I spent the vast majority of 2016 on the South Island of New Zealand, an area deeply rooted in nature. The whole place seems to have spilled out from a page of National Geographic. It is a land of Continue reading
Poverty, overpopulation, terrorism, corruption — these are just some of the words which come to people’s minds when they hear the name Pakistan. During my time as a student in the UK, I have witnessed various reactions when I’ve told people I’m from Pakistan. Some of them have been quite funny — “Is there Nandos in Pakistan,” and “How do you speak such good English if you’re from Pakistan?”
After a silent chuckle over the silliness of these questions, I have usually tried to respond to these queries as maturely and informatively as possible, explaining to everyone that Pakistan is not that different from the rest of the world. These questions always ultimately made me feel upset — Pakistan so rarely makes it into the news, and when it does, the articles are always negative. No wonder the rest of the world has such negative ideas about it! Continue reading
On 12th January 2010, one of the severest earthquakes on record hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people and displacing nearly 900,000 more. International aid provided emergency support for the country which, along with neighbouring Dominican Republic, comprises the island of Hispaniola.
Three years after the disaster, in early 2013, the Haitian government attempted to create much-needed revenue by improving its tourism sector. The US $2.5 billion pledged by the international community just wasn’t proving sufficient to repair the initial damage, nor the subsequent repercussions in healthcare, housing and infrastructure. Speaking in 2013, Haiti’s tourism minister Stephanie Villedrouin urged prospective tourists to remember that Haiti is ‘not about poverty, disasters [or] earthquakes, there is another side to the coin.’ This led the Haitian tourist board to place particular emphasis on ‘niche tourism,’ capitalising on the public’s more unique interests, such as the rather contrasting concepts of ‘mission tourism’ (visiting orphanages and volunteering with local charities) and ‘voodoo tourism,’ where guests are accompanied by local guides to learn about religious ceremonies in which offerings are made to the spirits.
A project which Villedrouin was keen to support was an arts centre in the western town of Jacmel. This facility was opened to showcase traditional ways of life, providing local artists with an environment in which to display and sell their works, as well as training facilities for young Haitians to learn a craft, equipping them with a trade for life. Many of these traditional crafts and handmade souvenirs are available at the nearby Marche de Fer, (the Iron Market) an outdoor market offering items as diverse as local delicacies and spices, to voodoo dolls — all of which support the local economy and aid in keeping traditional craftsmanship alive.
A further two years after Haiti initiated its plans to rebuild the tourism industry, disease and civil unrest have proved to be the predominant hindrance to permanent solutions in the country’s need to generate income. Revised figures published at the end of 2014 state the death toll as nearer 250,000, and that over 1.5 million people were displaced. Violent anti-government protests still occur intermittently in the capital of Port au Prince, amongst the rubble and remains of parliamentary buildings. Participants were dissatisfied with president Michel Martelly’s halting of general elections, and protestors’ missiles were met with tear-gas and water cannons from UN peacekeepers. To add to Haiti’s troubles, the cholera epidemic is still very much present, with over 21,000 cases reported in 2014. A lack of funds has resulted in the closing of 91 of the 250 cholera treatment centres, and government figures conclude that a further US$2.2billion is needed to fully eradicate cholera in the country.However, there has also been immense progress for some. The newly-finished Village Solidarité, a housing project funded by Christian Aid, has provided permanent shelter and hope for many. A lifeline has also been given to many displaced people in the form of jobs in the recently finished hotels along the coast and in the mountains. The majority of these are largely Haitian operated as opposed to being run by multinational companies, as is often the case. Surely the building of these large hotels is an indication that tourism is considered a viable and realistic source of income for Haiti? Tourism minister Villedrouin certainly agrees: ‘Haiti has begun a push to restore its stature as a top destination — back in the 1950s, after all, the nation enjoyed a travel reputation close to Havana’s.’ The hotels’ executives are ensuring that local traders are being supported in the construction and maintenance of their facilities, from using only locally grown ingredients on their menus, to displaying local artists’ sculptures and artwork in their hotels’ interiors.
Those considering a visit to Haiti can expect a taste of the Caribbean with its coast lined with palm trees and plenty of opportunities for browsing traditional handicrafts. However, visitors are advised to exercise caution if travelling to the island, especially when entering the less well-known neighbourhoods. Travel in large groups if possible, or alternatively stay at a registered hotel where guides will be provided on excursions. With the 2010 earthquake and its subsequent political and social unrest still possessing a hold over Haiti, there is little doubt that tourism is bringing much-needed jobs and economic investment to a country trying desperately to see past its troubles and build prospects for the future. With renewed emphasis on the pride and talents of Haitians and the sensitive yet fiercely determined Stephanie Villedrouin overseeing the country’s plans for tourism, Haiti is once again offering its unique take on Caribbean vibrancy and continues to celebrate, despite its recent tribulations.
Imagine sitting down in your cosy living room. Imagine a cup of tea steaming in one hand. Imagine a newspaper balanced on your lap and a lifetime’s worth of memories decorating the walls of the home you have loved for nearly twenty years.
Now imagine what happens next. Your living room starts to shake and tremble; the cup of tea falls from your fingers and shatters across the carpet, and in a matter of minutes the home which you love so dearly is reduced to dust and rubble.
At 12.51pm, Tuesday the 22nd of February 2011, the citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand lost a lot more than their homes. 185 people died that day, their lives claimed by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the Canterbury region just 6 months after another had occurred – measuring 7.1 – causing significant damage to the city but no fatalities. This earlier quake had weakened the city’s buildings and infrastructure, leading to the severe causalities that were sustained in 2011. Continue reading