Ravaged by natural disasters and poverty, Haiti is nevertheless trying to revive its tourism industry. Here, the process begins with voluntourism.
Rebuilding Haiti, and Its Tourism
Voluntourism Programs in Haiti
While there are thousands of opportunities for doing unadulterated volunteer work in Haiti, a few programs have distinguished themselves by adopting a voluntourism-type business model. These programs augment their work on community-building projects with visits to some of the country’s natural and cultural treasures.
Elevate Destinations runs trips based in Cyvadier, a village just outside the south-coast city of Jacmel. Its volunteer projects, which include construction, agronomy, and workshops with local children, are done in partnership with the organization Let Haiti Live. Trip participants also make visits to beaches, waterfalls, and art galleries in Jacmel and Port-au-Prince. elevatedestinations.com; lethaitilive.org
The Village Experience offers trips to Haiti’s northern coast. Participants make their home base in the city of Cap-Haïtien, from which they travel to several of the area’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and beaches. They also take part in community outreach projects—including literacy, education, and economic development—in conjunction with Haitian organization Sonjé Ayiti. experiencethevillage.com; sonjeayiti.com
Yoga Ventures runs weeklong trips to Jacmel that incorporate daily yoga and meditation sessions; trips to local museums, galleries, festivals, and cooking classes; and volunteer projects with several local organizations, including the Jacmel Children’s Center and Angel Wings International. yogaventures.org; jacmelchildren.org; angelwingsinternational.org
Mountain Bike Ayiti is introducing the first part of what will eventually be an 80-mile multistage race between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel in January 2013. Not only will participants get to compete on challenging terrain against bikers from around the world, they’ll also work to clear and improve trails for subsequent races (thus helping to bring more long-term adventure events to the country). mtbayiti.org
For runners who want to contribute by supporting Haiti’s new focus on extreme sports, Run Haiti is holding its second annual 60-mile race, which will bring runners from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel; February 7–9, 2013. runhaiti.com
“Bucket!” a deep, Creole-inflected voice sang up to me. “BucketBucketBucket!”
From where I stood, partway up a steep, crumbling dirt hillside on the south coast of Haiti, the owner of the voice was invisible. But then Ernst, a tall young man with bare shoulders like gleaming obsidian, rounded a stand of boulders just below me. From his hands swung two plastic five-gallon buckets, each heavy with rocks. Grinning, he thrust the buckets up toward me; I took them, staggering a little from their weight. Luckily, I had to lurch only about a dozen steps up the hill before handing them off to the next person on line.
It was the fourth day I’d spent on the hillside, in the small village of Cyvadier overlooking the sapphire-blue Bay of Jacmel. Each morning, before the late-July temperatures climbed above 100 degrees, some 25 locals and visiting American volunteers gathered at the base of this 400-foot slope. There sat a giant heap of rocks, next to a dirt trail that snaked up between slabs of porous stone, flowering shrubs, munching goats, and yellow butterflies. Our task was simple, and Sisyphean: move the rocks from the bottom of the hill to the top.
At the summit, a local community-building organization called Let Haiti Live had its headquarters. The compound consisted of two cement buildings—where dozens of village children attended classes in agronomy and environmental conservation—and a small lean-to where cooks prepared meals for the kids over an open charcoal fire. Our pile of rocks would form the walls of a new kitchen—one that could feed more kids, more ecologically and safely.
A backhoe could have done the job in an hour, if there had been a backhoe—and a road for it to drive on, and cash to pay the driver. But since there were none of those things, we had strung ourselves each day along the trail and, sweating through our clothes in the punishing heat, passed the load bit by bit, like an old-time fire brigade putting out a blaze.
The project, in the scope of things, was tiny; the effort required to achieve it, huge. But this, it seemed, was the way that things got done in Haiti: the hard way.