Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

This article first appeared in TRAVEL WEEKLY at http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Travel-Agent-Issues/Haitian-agent-showcases-land-of-her-birth/



Dina Simon, Haitian-born and New York-bred, holds a master’s degree and a high-level position with New York City’s Department of Corrections.

Simon also is a home-based agent and the founder and manager of My Haiti Travels, a boutique firm based in Huntington Station, N.Y., that seeks to connect travelers with Haiti and Haitians through a blend of civic and social interactions and safe, meaningful and fun experiences.

It took a devastating event years after she had left Haiti to rekindle her connection — or reconnection — with the country she left at 9 years of age when she moved with her family to the U.S.

“It was my birthday,” she recalled. “I was on vacation in Mexico, sitting on the beach when the earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. In those first days after the quake, I could not get the images out of my head of the utter destruction and havoc caused by the quake.”

She returned to New York, but the images stayed with her.

“I kept asking myself: How can I help with the rebuilding of Haiti? I couldn’t work for an NGO [nongovernmental organization] because I had no background in that,” she said.

In August 2010, eight months after the quake and with the country still in ruins, Simon visited Haiti for the first time since she had left as a child.

“I hadn’t kept a connection with Haiti through all those years,” she said. “But when I was there on that visit, I saw things. I posted photos, and my friends saw the photos and wanted to go to Haiti. They wanted me to show them Haiti through my eyes.”

And she, too, wanted to return.

Unable to find a reliable source of guidance for where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Haiti, Simon founded My Haiti Travels in 2012.

“The goal was to promote local businesses, support local shops and restaurants and build relationships with local professionals and experts across Haiti’s hospitality and tourism sectors,” she said. “We want to educate travelers by showing them the different sides of Haiti.

“We try to change the perception of Haiti by focusing on the positive but not ignoring the struggle. We have to tell Haiti’s story. We’re aware of the challenges facing Haiti, but the time has come to take a different path and do something new.”

In 2013, My Haiti Travels launched Impact Week, its signature annual expedition coinciding with the Martin Luther King federal holiday on the third Monday of each January.

A key feature of the five-day/four-night program that year, this year and continuing Jan. 15 through 19, 2015 is Project Day.

“We spend time in Port-au-Prince and on one of those days, we travel to Zoranje not far from the capital. It’s a new settlement born from the earthquake, with housing and public schools for families who lost homes,” Simon said.

On the first visit to the school in 2013, Simon’s tour group planted a tree and met and talked with the students.

This year, My Haiti Travels returned to the same elementary school.

“We included three breakout sessioHaiti tour - shoppersns this time where we painted with the kids, sang nursery rhymes with the younger ones and had a real talk session with the eighth-graders,” she said.

The discussion was simultaneously illuminating and heartwrenching.

“They asked us why we didn’t come back to Haiti more often,” Simon recalled. “‘How can we maintain hope?’ one of them asked us.”

One of the tour participants on the first trip, a teacher, was so moved by the experience that she now returns once a month and conducts teacher training sessions at the school.

“We’ve seen that what we do makes an impact, Simon said. “Kids meet us, and they see us return. The favorite moment of Impact Week for all of us is the day we volunteer.”

A repeat client who has booked the 2015 trip is bringing laptops for the students.

The group’s time in Port-au-Prince includes trips to the Iron Market to see (and buy) handicrafts from the vendors, plus visits to several museums and art galleries.

“I want them to see artifacts, like the anchor from Christopher Columbus’ ship in the National Pantheon Museum,” Simon said. “I want them to understand and appreciate the history of Haiti and our people.”

Although the basic itinerary for each Impact Week remains the same, Simon makes a point of patronizing different restaurants, hotels and hot spots on each trip.

“We eat at local restaurants,” she said. “We hear local bands and visit clubs and nightspots. We stay at a different hotel each year. This year was the Best Western, last year was the Royal Oasis. We are constantly meeting and talking with Haitian entrepreneurs. We have three local guides who travel with us who speak Creole and know the hidden places to go.”

A 45-minute drive from the capital is a beach area where an afternoon is spent swimming and sunning.

“We do a hike,” Simon said. “It’s optional, but 19 of the 30 people in the group this year opted to do it. We passed through a village and ended at a spring and natural pool ringed by watercress. It was magical.”

Tour participants span all walks of life, from nurses, executives and teachers to Haitian diaspora who want to share the country’s culture and history with their preteen and grown children.

Most are from the New York area, although Simon has had participants from Texas, Maryland and Florida.

“On these trips, I try to show the other side of Haiti,” she said. “It’s important to me that these visitors see Haiti in a new light, a positive light, and to make them repeat visitors. There is still poverty, a lot of it, but I see changes and progress.”
Haiti tour - volunteers
Because many in the tour group wanted to stay longer, Simon tweaked the 2015 itinerary and added the option of two more days that will include Haiti’s annual Jazz Fest in Port-au-Prince as well as tours of the Citadelle in the north.

