Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for the ‘Haitian Education System’ Category

World AIDS Day and Conversations With the Living

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Today is World AIDS Day. Since 1988 World AIDS Day has been held on December 1st and provides the opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, offer support to those affected and infected with HIV, and honor the lives of those who have died as a result of the virus.

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 community needs to remember the importance of raising awareness of HIV year round. The global crisis goes relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media, and oftentimes, unless directly affected, people tend to know very little about HIV/AIDS in their own communities, cities, and countries. World AIDS day is an opportunity to learn facts about HIV and use that knowledge to help in your community.

Even as scientific advances are made in HIV treatment, many people still go without access to resources and struggle with properly educating people about the virus, which plays a large role in reducing infection rates and fighting the discrimination and stigma often attached to the virus.

There are currently 33 million people living with HIV. This year 1.8 million HIV-positive persons died of Aids-related-illnesses and as many as 2.7 million were infected, that is over seven thousand people a day. HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.


This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Getting to Zero, which focuses on three targets, Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, and Zero AIDS-related deaths. This is the goal of all goals. This is a call to arms, the very point of the global fight against HIV. There is a long way to go, but by focusing on reducing infection, stigma and deaths, given the progress made within populations with access to live saving medications and nutrition, this is a goal that cultivates great hope and aims to prove what can be accomplished with compassion and cooperation efforts.

Conversations With the Living is a documentary film that focuses on this hope and the amazing progress made when there is access to resources.


Conversations With the Living is a feature length documentary that focuses on HIV-positive orphans and the daily lives of these children. In the process, the film highlights the network dedicated to bringing HIV-positive orphans the medication, food, housing, education, and emotional support that keeps them alive. We will trace the path of that medication from the child through the entire network that made it possible, showing the dedicated individuals that work tirelessly every day, grinding through routine and unforeseen challenges and providing real solutions to Haiti’s battle against HIV. It takes effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication on the part of countless people to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities.

As government agencies and aid organizations tighten their belts due to the struggling economy; HIV, and the core issues that make it difficult to combat, like poverty, malnourishment, and lack of access to medication, are tightening their grip on the most vulnerable populations. But, there are people doing incredible work, providing both access and support to those affected by and infected with HIV in Haiti, and we are telling their story.

The ultimate goal of Conversations with the Living is to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the developing world and continue to raise awareness of the need to support AIDS organizations around the world. We are determined to show that HIV progress does not happen by accident and that the network of caregivers and activists that work together to provide for these children is intricate and delicate.

This network provides real hope for the future of these children and represents what is positive and possible. The positive strides made against the disease in countries like Haiti and the people who make it possible must not only be recognized, but also supported. Raising and maintaining awareness about the efforts of dedicated HIV workers must happen and their work must be expanded upon.


In Haiti, an estimated 40,000 people die of AIDS every year. These are grim numbers when considering the size of the country, which is roughly the size of Maryland. 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%.Currently one in twenty Haitians is infected with HIV/AIDS and there are over 150,000 AIDS orphan.

No one should ever die of a treatable disease. Haiti’s struggle 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.

For people living in developed countries around the world, HIV has become a manageable disease, however the majority of the world’s people living in the developing world are not afforded that luxury. Their children are the next generation of survivors, advocates and activists, and they are proof positive of what is possible given the resources and support.

When the HIV-positive are provided the proper resources in Haiti, they are happy, healthy and hopeful. Lives are being saved and people need to know what is working in Haiti and what needs to be done to maintain this work and broaden its reach. 

There is a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education and your participation is needed, not just today, but everyday.

– Leigh E. Carlson


We Need an On-Line Rally…

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…which means that we need you. We have launched our on-line campaign on Indie Go Go to raise the funds to complete Conversations With the Living, but let’s call it an on-line demonstration; a place where people, activists, advocates, artists and filmmakers gather / assemble and give what they can, whether time, energy or money for a common purpose. This project’s team is made up of individuals focused on what is good in Haiti, and this film highlights those making a difference, an impact that has saved lives and will save millions more. Let’s get together for this common purpose. Why? Because these messages, these films that spark these conversations have a real qualitative and quantitative impact, and these conversations need to begin and need to continue.

Although the issue of HIV/AIDS is complex, people are working together to help sustain and expand a network dedicated to HIV prevention, care and support that is working in Haiti and their story MUST be told.

If you are following our project and this campaign then you know that for nearly three years we have managed to continue through donated time, efforts and services, as well as small monetary donations. Your contribution is critical to the completion of this project and we will continue to make sure that the critical work that health care workers, volunteers and patients are doing in Haiti receives the long overdue attention it deserves. It is this work by Haitians for Haitians that is saving lives and must continue.

Become a part of the CONVERSATION today!

– LC

A New Year in Haiti?

