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Haiti

Dreaming of a Better Day

Nodieu's dusky face is well-proportioned and he would be handsome if it weren't for the patches of white that stain it. His eyes are clouded like those of an old man, and when he reads, he squints or the words go out of focus. But Nodieu is only 26. The scars on his face he will bear for life. They could have been prevented with early treatment but that didn't happen. It was a question of economics. And the treatment, when he finally got it, left him legally blind because he was given an overdose. That seems to be the way things are in Haiti. Walk down any street in Port au Prince and you will see beggars with club feet or limbs twisted by polio. Tuberculosis, abetted by the HIV/AIDS virus which now affects 17% of the population, has attained epidemic proportions as well.

Haiti's guest houses are full of medical missionaries, some long-term, others quick-fixers - who staff her hundreds of medical clinics. and it was those clinics that I investigated in the summer of 2003. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, foreign-run for the most part, they differ widely in philosophy and management styles. They are Haiti's only hope for the moment and perhaps and for the future as well as Haiti gears up for yet more political upheaval

Haiti has the sad distinction of being the poorest country in the western hemisphere and that poverty has condemned 80% of her population to illiteracy. My work on clinics lead me inevitably to investigate education since I presume it to be the sine qua non of any healthy society. The schools I visited operate like French lycees of the nineteenth century and turn out students who lack the critical thinking skills to change the way things are. That work is an integral part of the "Dreaming of a Better Day" article.

The managers at Wall's Guest House where I stayed insisted on introducing me as a journalist who was doing a piece on restaveks - which, at the time, I was not. I had been avoiding the story because it seems ready-made for apocryphal interpretations. In the end, I capitulated because circumstances allowed me to meet not simply restavek children whose "grim reality" and "abject poverty" the popular press loves to linger on, but because I chanced to meet restaveks whose lives were clearly enriched by their situation.

Life is Tough: Children in Domestic Labor in Haiti was published in The World & I (culture section) in January 2004.
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Dream of a Better Day: The Crisis of Health and Education in Haiti was published in The World & I
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