Beyond the Turmoil: Seeing the Signs of Hope in Haiti
From MFK Chief Administrative Officer Lauren Plummer
As MFK’s Chief Administrative Officer, I travel to Haiti six to eight times each year and I have been to Haiti more than 40 times in the last five and a half years. But, no matter how often I go, I am always struck by wealth disparity between the United States and Haiti.
My travel from St. Louis to Haiti takes me through Miami, where the glitzy Miami International Airport concourse offers all manner of luxuries for weary or bored travelers –designer boutiques, fancy restaurants. I board the plane and land just an hour and twenty minutes later in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world.
On taking my leave from the Cap-Haitien airport, I feel as though I’ve been transported not only through space, but also through time. Instead of a Michael Kors boutique, Coach store or Brooks Brothers shop, there are open air markets where discarded clothing from Goodwill or Salvation Army is sold. Instead of sleek passenger transport carts whisking VIP passengers to their next flight on new jet liners, there are myriad small moto taxis, the driver often carrying two or even three passengers, along with their packages. Instead of a restaurant offering thick steaks, there are women squatting over smoky outdoor charcoal fires, cooking pots of rice. There are heavy loads being pulled by hand on primitive wooden carts that seem as though they might belong to past century.
My most recent trip, October 22 – 31, was more daunting due to the concern raised by the civil unrest which has plagued Haiti for the last 18 months and had intensified over the last several weeks. Fortunately for MFK – and for me – the worst of the unrest has been centered in Port-au-Prince. Cap-Haitien, in the north of Haiti where MFK has its operations, is relatively calm by comparison. But, there were signs in Cap of the recent unrest. The road to the factory showed many scorch marks where tires had been set ablaze across the road to keep vehicles from passing. There was broken glass littering the streets. Most notable was that when I arrived on Tuesday, when Haitian children should have been in school, there were none of the tell-tale children in colorful school uniforms. Other than two weeks in September, Cap-Haitien children have not been able to attend school this school year. Our Haitian employees at the factory told me that it will likely be February before children will be able to start school, and then only if the unrest is resolved.
Despite the misery that poverty and the unrest bring to the Haitian people, I’ve always seen many hopeful signs in Haiti and this trip was no exception. Our employees at the MFK factory are showing amazing resilience and fortitude and phenomenal problem-solving skills. During my stay, I witnessed an operating factory in a land where most businesses have been shuttered due to lack of fuel; employees arriving each day on time, despite severely reduced public transportation options; our warehouse slowly but surely delivering our life-saving Medika Mamba, despite enormous obstacles of transport. I was able to travel with our new Canadian nutrition nurse educator to participate in a rural malnutrition clinic on a road that had recently been dangerous and impassable due to the unrest. I gave a congratulations address to 55 farmers who were graduating from MFK’s farmer training program, on their way to higher yields and better-quality peanuts.
Even in this difficult environment, Haiti’s people are working hard to make their lives better. And MFK is there to help them.