First Impressions

It was 15 months ago that a small island in the Caribbean captured my attention. I knew nothing about Haiti when, through a seemingly coincidental series of events, I met Jean Elade Eloi, founder of Hope for Haiti Foundation, at a soccer game in Cary, N.C.. Within 10 minutes of meeting, he had recruited me to do volunteer PR work for Hope for Haiti, warning me that I’d quickly become ‘a victim of Haiti’s passion.’ I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it took only a few meetings to know I was in deep. A year of work later, I can say being involved with HFHF has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life.

Eight months ago, Haiti captured the attention of the world. When a 7.0 earthquake struck just outside of Port au Prince in the afternoon hours of January 12, others like me, who had never known much about Haiti became suddenly aware and engaged. We all realized that Haiti would never be the same, and in a much smaller way, that earthquake changed everything for us at HFHF. On the ground, our efforts turned towards construction and earthquake relief, and we began sending regular trips to Haiti. From a marketing perspective, we were thrust into the spotlight in a way we hadn’t been before. The media paid attention to us, downtown restaurants hosted benefits, our Twitter followers skyrocketed (clearly the true sign of progress) and friends who only knew I volunteered with an organization in Haiti were much more interested. Suddenly, we went from being a grassroots organization to being in the center of a huge international issue. It’s been quite a journey.

One journey I didn’t expect to be on a year ago was the one I took yesterday – fighting my way through customs, flying down mountain “roads” (we’re talking Ford Tough commercial-worthy terrain), getting the car stuck in a river (more than once) and mainly, just being in Haiti! I didn’t think I would be able to make it here so soon, and after working with Haiti from a distance, I wish I could describe my first impressions of actually seeing this beautiful country. In just a day, there have been moments that have broken my heart (seeing people literally living in the medians in PAP) and given me chills (standing on the porch of our future hospital buildings and knowing what they’ll be someday). Getting out of the city and climbing into the Haitian countryside, I searched for words to describe the green rolling mountains, folded on top of each other like an accordion, the sun breaking through the clouds and lighting them on fire, the Caribbean Sea sprawling in the distance. As I anticipate the impossible “How was it?!” question from everyone when I get home, I realize I have no way to talk about the things I’ve seen without sounding cliche. The warm, friendly people, the beautiful countryside contrasting with poverty, joy in the middle of suffering. It’s all been said before, but it all is true.

More than describing this with words, I wish I could tell you their stories. This place looks so different from our comfortable homes in America, but the people are just like us. They love life, love each other, laugh at the same things and want the same things. It hurts them just as much to watch their childhood homes destroyed by an earthquake as it would us, and they have just as much potential to change the world and their nation with education and the right tools as we do. With every town we passed, I wanted to stop the car, grab my camera and just learn the story behind every beautiful face here. While I know language barriers and access make it impossible, I want to somehow find a way to make it real to everyone at home, so you can really appreciate WHO Haiti is, not just the issues and the headlines on CNN.

And the story is constantly changing – for good. Cool stuff is happening in Haiti, y’all; Zorange has some amazing things going on, from a full time clinic to a school with a computer lab and internet (I mean, we’re blogging from here! Seriously?). There is so much hope, potential, strength, skills and brain-power here, and I’m so excited to see where this town and this nation is 10 years from now. That’s the story we can tell you, and that’s what the media team hopes to do through this trip. Stay tuned!

-Kristen P., PR Hope for Haiti Foundation

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