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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

Ask any Haitian: What’s in a word? Turns out a whole lot

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According to the Associated Press, Haiti is still waiting for the money pledged by the United States after the earthquake. Key word is pledged. Pledging (or promising) is a far cry from actually paying out. According to the AP:

Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived. (

That is much needed money that would go into rubble clearing (most of it is still in the streets) and subsequent infrastructure rebuilding.

Well done, Obama Administration. What’s next? Cutting funding for PEPFAR? Oh wait, you did that already. Where’s Bush when you need him?

– ML

We’ve Been Forgotten

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Today I received a text message from a dear friend in Haiti. “Please message me and tell me how you are doing. When I have minutes at the Internet café, I will respond. I hope you haven’t forgotten about me. I am still writing my stories, I hope one day you will read them. I will translate them for you. I am writing a book about Haiti. We hope for a better Haiti. My family is ok. We are tired and I would like to find work. It is difficult to have no one to count on. We miss you. We love you. When will you return?”

I stared at my phone from my desk at work, and my only concern was to respond to him immediately. We message almost daily and I slowly feel him losing hope. It is not characteristic of him, or of the Haitian people to relinquish that hope, a driving force for survival and strength when circumstances are dire. As a Carrefour native, with very little before the earthquake, he now lives like 1.3 million others in Haiti – in a tent city – with his mother and two siblings. Because of the economic struggles of his family in Haiti and abroad in the US, he no longer receives any relief, and worries for his family and his country, still buried in rubble.

He says, ” I want to study to become a doctor so I can help my country. I want to write so I can share my stories with the world. I know I have talent, but will I ever see my dreams realized?”

I have to believe he will. He can certainly count on himself if no one else, but he wants to trust someone will help, something will change, that promises made to his country are not empty.  As an educated youth in Haiti, he is not the norm, but the exception, and he knows Haiti’s people and their youth deserve better. He is amongst the many that take nothing for granted and if provided the proper tools will build a future for themselves that now seems so far from reach. He feels forgotten, and I sense through his words, it is not about him alone, it is about his country  – he feels they have been forgotten. He wants to be counted on to do great things; he wants the chance to do great things.

Something happened when the earthquake hit Haiti – the world woke up, remembered that Haiti exists, and reacted in a combined effort of humanitarian relief and compassion. Amongst the devastation lingered hope that the response from the world would not cease, that that pre-existing need in Haiti would be recognized and the urgent need to rebuild would be the fuel to power a new and better Haiti. Eight months later, not much has changed, and in a tent, only 26, he writes a fictional story about a young man near his age in Haiti who through finding love and opportunity manages to fulfill his dreams. I can only imagine where his inspiration comes from in this fictional story, riddled with the realities of his life, his hope bleeds onto the page in a haunting tale fueled by his passion to succeed in life, and be of service to his people. He is telling his story, and he is holding on to that happy ending.

He is a representation of the struggle of so many; millions with the capacity and will to rebuild a better Haiti if afforded the opportunity, millions who feel they have been once again been forgotten by the international community.

Sitting at my desk at work I e-mailed him to let him know I have not forgotten about him. I tell him if he keeps working he will succeed, to not lose hope, and that I will do everything in my power to help him. Words I hope will comfort him and continue to motivate me to continue my work in Haiti and maintain the life changing relationships that I have created with the people and organizations that work everyday for a better Haiti.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) has released a report of a human rights investigation into displacement camp conditions, titled We’ve Been For­got­ten”: Con­di­tions in Haiti’s Dis­place­ment Camps Eight Months After the Earth­quake, which outlines the desperation in Haiti’s camps and promotes a rights-based approach to relief and reconstruction.

The hope is that this report will give a voice to the people of Haiti, Victims of not only the earth quake, but of a history of instability who are facing grave conditions.  Discussing the lack of basic necessities and human rights, such as food, water, sanitation, housing, medical care, education,  and  employment, while providing an approach that maintains the ever-present spirit and integrity of the Haitian people  and their desire to assist in rebuilding their nation.

Presented by the University of San Francisco, the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH), Bureau Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Lamp  for Haiti , this document can be  read and downloaded at the link below.

CARE Really Cares

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A press release from CARE detailing how they’re helping out in the rebuild and rehabilitation of Haiti after January 12th. I hate to be such a skeptic, but I don’t see the need to putting  press releases out when you’re a charity or philanthropic organization. Nevertheless, there is no denying their commitment and effort.

CARE Really Cares

Gede Greg C.

Seeds of Hope or Dependence?

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I saw this today on the Huffington Post. Our ally and Haiti expert Mark Schuller analyzes Haiti’s current status in the rebuilding process resulting from the January 12th earthquake. Mr. Schuller is no less than an expert on all affairs Haitian and raises some interesting points in this piece. This is definitely a must read. Enjoy.

Seeds of Hope or Dependence?

Gede Greg C.