Anna Kournikova in Haiti, Day Two: HIV
A number of you have expressed appreciation for Kevin Doyle's posts on his trip to Haiti with Population Services International and PSI spokesperson (and former international tennis sensation) Anna Kournikova. To keep PSI's work in Haiti and throughout the world front and center, Anna was kind enough to allow the Daily Traveler to re-publish reportage which originally appeared on her Web site. Read day one of Anna's dispatch here. Below, Anna's second day in Haiti:
Sixty percent of the Haitian population is under the age of 24, and 16 percent of Haitian youth have lost a parent to AIDS, so dealing with the dangers of sexual contact and reproductive health is a big problem. It's very difficult to get even basic education for these kids, so daily sports activities are not even an option.
PSI does what it can to persuade kids to come to their educational meetings, by playing music for them, hosting volleyball games, whatever they can do to keep their attention and educate them about the prevention of STDs and AIDS. These programs also branch out to try to help the commercial sex worker industry. PSI connects with them by going into brothels and teaching the women how to use protection, trying to teach them how to persuade the customers to use protection. It was especially moving to see these women that have no other choice but to sell their bodies to make money, but probably 99 percent of them hide their job from their families. It was heart wrenching to listen to their personal stories and to hear what they have to do just to make $5 a day, which they have to use to support their children and their parents. Five dollars a day to support a whole family, can you imagine?
We were talking to one woman about what she could do instead of working in a brothel, due to the obvious dangers of possibly contracting AIDS or an STD and die, and she said, "I will die of hunger before I die of AIDS." Her reasoning was that she could get an STD or AIDS and live for maybe two to three years, but if she doesn't make enough money to feed herself and her family, then they'll die of hunger in months, not years. That sentiment was echoed by another woman, who was telling me about the "mud cookies" that they make. They put together mud, a pinch of sugar or salt (if they can find it that day) and some grass, then shape it into a cookie and let it dry. They eat those when times are really tough, just to have something in their stomachs and to make them feel full. It was so devastating to hear the lengths that these families have to go to just to keep from starving on a daily basis.
However, I would like to say that throughout our entire trip, the people we met were still so upbeat and friendly. Everyone was smiling while we were there, and wanted to talk to us about how proud they are to be Haitian. The Haitian people are very proud of their country and their cultural traditions; they are extremely musical and artistic and the woman are so crafty. Nearly everything is handmade there, from clothes to paper flowers, and so many of the people we met were all very excited to show visitors their handicrafts.
So, as you can tell, I could give you all the facts and numbers about the daily survival struggles that face the Haitian people, but it wouldn't have properly given you a real sense of what it was like to be there in person and to experience their life. It was completely and devastatingly humbling to experience it all and it will certainly be something that stays with me. This trip made a huge impact on my life, both mentally and emotionally. I'm very thankful and honored that I was able to hear so many personal stories, and I am grateful to so many of the kind Haitian people that opened up to a stranger and shared their thoughts and feelings with me.