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February 27, 2009

Haiti's Crippling Poverty and What's Being Done

Anna Kournikova with some new friends.

by Kevin Doyle

Recently Condé Nast Traveler's Kevin Doyle visited Haiti with representatives from Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit group that's waging a global war against malaria, HIV, and child mortality.

Earlier this week I shared with you my experience filming Anna Kournikova buying condoms in Haiti.  The video quickly became popular for all the wrong reasons.  Yet if it can help generate publicity for efforts made to help this troubled country, than I'm sure that Anna, who was in Haiti as a representative for Population Services International, is fine with the "false advertising." 

And yes, there are signs of hope.  I met two HIV-positive women who are both doing well on antiretroviral medications and making $400 a month--a fortune in local terms--packaging contraceptives for PSI. "When I learned that I had HIV I wanted to abandon my children because I thought I was going to die," one told me. "But I know now that I can live a normal life and I encourage others to be tested so they can be treated and won't infect their partners the way I was infected."

More stories of hope and photos after the jump.

Typical dwelling in one of the villages we visited.  Many were washed away, with families inside, by last year's hurricane.

We also went to a village where Haitian PSI employees (most staffers are local) were explaining to a crowd of 300 that drinking untreated water can be life-threatening for children. They then showed the villagers how to use the water-purification and rehydration products PSI markets, and gave out free malaria nets and water purification kits to everyone in attendance.

Next year, thanks to a major grant it recently received, PSI will distribute some 3 million nets by car, canoe and donkey--enough to protect every family on the island. I also had a chance to meet Nadine Francois, a 26-year-old lawyer in Port-au-Prince who has been working singlehandedly to educate hundreds of street children about pregnancy and HIV prevention and teach them sewing skills so that they don't have to turn to prostitution for a livelihood.

In a few months, PSI will be opening a youth center to continue and build on her work. Though I didn't see them, Haiti still has lovely untouched corners that some say could play an important role in the island's recovery by attracting tourists and helping rebuild the economy. Amy Willentz will be reporting on Haiti and its potential for a tourism renaissance in our September Power of Travel issue. What I did see made it powerfully clear that PSI is doing vital, measurable, lifesaving work.

Deforestation has turned most parts of this tropical country into a desert.

Made of dirt, salt, and vegetable oil, these "mud cookies" are eaten by Haitians to allay their hunger pangs. 

Clean water is in extremely short supply.

Further reading:
* Five & Alive Fund: Donate today and help improve the lives of children worldwide
* A conversation with Wyclef Jean
* Actress Ashley Judd, a spokesperson for Population Services International, gave an amazing clean-water demo like this one at the 2008 World Savers Congress. Read about PSI's safe-drinking-water initiative here.


Reforestation COULD be a partial solution to the issues of extreme poverty but careful attention needs to be paid to what species are selected.

Paulownia, known as the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world could be part of that solution.

It not only restores the environment but can begin providing cash flow in as little as 18 months.

For more information on paulownia you might refer to

word." He was the only t, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over. The website currently has more than 175 million active users in amount of visitors, making Facebook the most popular social network, followed by MySpace and Twitter.other human at the loading dock this morning. The man didn't have a name, just a number, like the rest of the robots.

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