I just returned from Haiti where I was part of a delegation of the Haiti Support Project. The project was launched a decade and a half ago by Ron Daniels and his wife, Mary. Daniels is a visionary, and long ago he realized that just giving money was not going to help Haiti become strong. He reasoned that if you could develop business and tourism that some of Haiti could fix itself. This was years before the earthquake.
Daniels responded right away to the Haiti earthquake, bringing a delegation of journalists and others to see the conditions and ensuring that orphaned children and people in tent cities were getting access to care and that mental health needs were not being ignored.
It is, however, Daniels’ understanding that development is not just handing out money that makes the Haiti Support project so successful. He is looking for investors from the United States and is focusing on African-American investors – not just to give money but to invest.
On this trip, Daniels took us up to see one of the wonders of the world, the Citadel. The Citadel was built on top of a mountain 3,000 feet in the air. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it rivals any fortress built in the last 500 years. The only way up is on horseback or walking. It is huge and took 20,000 people to build. There are more cannon balls at the Citadel then there are anywhere on earth, despite that fact that there was never a shot fired from the Citadel. Asking if the Citadel was built by slaves, the response was, “It was built by free men who were really tired of slavery.” King Henri Christophe wanted a deterrent from potential invaders, and he got one.
The area surrounding the Citadel needs help. Children want to go to school, but supplies are expensive and many children need the basics of food and clothing to survive. Daniels understands that in order for his vision to work he has to have educated workers. The Haiti Support Project contributes supplies and the basics necessary so students can go to school. He is creating the people infrastructure necessary to make the area ready for the outside world.
What Daniels wants now is a focus on tourism. The northern portion of Haiti is not populated like Port Au Prince. It is mainly rural, but there are cities and communities. I was able to see the beautiful water, greenery and, of course, the Citadel. It is a perfect spot for development. Daniels wants to focus on cultural-historical tourism. He has it right. If Haiti is to make it, there needs to be a way to get foreign money into the country to make the most of the beautiful resources of that area.
With this area as a Mecca for tourism, there will be a reason for Haitians to leave Port Au Prince and the vestiges of the earthquake. During a briefing at the American embassy, Ambassador Merton told us that you can’t force people to leave Port Au Prince, and a $200 incentive isn’t enough if there are no jobs. He is banking not only on tourism but also on developing a large industrial park so that companies can establish business environments and Haitian people can have jobs.
Having seen the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, I know that all the do-gooders can’t create jobs in the long run. It is the vision of people like Ron and Mary Daniels that are going to change the island of Haiti. It will and provide hope and jobs for the Haitian people and a fun, beautiful place for the rest of us to visit.