Young diaspora bring human capital to Haiti

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Retiring in Haiti has long been a dream for many in the diaspora. So for many years, most of the people who returned to live in Haiti were from an older generation. Over the last 5-7 years that trend has shifted to a younger generation. Many young Haitian professionals have been actively involved in Haiti. Many had even worked there, on limited-time contracts for non-profits, government agencies and the private sector.

However, once the earthquake hit, the diaspora returned in droves for numerous missionary trips, school-building and agricultural stimulus initiatives and to support family affected by the destruction. And many returned to live for good – including some of Boston’s brightest.

Linda Accime holds a Masters of Arts degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University. She was born in Miami, Florida and grew up in Boston, and had been interested in working in Haiti for quite some time. As part of her experiential learning for her graduate work, she went back to Haiti to work on a public health initiative in 2008. Through a project with Hospice St. Joseph, she worked to increase access to health care services for Haitians living in the countryside.

“I have always been passionate about returning to Haiti to help my fellow Haitian brothers and sisters. I currently have extended family living in northern parts of Haiti [in] Cap Haitien and St. Louis,” said Accime.

After the earthquake, she felt a responsibility to help in any way she could so she returned to Haiti twice in 2010 – once in March, then again in September — to work with the Haiti Recovery Initiative under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The earthquake solidified my decision and made it that much easier to transition,” said Accime. “I was willing to make sacrifices, even if that meant not being able to ride the MBTA due to a lack of infrastructure including poor road conditions or having to face insecurity.”

Although the work was challenging, living in Haiti had its benefits.

“Apart from Haiti’s rich culture and beauty, Haiti has always enhanced my ability to put things into perspective. When you see so many people suffering, but yet remain resilient that gives me strength to continue on despite being disheartened and discouraged at times.”

Kathleen Jeanty shares a similar sentiment. She moved back to Haiti last spring. She says the plight of the people and witnessing every day that a large percentage of the population living without adequate means is difficult for her. Jeanty was born in Port-au-Prince, and lived there until she was 8 years old. She moved to Boston in 1986. But Jeanty always knew she would return to her homeland.

“Haiti is where my soul resides,” said Jeanty. “I never wanted to leave Haiti and had always been looking forward to the day when I would go back. The earthquake was a major factor in my finally disregarding everyone else and following what was in my heart. I felt that I lost out on enjoying my country and I didn’t want another disaster to completely destroy the country before I had a chance to go back and enjoy it the way I was meant to.”

Before returning to Haiti, Jeanty was the public relations and community outreach liaison in the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians for the city of Boston. She is now the director of communications and outreach for a social enterprise, Build Change, that designs earthquake-resistant houses in developing countries and trains locals to build using local resources to ensure sustainability.
Sustainable housing is an amenity that Jeanty knows first-hand how important it can be in a country like Haiti. During the first months of her transition, she lived in a temporary shelter like many of the internally displaced survivors.

“I just figured [that] I’ll deal and adapt to whatever presented itself. I just wanted to come back home and be part of the country’s struggle to get back on its feet… [Haiti] offered me a peace of mind and tranquility that Boston or any other place for that matter could ever offer me.”

Regine Theodat, a Boston native, took a similar approach to her transition to Haiti. Theodat is an attorney who first returned to Haiti to work with Lamp for Haiti, a non-profit that provides health care in Cité Soleil, investigates allegations of human right abuses, and provides educational and humanitarian aid.

“I first considered moving back to Haiti many years ago when I made the decision to become a lawyer. I decided to become a lawyer because I struggled with the difference between Haiti and the US and why the diaspora were forced to move.”

“When I moved to Haiti I purposefully left anything associated with pleasure at home, going-out clothes, high heels, etc. I considered this my time to dedicate myself to a cause never thinking about what Haiti was actually like.”

This was in preparation for her first short-term assignment in Haiti. However, once she made the permanent move, the quality of life played a major role in wanting to stay.

“Haiti is full of gems that did not exist for me in Boston. Beautiful tropical beaches within a one-hour drive, art at every street corner and a colorful vibrant culture. Haiti has everything I love packed into one place.”

Theodat is now a Project Director for the Vincentian Family working on the Zafèn of Haiti, a microfinance enterprise that provides loans to small businesses and education scholarships. She says that Haiti offered her career opportunities that she thought existed in the US. She now has access to practicing opportunities that include business law and financial analysis work.

“There is a breadth of good work to do in NGOs and also in your own business, said Theodat.”

These three women’s stories have similar strands with other young professionals moving back to Haiti from New York, Miami, Montreal and Paris. This generation is seeing Haiti as an opportunity to advance their careers, support their family and enjoy a rich culture. Surely Haiti will continue to benefit from this new infusion of human capital.