My Haiti Travels also offers an annual Memorial Day five-day/four-night package that visits Jacmel, the thriving art community a three-hour drive south from Port-au-Prince, and Petion-Ville outside the capital.

Land-only rates for Impact Week are $1,299 per person, double; the Memorial Day package starts at $1,199 per person, double.

Both are all-inclusive packages, except for alcoholic beverages.

“I don’t book air,” Simon said. “I book the hotels, arrange the tours, hire the guides, scout out the restaurants and accompany my groups.”

JetBlue, American and Delta serve Haiti from several gateways, and tour participants meet up in Port-au-Prince.

“I believe travelers are looking for a different type of vacation,” she said. “The days when people are confined to a resort are gone. Haiti offers a mixture for people who want adventure and authenticity and who want to discover culture and history.”

The best way to support Haiti is to visit, support local businesses and give back directly to the people in need through volunteer efforts, according to Simon.


Learn more by visiting http://impactweekhaiti.com



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gros morneOctober 29, 2014

by: Ashley Toussaint

She never talked about what had happened in Haiti. She never talked about why she left home. She did not mention her family much. As a result, I never met my maternal grandparents, my mother’s older sister or her younger brother. She had left Gros Morne, when she was in her late teens, for the Bahamas and then Miami, back in the early 1970s with my father….(Continue reading the original blog here: Gros Morne: The Other Side.)


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For many, when they think of the tourism industry, thoughts of increased capital, business growth and new jobs come to mind. And as Haiti slowly recovers from the catastrophic effects of the 2010 earthquake, it seems a revival of its tourism industry makes sense.

For most of our Caribbean neighbors scattered across the Atlantic Ocean:  Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, just to name a few, tourism is big business.

So when David Toussaint founded Haiti Tourism Inc., in 2011, he and his team aggressively marketed the island as a vacation hotspot for anyone searching for their next island getaway. The company’s Facebook and Twitter feeds regularly feature images of the country’s green pastures, crystal blue oceans and smiling locals. And its aggressive advertising campaigns seem to be working.

Last week, Carnival Corporation, the owner of Carnival Cruise Lines has signed an intent agreement with the Haitian government for a cruise port off the northern coast of Haiti, on Ile de la Tortue. Royal Caribbean already has acquisition of Labadee cruise port, also along on the northern coast. The new venture promises to create 900 job positions.


While its natural for many to be excited for Haiti’s plunge into the tourism industry, let’s look back a few decades when Haiti was a premier hotspot for vacationers. Bill and Hilary Clinton spent part of their honeymoon there in 1965. Writer Ernest Hemingway once visited. And in the 1954 issue of LOOK magazine, Haiti was part of its travel issue alongside the Florida Keys and San Francisco.

But the country was still in disarray. Soil erosion and deforestation were destroying the mainland. Unemployment was high and the minimum wage, which was just five gourdes, hardly sustained the working class.

Filmmaker Stephanie Black explores what some describe as “neo-colonialist tourism,” in her 2001 documentary Life and Debt. The film examines the economic and social issues affecting Jamaica despite its booming tourism industry. Small companies fail, unable to compete with cheap exports and outside corporations. Beaches become privatized, and homes acquisitioned as land are bought and sold to corporations interested in gated resorts and villas for the rich.

How much will Haitian locals benefit from tourism today? Our Caribbean neighbors remain vastly impoverished despite their decades in the business so it’s important to realize that Haiti may suffer the same fate. It is up to the people to ensure that their needs are met first, and not those on the outside.

Haiti has enough beauty, culture and richness to awe the world. But its people should be first in line to reap the benefits.

This tourism video, made in Kreyol, it sounds like a campaign to get the locals excited and ready for the country’s tourism venture:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kf1Hj77Msg

Annabella Jean-Laurent is a Haitian-American writer who explores race, media and culture in society. Her current project surrounds an important but little known exhibit called the Negro Building at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. Follow her @militantbarbie on Twitter and Facebook. 

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This post was written by Christelle Louis, a 9th Grader in Haiti at Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje (ENZ); Essay shared with permission from MyHaitiTravels.com.  My Haiti Travels (MHT) is a New York-based boutique concierge firm that coordinates and produces high-quality travel experiences with a social impact for groups seeking to explore Haiti for leisure and business purposes.  My Haiti Travels (MHT) believes that one of the best ways to support Haiti is to visit, support local businesses and give back directly to the youth.  Learn more at http://www.impactweekhaiti.com.

“It is never too late to do the right thing”


I was sitting in my classroom, and the director entered, greeted us and said: “today there is a group of “diaspora” who are going to visit our class. They will be talking about their careers. So you must welcome them well and give them all the respect they deserve, and please ask questions that will be useful to you in the future”. And he added “this is why I chose your class, so make me proud”!

