Blog Post

Hope for Haiti: Progress in Broken Shoes

January 12, 2012 marks the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, leaving more than 180,000 homes destroyed and 1,500,000 people homeless. While the United Nations and a number of governments, NGOs (such as SOIL, lead by NG Emerging Explorer Sasha Kramer, a project to transform wastes into resources), and volunteers have worked to provide relief to those portions of the country most affected by the earthquake, how are the outlying regions of Haiti faring under the pressure of increasingly scarce resources?

In a small village near Port-au-Prince called Gramothe, Haitians are faring better than you might expect.

Text and photographs by Eric Kruszewski

Gramothe, Haiti, is a mountain village located 13 miles southeast of Port-au-Prince. Since 1999, one determined Haitian-American family has built and helped to staff a church here, a school with grades kindergarten through secondary, and a medical clinic. In 2010, construction of a new hospital began—and an earthquake rocked Haiti, and the world.

In the aftermath of the quake, I visited Gramothe with my camera to document life here, to see how the people of the village were coping, and to learn if the benefits of investments in this community had endured. Though the suffering in Port-au-Prince and in the hills around Gramothe is visible and palpable, Gramothe itself remains a bright spot and a source of hope.

More children are attending classes, the volume of locally grown crops per family is increasing, visits to the clinic (open only when foreign medical teams arrive) are on the rise, as are the number of people participating in religious services or classes. Residents are learning to shape their own futures and are embracing a new outlook on life with resilience and determination. The broken shoes on the feet of two young men who walked two hours each way from their homes to attend school in Gramothe five times a week epitomized, to me, this determination.

Plenty of day-to-day challenges remain: Poverty, malnutrition, corruption, and disease are common in the countryside outside of Gramothe, and have been for generations. Access to education, medical care, churches, and gainful employment is limited, often non-existent. Many families live in crumbling homes or makeshift tents. People struggle to find food and work, and some succumb to the notion that there is no hope for a bright future.

As word of the opportunities in tiny Gramothe has spread, the village has begun to draw people who walk hours, sometimes days, to attend school or get attention for a medical ailment. Hope motivates and rewards the grueling journeys in this mountainous region, where infrastructure is poor and continues to be unreliable. Roads are crumbling, electricity is sporadic at best, and water—though accessible from mountain springs—is difficult for many to reach. The challenge, as with so many projects that make a profound positive difference in the lives of tens or hundreds or even thousands of people: How to replicate this success story on an even larger scale?

Related photo gallery:Haiti Earthquake Anniversary: Pictures Show Slow Recovery

Eric Kruszewski, a self-taught freelance photographer, won the 2009 National Geographic Expedition Moments Photography Contest with his image of a girl crossing a tightrope on her knees in India. Read the full account of Eric's time in Gramothe on his website. Learn more about National Geographic Expeditions.

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