As the wheels of the plane lifted from the gravel runway/roadway in Port a Paix, Haiti last week, I gazed out the window. I saw donkeys, goats and people scurrying out of the way; homes, buildings and banana trees whizzing by. I saw the streets of Port a Paix littered with debris, the buildings ramshackled and the blue Caribbean Sea gleaming in the sun. I have been to most Caribbean islands and numerous developing nations. I expected the worst in Haiti, but really saw nothing more extreme than other developing countries I’ve been to. And I saw promise.
I felt both saddened and inspired at the current state of affairs in Haiti. The poverty and misfortunate I’d heard so much about was prevalent but, in contrast, was the unstoppable human spirit, hard work and gentle nature of the Haitian people. Overall, I felt incredibly confident that Haiti will emerge in the coming years as a force to be reckoned with. As elections take place there this month, there is great hope that a government will be voted in that will empower the people rather than suppress them. Bill Clinton is a proponent of development in Haiti and I believe Capitalism will win out in this tropical country that has been home to natural disasters, corruption and poverty in recent years.
Imagine the year 2030, just 20 quick years from now. The Haiti I see has infrastructure. The burgeoning economy can fund roads, clean water and sewer systems. Reforestation will reduce erosion and those who are unable to work will be fed. The growing job sector includes labor and management in aquaponic greenhouses. Haiti is exporting fresh food – tilapia and fresh vegetables – throughout the Caribbean and to North America. The tourism industry embraces this beautiful island and Haiti becomes a scuba diving and vacation destination.
Haitians are very hard working people and a job means food and security for an individual and their family. I see agriculture, industry and tourism as the primary growing economic sectors. The potential is there, the people are eager for work and there are, surprisingly, still vast natural resources and a nearly untouched reef system skirting the island.
I see aquaponics as a key component to the new Haiti. Just as Haitians went from no phones to cell phones, I believe they will go from minimal agricultural infrastructure to massive aquaponic greenhouses that will provide jobs, food and profit to help the country feed itself and grow.
I believe this first step, an aquaponic system of our design, funded by and installed at the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in St. Louis De Nord, will be the impetus, the training ground and the launch of aquaponics in Haiti. It might even be the new beginning of agriculture in Haiti, and part of a new, prosperous Haiti. This is my vision and one that I think is truly possible.
This vision might sound foolish and naïve as you watch the news. Haiti still has 1.3 million people homeless as a result of the earthquake less than a year ago. While we were there in late October, a cholera outbreak began that will likely continue for years to come. Just days ago, Haiti was hit by Hurricane Thomas, adding to the misery of so many Haitian people. But the pendulum does swing both ways. Although not the case now, thirty years ago Haiti had hotels, tourism and agriculture. Forty years ago, the Vietnam War was at its peak. The country was ravaged, the people devastated and the landscape was littered with mines. Today you can visit Vietnam as a tourist and be welcomed while enjoying the culture, food and hospitality of this renewed country. Today you can buy goods at Wal-Mart that were made in Vietnam. Today, the sharpest edges of the Vietnam War have been softened by time.
Can a similar transformation happen in Haiti? Time will tell. I believe it can.
Check out photos from this trip at: http://www.facebook.com/nelsonandpade