Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

The official blog of Conversations with the Living

Archive for December 2010

A New Year in Haiti?

leave a comment »

As 2011 approaches, the hopes of many Haitian’s remain alive even as their nation’s future hangs in the balance. Haiti’s current condition can make a vision for improvement difficult to believe in and embrace, but the possibilities in Haiti are as endless as the critical issues currently paralyzing the nation and those that have plagued it for centuries.

Haiti’s self-sufficiency lies in the ability of the population to be a part of helping rebuild and maintain the nation. Out of Haiti’s nearly 9 million people, over 3,600,000 are under the age of 15. These children must be given a chance at a proper education and employment, a chance at life. If those who now barely survive are given the opportunity to thrive, they can make Haiti a stronger nation; change their own lives and their country.

The youth I’ve spoken to want the opportunity to better themselves in order to give back to their country, create possibilities for the next generation and give back to their parents who have struggled to feed, clothe, educate and house them. Without the resources and opportunity this generation and the next will continue to face decades of despair and suffering.

The stories of Haiti’s youth are heartbreaking. Some are full of hope, others void of any hope or expectation.

Our team at Conversations With the Living corresponds with our young friends in Haiti regularly. An e-mail message sent the other day from Carrefour read –

” The candle is lighting on both ends in Haiti. I hope they give the people what they want. Everything is going really bad at this time: the disease, the elections, the rioting, and still no funds to live. I had never thought I would live such moments in my life. I ate something yesterday morning, but nothing else until now and it’s terrible. I’m ashamed to tell you about it, but you must know how we live here.”

When we met him he was full of dreams he is beginning to believe are unattainable. His life to date has been unimaginably difficult, but his correspondence has never before been so bleak.

We met him and his two friends in Port-au-Prince over a year ago while filming our documentary Conversations With the Living: Globalization and the Haitian AIDS Crisis. They approached us with confidence, asking simply, “What is your business in Haiti? Do you need translators? We would like to be with you while you are here.” We in fact needed translators, as our arrangements had fallen through, and they were excited to help. We were grateful to have them and learned a lot, very quickly, about what it is like to grow up in Haiti. Life was difficult for these young men at the time, but even more so now.

In the not so distant past, even while living in poverty with his mother and three siblings, he was able to help support his family through odd jobs and translating for visitors to Haiti, but he wanted to do more with his gifts. He was sure of his talents and his ability to one day attend a University, become a doctor and help his people. Although education is privatized he and his family managed to afford him the education that should be considered a human right of all children in Haiti.

He is a talented writer, excellent at math and science, speaks Creole, French, Spanish and English, and yet is left believing he has nowhere to go.

Each time I speak to him he asks, “Will I ever realize my dreams? There is nothing here. There is nothing for the youth in Haiti. We need to hear good things to hope we have a chance to get out of misery.”

After a long phone call, his voice changes from a saddened whisper to a hopeful tone, because he is reminded that people think about him and believe in him; that he has the tools to be a force for good if given the opportunity. So he holds on and hopes for change. Armed with the knowledge that the process will not be easy or fast.

The relentless spirit of the Haitian people, although battered, is a shining example of survival amongst the most extreme hardships. Amongst the crisis, the Haitian people should be recognized for their strength and unwavering patience after holding on for what seems like forever.

The young generation maintains hope while broken promises, centuries of systematic violence and decades of instability are their history and their reality. Although many Haitians are organizing, mobilizing their efforts to find justice in Haiti and undertaking peaceful protests across the country, often long-term organized movements and peaceful protests, by Haitians for Haitians, are overlooked, while violent protests, torching of government buildings and opposition to UN occupation make the headlines.

There is no shortage of stones to throw, quite literally, as they are still surrounded by the rubble of January’s disaster and armed with the experience to know that change will only come to Haiti if the majority is included. This is something they have always had to fight for; today, tomorrow and into the New Year this fight will continue.

