There’s a side to Haiti that doesn’t get enough attention.

If you’ve been following the news you’ve probably heard that Haiti is being rattled by messy presidential elections and civil unrest.

I’m not going to focus on that.

I recently returned from my first visit to Haiti as part of The Plastic Bank’s mission to keep plastic out of the oceans and alleviate poverty. My personal experience in Haiti is of a beautiful, inspiring nation with so much more to offer than headlines focused on violence and poverty. After being so well looked after I feel the need to share my personal experience of Haiti and its amazing people.

When we touched down in Haiti, we were met at the airport by The Plastic Bank’s Haitian Development Manager, Sephora, and the team that runs the Ramase Lajan program (meaning ‘picking up money’ in Creole). I would quickly discover that Sephora and the team are some of the most capable and caring people I’ve ever worked with.

Along with the team from World Vision Canada, we spent our first morning celebrating the grand opening of our newest Social Plastic Recycling Market. When we arrived in Kenskoff, just outside Port au Prince, I was drawn to a beautiful chorus coming from what I assumed was a church nearby.  We followed the sound of the hymn up a set of stairs where I was surprised to find a group of over 100 people from the community, all gathered to celebrate the grand opening with us. The crowd was absolutely jubilant and we were all moved to see the excitement over our program.

The solar powered Kenskoff Recycling Market is a collection point for Social Plastic®. People are able to exchange plastic waste from the environment for cash and a number of items that help them move out of poverty.

That morning was the perfect way to lead into our first planning session of 2016. We are very grateful to John Spence and Simon Mundell for volunteering their time and brilliance to build The Plastic Bank’s vision. After a couple days barricaded in a boardroom we have more clarity than ever on the impact we are going to make in the world.

On the group’s final night in Haiti we all had dinner together in a charming outdoor restaurant.  I was chatting with Richardson, Johnny and ‘Cuz’; the Ramase Lajan team. I mentioned that I still had to find a hotel as I was staying for a couple more days. Although we’d only met a few days ago Richardson invited me to stay in his home without hesitation.

Richardson rocks a bushy beard wrapped around a warm, friendly face. He’s one of those people that gets along with everyone and makes you feel welcome in any situation. After seeing the group off at the airport we stopped to drop off a load of groceries for his family.

Richardson lives in a modest house around a quiet corner. Children’s clothes draped across clothes-lines add colour to the dusty front yard. I could tell right away he’s loved in his neighbourhood. He spends his weekend teaching English to the neighbourhood kids and they all flocked in to see him when his truck pulled up. I observed that in Haiti, bottoms are optional for kids. That was never allowed in my childhood.

Before we headed back to his cousin’s house, where we were staying, he asked if we could make a quick stop. Unbeknownst to me we had to go pick up his pig – which was stolen and found it’s way home. I realize this would be a normal activity for about half the people in the world. But for someone who rarely sees where their food comes from, wrestling a pig into the back of a truck was a whole adventure.

Richardson, Sephora, and the Ramase Lajan team played host by showing me around the existing Social Plastic Recycling Markets. It was truly impactful to meet the people whose lives are most affected by the ability to use waste plastic as a currency. The Ramase Lajan program has provided thousands of people with livelihoods since it began and the little green recycling markets represent hope in some of Haiti’s most neglected neighborhoods.

I witnessed that The Plastic Bank isn’t the only social enterprise working to improve lives in Haiti. We stopped by Deux-Mains; an employee owned fashion company working to end poverty. In their little workshop artisan–owners source local leathers and repurpose old car tires to craft beautiful handmade sandals. D&E Green is another local business we support building a better future for Haiti. They make efficient cooking stoves and sell charcoal made from the waste of sugar cane; both can be exchanged for plastic in our recycling markets.

There’s no doubt that Haiti has been dealt a tough hand. They’ve been plagued by coups, corruption, loads of foreign debt and interdependent factors and has left most of the population in utter poverty. Around three-quarters of Haitians are either unemployed or trying to make ends meet in the informal economy.

Despite all of this, Haitians don’t want your pity. No one feels sorry for themselves. Haitians holds their heads high and carry themselves with dignity. Haitians are some of the most industrious people I’ve ever met. They all hustle to make things happen for themselves every day. They’re entrepreneurial in the true sense of the word. They have to be. When they need to put food on the table, they figure it out.

I’ve heard people blame Haitians for their own economic troubles. After seeing their hustle first-hand, I can assure you that if they were given the same opportunities as most people in developed western countries, they would eat their lunch.

I’m more confident than ever that Haiti, despite it’s challenges, is the best possible place for The Plastic Bank to have launched our global campaign to make plastic waste a currency.

The Plastic Bank makes plastic waste a currency to alleviate poverty and prevent plastic from entering the ocean. You can be a part of the Social Plastic® movement by proving the demand for Social Plastic® on Facebook or you can participate in our ask a brand to use Social Plastic® campaign. Through the sale of Social Plastic® we are able to pay an above market rate to collectors and recyclers in the developing world and provide an incentive for people to clean up the environment.