Today, 1/12/12 marks the second anniversary of the earthquake that struck and did so much damage in Haiti. I remember sitting in my house and feeling the quake near Cotui. While it did little damage in the Dominican Republic the affects were devastating to many people of Haiti.

In my area there are many Haitians that that try to eke out a meager living and send some money back to relatives in Haiti. Most are looked down on by the Dominicans and would much rather be back home if there was some sort of work.

As you talk with the local Haitians you get an idea of the conditions “back home”. Living conditions for the families of most of the people I have talked to have changed very little over the last two years. Due to lack of food, clean water and sanitation life is very hard.

Traveling back and forth to visit relatives can also be dangerous even for the locals. People near their hometowns are often desperate to find ways (often resorting to theft) to help their families. While conditions may have improved for some since the earthquake (as stated in recent news articles), for most there has been little improvement.

Begging in the streets

This has always been a problem for the DR as well as Haiti. When a foreigner walks down the street it is very common to be frequently asked for money. I live here now and it appears many parents (Dominican and Hatian) train their kids to automatically beg for money whenever they see the opportunity. I couldn’t count the times where I have been demanded “Da me Cinco Pesos” (give me 5 pesos),

On the other hand many are very resourceful in the ways that they gain money (both Dominicans and Haitians). Shoe shining and other small jobs are very common here. Quite often the work is done by kids who then go home with the money to help buy a little food. While some may consider this child labor, here it is often what is necessary to feed the family. For those with family back in Haiti money is then sent back to help. For this reason, I get my shoes shines regularly; I consider this far better than automatically giving to beggars.

When eating in restaurants.

Another interesting thing I see often here are kids (usually) that will hang out outside of restaurants around lunch time. At times they will be beggars, however often they are just hoping to get whatever you decide you don’t want to eat. Often they are very polite and only try to get your attention long enough to let you know not to throw away any food you have left over.

If you happen to be at an outdoor restaurant while visiting here and see people milling around outside the building with some sort of styrofoam plate (or box lid) that is probably what is happening. When you are done eating you can catch one of their eyes and walk over and scrape your leftovers onto their plate. This gives them a meal with what you no longer want and allows them to save their money for their family back home.

Also, consider buying the small items they may have for sale. Your first impulse might be to just look away; however, this is a little different than begging. Normally they only have a few peso markup (something you are unlikely to really notice) and this allows them to make a “living”.

Helping a little

Unfortunately there is not much we can do to make a large difference in the lives of people that have suffered from earthquakes and other disasters, but you can make a little difference to a few people without encouraging begging while visiting the DR.