Submitted by Ben Edwards, USAID/Haiti
Funky beats and roaring laughter echoed through Cap Haitien’s town square as local dancers, poets, comedians, and musicians performed at the city’s cultural festival over the weekend. Thousands of Haitians attending the festival danced, sang and laughed as performances stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
USAID cohosted the two-day festival with local authorities to boost civic pride and mark a renewed focus on economic growth in Cap Haitien. The festival fell on a holiday dedicated to King Henri Christophe, Cap Haitien’s most well-known historical figure, and featured some of Haiti’s most popular performers. Kompa band Tropicana, comedian Jesifra and dance troop Dahomey were among the audience favorites.
Despite a heavy storm that flooded the streets, Haitians rushed into the town square as the rain let up and the water receded. Locals called the festival Cap Haitien’s biggest event in recent memory and estimated that three to four thousand residents attended.
Some Haitians set up shop on the square’s perimeter to sell steaming food, frosty drinks and hand-made crafts. Others climbed trees or sat atop cars to get a better view of the stage.
The hopeful tenor of the audience showed Haitians’ resilience in spite of their hardships. Extreme poverty was commonplace for Cap Haitien residents even before the earthquake nine months ago. The northern port city lies far outside the range of the earthquake, but many Haitians sought refuge in Cap Haitien after their homes were destroyed in and around Port-au-Prince. As a result, Cap Haitien’s population swelled in the disaster’s aftermath, straining the city’s already sparse resources.
The Government of Haiti and international community see an opportunity to reinvest in Cap Haitien. A number of USAID projects are already in the works. USAID partner, Development Alternatives Inc., is implementing many of those projects including cash-for-work programs that provide short-term employment for women, agriculture projects that boost incomes from farming, and infrastructure projects that increase the number of students attending school.
I arrived in Haiti just two days before the cultural festival, and the weekend-long celebration shaped my first impression of the country. I witnessed many struggles in Haiti, but I also witnessed proud, hopeful Haitians working hard to overcome these challenges.