One of the most important learning experiences from working abroad in my view is coming to terms with just how extensive the one-dimensional and limited portrayal of developing countries is in the Western media, and challenging the widespread assumptions through your own experiences with reality on the ground.
Haiti has been subject to multiple exposures to the spotlight in the international media, and very few of those have been positive – whether it be the 2010 earthquake that killed thousands and left millions homeless, the subsequent cholera outbreak, and the recent political turbulence caused by the controversial presidential elections, it’s unfortunately left an image of the country as a place of chaos and destitution. The scourge of the Zika virus rapidly spreading across the Americas hasn’t helped of course.
During my time here, I’ve found that many Haitians handle the issues that come up in the country with humour, like people would do anywhere else. Colleagues in the office make jokes about getting infected with the Zika virus anytime they’re not feeling well or want to get off work early, and locals pose for funny pictures next to the UN tank planted in the middle of the road to confront the often violent political demonstrations.
Now I’ve made it my responsibility as a guest in the country to spread a more multidimensional perspective of Haiti for outsiders. Haitians aren’t just poor and sad people living alongside the ruins of the earthquake and epidemics. Haitians also aren’t just hardworking people who are happy regardless of their unfortunate circumstances and should serve as lifestyle inspiration for Westerners. Haiti has bad and good people, happy and sad people, and nice areas and run-down areas, just like any other place in the world. If I have any long-term impact from my experience here, hopefully one of them will be successfully showing to fellow Canadians that Haiti is full of individuals that are incredibly complex and diverse.
Isabelle Kim is working in Haiti with ISCA and Les Soeurs Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur as a Value-Chain and Agri-Business Coordinator.