People revolt when they have nothing left to lose.

“ Nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world or win” – Marx

Will 2011 be a New Year? or will it be more of the same? Will those with the power to implement the necessary changes do what they must or what they have always done?

– LC

The market women of Haiti sell everything under the sun

leave a comment »

Proof that the women of Haiti have always worked hard and played a central role in the country’s economy. They still do.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Season’s Greetings

leave a comment »

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Conversations with the Living crew. Our hopes and prayers are with everyone in Haiti.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Les “belles madames”

leave a comment »

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 19, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Railway to Leogane

leave a comment »

Whatever happened to this railway?

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 11, 2010 at 7:34 am

Increasing Threat of HIV in Haiti

leave a comment »

Wednesday, December 1st was World AIDS Day. Tomorrow is Wednesday, December 8th. Based on current figures, within the past week an estimated 35,000 people have died of AIDS-related-illnesses globally.

World AIDS Day is one day, every year, dedicated to raising money, fighting prejudice, increasing awareness, improving education and helping people understand the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS globally. World AIDS Day is a way to remind people that AIDS is still a serious issue affecting millions of people each year. Although numerous organizations and activists work everyday to address the issue of HIV/AIDS, the global crisis goes relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media. Oftentimes, unless directly affected, people tend to know very little about HIV/AIDS in their own communities, cities, and countries.

Throughout the world as many as 2.6 million people will become infected with HIV within the next year, that is over seven thousand people a day. There are currently 33 million people living with HIV. Last year 1.8 million HIV-positive persons died of Aids-related-illnesses. HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Universal Access and Human Rights, a theme explored in the documentary film Conversations With the Living: Globalization and the Haitian AIDS Crisis, which explores the current HIV/AIDS crisis in Haiti and the history of the disease there. Prior to January’s earthquake organizations like Partner’s In Health (PIH), GHESKIO and UNAIDS were making positive strides and seeing progress amongst the affected population. Now, nearly a year later, some aid organizations have redirected funds to other important initiatives, and HIV, although there is certain risk of increased infections, has received very little attention. With the recent media attention paid to the cholera outbreak and the elections, it is important to also focus on the growing concern of health care workers and patients that the constant state of crisis in Haiti is sure to lead to an increase in HIV infections and deaths if prevention and treatment do not become a focus in Haiti’s recovery.

With access to proper medication, progress has been made. That’s the challenge; making progress in all regions affected and maintaining that progress has proven difficult when conditions are deplorable and a mere portion of people in desperate need of medication have access to antiretroviral treatment.

AIDS in Haiti is as destructive as any natural disaster and has infected as many as 5 million people, and killed over 1 million people in Haiti since the 1990s.

Prior to the earthquake:

• 40% of the Haitian population did not have access to primary health care.
• Haiti was ranked 146th out of 177 countries according to the United Nations Development
Programme Human Development Index with 76% of Haitian’s living on US$2 per day and 56% on
less that US$1 per day, significantly below the poverty line.
• 46% of the entire population was malnourished, a figure the Global Hunger Index notes as
“Alarming”, and this percentage has only increased since the deadly earthquake.
• The United Nations estimates 2% of Haitians are infected with HIV/AIDS, the highest rate in the
Western Hemisphere.

An estimated 40,000 people die of AIDS in Haiti every year; grim numbers when considering the size of the country, which is roughly the size of New York City. When taking into account that a large percentage of at-risk Haitians who do not get tested due to access and fear of social stigma, experts believe the national statistic is much higher than recorded; some believe as high as 11%.

No one should ever die of a treatable disease. Haiti’s struggles with AIDS and the elements of history that have contributed to its prevalence still exist and continue to exacerbate the issue. The failure to provide access and address the societal issues surrounding HIV in Haiti only maintains and perpetuates a system that produces more death, deprivation, and disease.

– LC

Ruins of the old French estates are to be found all over Haiti

leave a comment »