When a crisis erupts somewhere in the world, bloggers are often the first to hear news through Twitter, Facebook, or other social channels. They are also often the first to organize or at least provide major contributions to aid efforts.
But as we know, all too often, social media has a short term memory. Today’s tragic news becomes tomorrow’s old news as stories are replaced by more current events. However, just because it leaves our minds doesn’t mean it leaves our hearts.
In the past few months, many bloggers have become involved in outreach campaigns for the Heart of Haiti program, an initiative that allows Haitian artisans to sell their handcrafted products through Macy’s. In exchange for the mass exposure, local Haitians receive 50% of the wholesale price for every item sold.
Those kind of economics can go a long way in a nation that prior to 2010 was plagued by an unstable government and extreme poverty. Matters worsened in 2010 when Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake that devastated the country. The death and destruction led to an outcry resulting in humanitarian aid from all over the globe. While some aid has gone amiss, many of these efforts are still providing major contributions to the lifestyle for many Haitians as five bloggers were recently able to witness firsthand.
With a small sponsorship provided by Everywhere, a social media strategy firm, five bloggers were able to self-fund a week long trip to Haiti to visit some of the Hearts for Haiti artisans and understand the impact of the relationships that are currently in place.
While a trip to a third world country in this capacity is probably an experience of a lifetime, how does it relate to a blogger on both a professional and personal level? And more importantly, how does a blogger rise to challenge of turning a trip like this into a meaningful and lasting experience?
On how different things were from what was anticipated:
“What I was most surprised by was the spirit of the Haitian people and their quest for knowledge in order to better their lives. As a former teacher, the wide eyed expression of wonderment and questions are always wonderful to see. I also loved the beauty that is so pervasive in the country despite the poverty and devastation that included gorgeous well dressed children with neatly tied bows in their hair and frilly socks on their feet, colorful hand painted signs for businesses, the unique look of each and every Tap Tap (Haitian form of taxis), to the scenery.” – Leticia
“There was a thirst for knowledge and desire to learn unlike anything I have ever seen before. And the pride— so much pride.” – Elena
On the devastation still remaining from the earthquake:
“In other parts of the country, it’s hard to understand where the devastation starts and where building just stopped due to lack of money. It’s hard to tell what structures are need in repair versus were never finished. Like in other parts of the world, it’s not uncommon for people in Haiti to stop building when they run out of money.” – Leticia
On technology in Haiti:
“People are beginning to catch wind of this “thing called internet”–one of the more powerful moments for us was introducing a group of women, in Leogane, part of the Dam Dam cooperative group, to internet. They had no idea- and it was as if we had turned on a switch to something that they desperately want to learn about. We also did a social media training for a group of women that are already on their way as entrepreneurs, politicians, musicians, and more—they all just want to learn so that they too can tell their stories and become independent.” - Elena
While both bloggers expressed how personally fulfilling the experience was, Elena found a new appreciation for blogging as a means of “telling the story.” Collaboration was another key part of her experience. The ability to plan for the future and build a network around a shared experience reinforced the community aspect of blogging for her.
Leticia originally intended to use her trip to learn about the part of Haiti that isn’t represented on the news but found clarity in how she can help thanks to her background in technology and education.
So what’s next for Elena and Leticia? Was this trip a one shot deal and soon-to-be yesterday’s blog news? Not if they can help it. Both agreed that the challenge is to maintain their commitment to the Haitians, and not become another aid group that makes promises and never returns.
As Elena put it:
“(The biggest challenge is) making sure that our trip was not a fly by, isolated incident. I think I can speak for all of us to say that coming home has been hard because we all know that there is so much we could be doing there.
Finding a way to materialize our plans, to put something in place that is sustainable and meaningful for the people that we met—through relationships with other bloggers and brands, is going to take effort and perseverance.
We made promises to women that we would be back. I intend to keep those promises.”
To learn more about the trip organization and about all of the bloggers that participated, read Everywhere’s Weaving a Story of Hope.
All photos courtesy of Leticia – Tech Savvy Mama