At 11 am the “diaspora’s” came into our classroom with the Principal. There was a woman from the group who identified herself as the leader of the group. She introduced herself as Dina a Haitian who left Haiti since the age of 9, she also talked about her career speaking in Kreyol and English. But as she was speaking I saw tears swelling in her eyes, when I glanced at the others, I realized that they too were crying. I was very puzzled, asking myself why they were all standing in front of us in tears. But Dina must have understood that we were all a bit confused about the tears because she explained that this was an emotional visit for all them, she said we reminded them of who they were prior to leaving for the US.


There was another one who was presenting, she could not even speak because she was crying so much, her name is Florence and she encouraged us to work hard in school, adding that this is what will secure for us a place in society. She told us to persevere and stressed again that she is who she is today because of education.  She said that she struggled and never got discouraged. But all of this was said extremely tearfully as she could not stop crying.

I would have personally liked to know why she was crying so much, unfortunately I am not a “heart reader”. But while I was thinking about this I too was crying…What shocked me also was that 2 of them stated that they left the country very young, they spent between 30-35 years out of the country and never came back, even after the earthquake. They said that when they came back they were shocked at the condition of the country.  Well I told myself that it’s a good thing they did not come right after the earthquake, they would have been more than shocked since the country was in such bad shape.

I did not despair too much when I realized that they all spoke Kreyol well and showed us that Haiti was still in their hearts since they spoke our language well and clearly gave it importance.

There was also an American among them who did not speak Kreyol, but they translated his comments. He also showed us that he loves Haiti and would like to help the Haitian people. They were all very proud, because they all felt that they were home, with family back in their country.

I became very frustrated when one of them identified as Haitian even though only her mom is Haitian. I was shocked because, there I am fantasizing about changing my nationality, while someone else who is not really Haitian, is proclaiming her Haitian heritage. I think that I should change my mind about this.  It is also that same person who is telling us to put our heads together, to work so that our country can move forward, so that others can stop projecting only negative images about us, stressing that our country is rich in resources which we must protect.

We were also told that we also needed to be proud of our history and what we did for Blacks who used to be discriminated against.  One of them said that when she left the country at the age of 15, she attended a school where the students were humiliating her because she was Haitian and because she could not speak English well.  But what really encouraged her was that she was one of the best math students in the classroom. But the memory of the humiliation she suffered as a Haitian still makes her cry and that really touched my heart and made me sad.

They all made presentations about their careers and professions. We asked a lot of questions and they responded with great enthusiasm.

Overall, I felt really proud! I was among family and they gave us excellent advice. I told myself that God has sent this group to meet us, because I have more hope and I will never be discouraged in my life even when I want to lose hope. And I will make all efforts to work even harder in school.

I went home that day with a lot of love in my heart!




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This post is by Vanessa Leon and first appeared in the HaitianTimes.com.  Vanessa Leon is founder and principal planner of Pinchina Consulting, based in the DC metro area. She holds a Master of Urban Planning specializing in economic development and housing policy. Follow her on Twitter; she can be reached a vanessa@pinchinaconsulting.com.
Haitian citizens awaiting money transfers from abroad (Photo provided by cuna.org) When I interact with fellow djaspora, I often pick up on what seems like a collective sense …
Read more…

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This blog entry was submitted by Yve-Car Momperousse, founder of Kreyol Essence (www.kreyolessence.com).

yve-car momperousse

I was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in between NY, NJ, and Haiti. My mother never really liked living in the states so she spent most of her time doing business in Haiti. As such, every summer vacation, winter break, and holiday was spent in Haiti until the age of 10. We moved from NY to northern NJ when I was 15 and I remained in NJ until I graduated from Rutgers University.

I truly delved into Haitian culture in college. Two things happened: First I joined a website called Haitian Connection (HC) created by an MIT grad named Evens Thesee. HC predates MySpace, hi 5 and Facebook (God I feel old!). There were over 100,000 users on HC and I started spending time on the forum. I was blown away by the intellectual discourse taking place amongst Haitians from all over the country. As one who likes to debate the issues du jour, I was humbled by how much I did not know; particularly as it relates to Haitian history. The people I created relationships with had a major impact on me.

Second, I started working at New Jersey Immigration Policy Network as the Project Coordinator for the Haiti Program. During that time, I became extremely involved in the Haitian Student movement. Though I was at the helm of coordinating and organizing Haitian students nation-wide, I learned so much from the students about myself as a Haitian-American, e.g. 1804, Battle of Vertières, etc… means something to me because of the folks I have interacted with throughout the years.

