After months of preparation, about a dozen members of the African American Male Initiative finally boarded a plane this past weekend to begin the Harlem to Haiti Cultural Exchange Experience, accompanied by program director Clifton Watson. Their mission is two-fold. First, they are spending time working, helping restore properties that remain damaged years after the tragic earthquake. They are working for the Ageno Foundation and the Time Square Church Medical Clinic.
The second goal is to see a world outside of New York City, outside the neighborhoods that they know so intimately. This new view is obviously having a powerful effect, as Malachi Gayle, a rising sophomore at the High School for Art & Design, demonstrates in his own words:
During the preparation for our trip, Haiti was painted as an island that lost so much. Coming here made me realize that this is all true, and that the media was not just hyping up Haiti's tragedies to make them seem like more than what they really were.
I have been in Haiti now for three days, and as we drive and walk through the streets you see things that will absolutely break your heart. There are houses built completely out of sheet metal and rocks from the earthquake's rubble, and there are people who bath in the streets without clean water or privacy. Trash overflows on some streets leaving an odor that people don’t just have to smell but work near, live near, and sleep near. All over you see stray cats, dogs, and goats.
Being here and seeing the struggles of the Haitian people makes me truly value what I have at home. I have a home, food to eat every night, clean water whenever I want, and a bed to sleep in at night. This cultural exchange has really helped me realize that a lot of what I have in Harlem that feels like a necessity is truly a luxury—stuff as simple as furniture. There is no way I could go through this experience and not come more thankful for all the sacrifices my mom makes to make sure I have all that I need. So, I want say: Thank you, Mom! You are a wonderful parent and provider. I am truly grateful to have you!