Haitian Entrepreneurs are Ready and Able…
For those of you who follow PDT on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll have seen this picture: a cyber-café set up on the sidewalk of an informal internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement in Port-au-Prince. The settlement is in a public square called Place Boyer that I used to describe as being a party from 11am to 11pm, seven days a week. You could find street vendors selling anything from vegetables to phone cards to shots of alcohol. Some days there were concerts or dance groups performing, but mostly it was a place for thousands of people to come and interact with each other, like teenagers hanging out at the mall.
Nowadays, there are tents in the square, but that’s about the only difference. It’s still a major meeting place, and the street vendors are still there. In fact, there have been some improvements – the cyber café’s been added, as well as screen and projector where movies are broadcast. Both are these are Haitian initiatives, and both are important in post-earthquake Haiti. The computers, because virtually every Haitian knows someone abroad – a brother, aunt, cousin – who are looking out for their wellbeing, sending money through Western Union or trying to secure them a visa. The screen and projector broadcast short documentary-style films that locals have made, taped masses at local churches, and other bits of local culture that remind Haitians of their roots and their culture to keep them grounded.
If a lesson is to be learned from Place Boyer, it’s that Haitians already have a good idea how to take care of themselves in this new post-earthquake context. It’s not the first time they’ve had to rebound from calamity, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last. Haitians learned long ago how to move forward, an aptitude that contributes to their innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.
What Haitians need from us, the international community, is support. Support for the entrepreneurs out there, for the small businesses. They need us to buy their products, putting money into their hands, where it will be spent and re-spent in the local economy. This kind of support will help turn those ‘light bulb’ ideas – a cyber café in an IDP settlement – into formal businesses that are paying taxes, employing Haitians, and helping the country move forward once more.