So, like many first generation Haitian children, I grew up with certain cultural traditions. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings dreading to get my hair braided by our next door neighbor. But I did enjoy my mom washing my hair in the kitchen sink. And whenever my hair began breaking, my mom would pull out the “magic oil” that seemed to solve every problem, for everyone in the house — including repairing my mane.

And that tradition, along with what I like to call a “haircatastrophe”,  lead me to create Kreyol Essence. Like many young women, I went through many hairstyles and did a lot of damage to my hair in the process — from chemical straightening to weaves and braids. Yet, by 2008 I wore my hair naturally. I decided to temporarily straighten it for an event. So, I went to the nearest hair salon and the beautician applied massive heat to my hair, which gave me the sleek look I wanted. However, when I was ready to return to my natural curls, I discovered my hair was limp, lifeless and breaking severely. I had permanent heat damage.

I knew the one thing that could revive my hair was the Haitian Black Castor Oil, also known as lwil maskriti, my mother used on me as a child to strengthen, grow, and moisturize my hair. Unfortunately, it wasn’t readily available in my Philadelphia neighborhood, so I had to ask my mother to send me some from her Haiti stash. I joked to her that maybe I should bring Haitian Castor Oil to the U.S. My mother, being a serial entrepreneur, recognized the potential of the idea and encouraged me to do some research. Thus, I began the journey of creating Kreyòl Essence in late 2009.

ke_black castor oil

Our signature product is Palma Christi: Haitian Black Castor Oil™, which we carry in 6 different scents: Original, Lavender, Orange, Peppermint, Lemon and Chocolate. From it, we developed a broad line of quality hair and beauty products created with other natural ingredients indigenous to Haiti, including:

  • Haitian Shea Butter is the perfect union of Haitian Black Castor Oil, West African Shea Butter and essential oils. This organic blend is perfect for the entire family because the combined power of the two ingredients rejuvenates and rehydrates hair and skin.
  • Goat and Coconut Krèm ak Lèt is a rich and creamy remedy with the power of organic goat’s milk and coconut cream to soften and hydrate hair.
  • Pomad Kreyòl is first 100% organic Haitian Pomade on the market, with Haitian aloe vera, coconut and pine nut oil and strengthening proteins.
  • Savon Kreyòl and Bouji Candles are a great way to pamper yourself with our hand-crafted, skin candy soap bars that come in unique scents like Anise, Chocolate and Mant (mint).

Our first supporters are those of Haitian descent. We, in the Haitian Community, complain a lot about us needing to do a better job supporting each other but I can actually say that that I am overwhelmed by the support of Haitians from the U.S., France , Canada, the Caribbean and the middle east.

I believe all ethnicities enjoy our products because of the quality and effectiveness. I also hear from our customers that they love the social impact that is connected to KE. We are “natural with a purpose”.  At its core, KE is an agribusiness. Our products are contingent on us planting and farming. Through farming, we will help Haiti’s deforestation by using marginal land, reduce soil reduce erosion and carbon dioxide. Castor bean plants also capture and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere.

We are also very much intent on economic development. We employ 70 women and small holder producers and will create over 400 jobs in the next 3-5 years. My unrelenting desire to advocate and find solutions to tough challenges comes from my ancestry.

Visit www.kreyolessence.com for more information.

ke_chocolate flavor


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Written by Ashley Toussaint — read more of his work at http://www.brothertoussaint.wordpress.com


Florida has the largest Haitian population outside of Hisapniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Nearly  400 hundred thousand people of Haitian descent reside in Florida and yet Don West, George Zimmerman’s defense attorney, did not know that Haitians do not speak Haitian. I was aghast. Haitian is not a language. This is a sad example of the lack of cultural awareness on the behalf of Zimmerman’s legal team. Do Americans speak American? Do Cubans speak Cuban? Do Jamaican’s speak Jamaican? For the record, Haitians speak Creole (Kreyol). I would not expect someone from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to know that. On the other hand,  anyone who lives in Florida and is working a high-profile case such as this one, should.

Even after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the entire planet witnessed  the toll over 200,000 lives taken,  while  another million people were left homeless, you would think that Zimmerman’s counsel would get it right. Granted, Rachel Jeantel is not the most articulate witness. Being Haitian-American myself, I will admit at times that I was embarrassed by Ms. Jeantel’s behavior and demeanor on the stand, but she was totally out of her element and dealing with the loss of her close friend. Zimmerman’s defense team had no excuse for not doing their research on a case with obvious cultural implications. In America, we have this disconnection that gives us the silent permission to dismiss certain subcultures. This is dangerous and quite frankly irresponsible.

Mr. West, after this is all over, please purchase a map and locate Haiti. I hear that the people there led the only successful slave revolt in human history and established the first black republic in the world in 1804.

“Do you speak Haitian?” Really?

Rachel Jeantel is being questioned by Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's defense attorney.

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