiring moment I experienced while visiting Port Au Prince this past March. I love to travel, to meet new people, see beautiful places, and to immerse myself in foreign cultures. I’d likely never say no to an opportunity to take a trip, but I almost did when presented with an opportunity to go to Haiti. I had completely written off Haiti as a place worth traveling to, and maybe that was the reason I needed to go there. For the most part, when I travel I do it in a way that will be positive and impactful to the people living there, to serve in some way. Having studied nonprofit management and Non-governmental organizations, Haiti was often used as an example of what not to do in terms of relief efforts and aid. I thought to myself that there would be nothing positive or impactful I could do while I was there, that thousands of others hadn’t already tried, and from my perspective, failed at. I just didn’t see a reason to go there, and yet when presented with the opportunity, I said yes.
From the beginning, there wasn’t much that was unfamiliar to me with regard to traveling to a country like Haiti. From walking off the airplane after arriving in Port Au Prince to the nerve wracking experience as we tried to leave, much was familiar. I knew what to expect at the airport, through immigration, then to the baggage carousel where men were waiting to help you, to walking outside, where dozens more were hoping to give you a ride. Hold you bag close, don’t make eye contact, and use hand sanitizer after picking up your luggage. Climbing into the bed of a pick-up truck, I witnessed a familiar squabble over who would get paid for helping us to the car. As we drove down paved streets and ones still broken from natural disaster, we witnessed terrifying traffic scenes, people packed a close as humanly possible in local buses, and children begging from one car window to the next. All still familiar. The modest accommodations and the quiet woman with a sweet smile who was cooking our dinner, again reminded me of previous travel experiences. Driving through the largest area market, and witnessing the way fish and other food for sale was handled, I watched quietly. There was a distinct smell, one that I’ll never be able to describe, but again familiar. We saw hundreds of thousands of pieces of Goodwill donated clothing being sold in the market, as children stood shoeless in tattered, dirty clothing nearby. And though the music in the car was playing, and there was laughter and dancing, my heart was breaking. Even though everything was familiar, I had hoped it wouldn’t be. I prayed that what I would witness wasn’t as bad as it had been described to me. I wished for people to be wrong when they spoke about Haiti, but they weren’t, the brokenness existed.
But that same afternoon, I walked into a beautiful community, full of love. There it was, there was the hope. I saw it again a few days later, touring a workshop of a small store that was located near where we were staying. Whenever I travel, I seek authenticity in what I purchase as a souvenir or gift. I want to remember the culture through my purchase and I want to know that what I’m purchasing is directly impacting the person who made it. Seeing that workshop was a dream come true. We watched as men and women rolled small beads of clay, that would eventually be hand painted then strung as a necklace or bracelet. We walked from room to room in what seemed like a never-ending workshop. I finally asked our tour guide how many people worked there and was left standing there in shock and awe when he said that they employed over 200 people. In my amazement, I realized that this was hope, this was change, and this was success. Not only were men and women being provided with dignifying jobs so they could earn the money to support their families, rather than just being handed aid, there was joy. The artisans were laughing and smiling. The workshop was filled with color and life, something you would never expect standing outside the solemn concrete exterior of the workshop. This business provides dignifying jobs to men and women. Their mission is simple, “orphan prevention, through job creation.” I walked out of the workshop knowing that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I felt the joy spilling out of that place and saw the hope.
On this same trip, I was asked what I thought success looked like. My response was shaky, because no one had ever asked me that before and I wasn’t even sure it was attainable. I explained that what success looked like for my life was being able to have a job I loved, build a family, and continue to travel the world for the rest of my life. The reason I wasn’t sure it was attainable, is because at the time it seemed to me that the first two criteria contradicted the last one. How was I ever going to settle into one place, with another person and a steady job, and still discover the world? Well Haiti did more than just show that my dream was attainable. Haiti gave me friends who would stand by me during the next unexpected changes I would soon be facing. Haiti gave me the courage to share my crazy idea with old friends, who have supported me whole heartedly from the beginning. Haiti gave me the hope I didn’t know I needed at the time, to continue on a new path. A new path that I never expected or wanted to be on. That’s the thing about life and journeys though, sometimes circumstances change. And while my new journey began with heartache and loss, I can now see that it also provided me with a chance to write my story with everything I’d dreamed of, a career, love and travel.