Imagine living in a city like New York without the infrastructure of sanitation and trash pick up. Back in the 1920-30’s trash was a huge problem in New York. With so many people rushing to live in the city, trash was often dumped in the streets and rivers. The picture above gives you an idea of what a mess things were!
I mean have you ever stopped to think about what your town, city, or state would look and smell like if no one picked up your waste? Well in New York City trash is picked up daily and the waste is shipped off to several states and then put into landfills. Just think about how much money, planning, and infrastructure is needed to make this service run each day!
“I strongly believe that sanitation workers are the most important labor force on the streets of the city...They are the first guardians of public health. If they’re not taking away trash efficiently and effectively every day, it starts to spill out of its containments and the dangers inherent to it threatens us in very real ways. Diseases we’ve had in check for decades and centuries burst forth again and start to harm us.” Robin Nagle- What I Discovered in New York City TrashTed Talk
I for one admit that I have taken waste management for granted and never thought about the process until my trip to Haiti. During my time there, I was confronted with trash.
It was everywhere in Port au Prince. I mean mounds of trash and litter scattered throughout the city. Where did it all come from? Why wasn’t anyone picking it up?
I mean the canals were packed with plastic bottles, bags, and boy did I see a lot of Styrofoam! Kids were playing on top of it and women were selling fruits and vegetables near it.
Then I thought, what happens when it rains? Well, if it rains, the bacteria from the waste spreads into the water and soil, creating a river bed of trash that leads right into the ocean. The trash spreads and disease like Cholera spread.
My heart and mind were so conflicted about the trash problem that the first night in Haiti I penned the following poem in my journal:
"The rooster crows
Complex is actually an understatement. The problems in Haiti are monstrous but they are not the only country in the world struggling with trash. For places like Hong Kong, Cairo, and slums throughout Africa and India trash is a big problem.
So if you lived in a place like this, what would you do with all the trash? Some Haitians are not letting their circumstances defeat them--this is what I love about the Haitian people. They are expressing hope by turning the trash into treasure. Watch the following video to learn more:
You see some people look at the trash and shake their heads in disgust. Some shout from the rooftops “Cholera is coming” while not providing any solutions. And then some get close and help one family at a time to get out of the mess.
Papillon Enterprise is not only making use of recyclable materials but providing jobs for hundreds of families while 40% of the population is unemployed. This amazing business is taking care of the trash and circumventing the cycle of families sending their children off to live in orphanages.
Haiti’s trash is a symptom of many problems and I for one am not knowledgeable enough to tackle it by offering solutions. But as a new lover of the people, I believe that those who live abroad, can do something to help. If you’d like to help one person, one family rise above their current circumstances, please consider purchasing this beautiful Haitian jewelry from Papillon.
Another way we can move forward is to stop taking our sanitation services for granted. We should live with grateful hearts that we have the resources for proper and efficient waste management and pray for our brothers and sisters of many lands who aren't as privileged.
Robin Nagle in her Ted Talk encourages each of us to “In the flow of your days. In the flow of your lives, next time you see someone whose job is to clean up after you, take a moment to acknowledge them. Take a moment to say thank you.”
And last but not least--we should all try to live in a way where we learn ways to reduce our personal trash by recycling, composting, and reusing goods. If we all make more of an effort things can and will change around the world.
Period. Cycle. Bloody Buddy. Or what I call, Ms. Flow, visited me during my trip to Haiti. And why would I divulge such personal information? You'll see, just keep reading.
I was really stressed out the first day in Port au Prince because I was quite unprepared for Ms. Flow’s arrival. But after a quick trip to the grocery store I left with ample supply of expensive sanitary supplies.
Well, starting my cycle caused me to ask myself a very important question: If according to the World Food Programme
How are my unemployed Haitian sisters purchasing sanitary supplies for their menstrual cycle? I mean many families are struggling just to put food on the table, so what are they using?
