This past break, I was in Haiti with American University’s Alternative Break program. Our group learned about the importance of community based development and engagement, along with our social justice issues of microfinance, healthcare, and gender inequities. But in addition to this international development overview, I was surprised to notice and gain a greater understanding of the importance of public diplomacy.
U.S. relations with Haiti have always been tense. From the United State’s 19 year long occupation of Haiti, to the disastrous response from the international aid community after the devastating 2010 earthquake that rocked the country, Haiti is often subjected to “the short-end of the stick.” The international community often thinks little of Haiti, referring to it typically as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. As one of the United Nation’s Least Developed Countries (LDC), Haiti does rank extremely low on the Human Development Index with major disparities and inequalities in indicators such as health, education, and income.
This negative image of Haiti is highlighted and exacerbated by news media. International broadcasts feature broken streets and cluttered tent camps, while news articles discuss rampant government corruption and lack of regulation. Yet you never hear of the beauty of Haiti, nor the resilience of its people. Journalists don’t highlight Haiti’s expanding tourist industry or its innovative thinkers and breathtaking work of its artisans.
Haiti has continuously been exploited by U.S. economic trade and political policies. This representation of Haiti needs to shift in order to support the country’s successful and sustainable development. Cultural exchanges, like my group’s dialogues with students at the University of Fondwa, need to occur on a greater scale. Students can learn from each other and debunk their misconceptions of each other’s countries. Building relationships like this is public diplomacy at its finest, and a necessary step for changing the world’s flawed view of Haiti and its hopeful people.