I did not realize that by asking this question and typing in a google search on “poverty and menstruation” that I would be thrust into a the world-wide crises of menstrual management. You see girls and women around the world are struggling with managing their menstrual cycle.
Some are using old cloths, leaves, wool, feathers, foam, sand, corn husk….anything they can think of to help absorb blood when modern pads are not available or affordable.
Let’s just stop here and imagine the mess of leakage from using sand and feathers! If that’s not terrible enough, my research led me to finding out that some girls are actually selling their bodies in order to purchase pads so that they can stay in school or go to work. This is inconceivable and yet it is happening in the year 2016!
I never imagined it was such a problem and that there are organizations assisting women around the globe with this very issue. So as a result of Ms. Flow showing up uninvited during my trip to Haiti I am seeking out ways to help my sisters.
I want to know how I can assist in helping them get access to affordable sanitary napkins and possibly do some micro-financing so that they can earn income from the endeavor. Right now I’m just in the research phase but I’d encourage you to join me by doing one or all of the following:
3. Purchase sanitary pads or cups from organizations (Days for Girls , AfriPads , BeGirl . Ruby Cup ) who are supporting our sisters living in poverty.
4. Every time Ms. Flow shows up, say a prayer for your sisters around the world who are struggling with menstrual management. We need to stick together. Period.
My team’s purpose in Haiti was to travel to textile factories with Share Hope and educate the pregnant factory workers on how to protect themselves from the Zika virus. We were going to be presenting to over 300 women in the course of 6 days and we weren’t quite sure how to dress for the occasion.
In my mind, I didn’t want to be overdressed and thus communicate a social class difference. But I what I didn’t realize is that although 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, the Haitian people take a lot of pride in their appearance!
In fact, when our team arrived at the factory office we all felt under-dressed! The Her Health educators were dressed professionally and looked beautiful!
Needless to say, I was completely surprised by how well dressed the people were and at the amount of clothing on the streets of Haiti. As we drove around Port au Prince I was thinking “Where on earth did all these clothes come from?”
That’s when I learned about Pepe or the journey of second hand clothing from the United States. So as I understand it, when thrift stores like the Goodwill and Salvation Army get rid of clothes they sell them to companies who buy them in bulk. These companies then sort the clothing and put them in huge pallets to sell to developing countries around the world.
In many cases, Haitian Americans living in the States, buy the clothing in bulk and then ship it to Haiti so that the local people can buy and sell them in the markets.
It seemed like every main street was filled with people selling these items. I saw a lot of cute designer clothes and shoes and trust me, the next time I travel to Haiti, I will be dressed cute!
From June 20-25th, I traveled to Haiti with five other women to partner with Share Hope’s Her Health Education program. There was so much that I witnessed and so I’ve decided to write a series of post as a way for me to share what I encountered during my brief time Port au Prince.
Now before we arrived in Haiti, several team members expressed concern about us driving ourselves. You see, just because we all could handle driving in Manhattan's rush hour traffic, did not qualify us for driving in Port au Prince. I’m so glad we hired a driver because driving was definitely a cross-cultural experience!
First, many streets had huge pot holes, traffic lights seemed almost non-existent, and lane divisions were not clearly outlined. In some parts of the city, traffic was so crazy that at any point, another vehicle could be going in the opposite direction but headed directly towards you in your lane. And although it appeared chaotic, the people knew how to navigate the streets and get from point A to point B without killing each other or road rage! New Yorkers could learn a lot from the Haitian drivers!
What I found interesting was that although the streets were crowded with vehicles, according to the World Factbook of Haiti, only 5 out of 1000 people own vehicles. Most Haitians travel by motorcycle or tap taps which are colorful buses and trucks which serve as public transportation. For a ride, the people pay about 25 cents and travel throughout the city.
I have lot's to share about my time in Haiti, so make sure to check out the other post in this series!
I've been married to my best friend Bryan Murray since the year 2000. Now we have four incredible children and a super full life with extended family and friends.