Haitian Airport Q&A

Harassed at Airport

Several years ago a foreigner (a term I will use simply because I’m referring to a non-Haitian traveling regularly to or living in Haiti) told me about what his team does when they come to Haiti.

“My teams are usually 15 people….we each have two checked and one carry-on that we need to deal with. When I get to the baggage claim area, I get 8 carts ($16). We load our luggage on the carts and head for the door. Immediately someone wants to help us with our luggage and puts their hand on our stuff. I convince them we don’t need help. They follow us. We manage to get through the airport and out the door without help, but then are approached by others who want to help us. We don’t need help, but I’m unsure about what to do with the carts, etc. when we get to our transportation. So usually I end up with one man and tell him I will pay him and he must pay whoever helps him. Paying him one dollar a bag, plus the $16 I paid for the carts equals about $60. We honestly don’t need any help. I feel like I’m throwing money away. I know it’s a job for the Haitians, but there’s got to be a better way.”

My response:

Yes, there is a better way: buy all the supplies from Haiti. I know that a lot of people try to collect things to bring to Haiti, the thing is there are no shortages of clothes and food in a Haiti. There is really no need of pillow dresses. Haitians can sew. Haiti has fabric. The resource most needed are funds. Instead of focusing on items for donations, focus on funds to purchase supplies and help the economy of Haiti.

I know this is difficult with most potential donors because there are a lot of skeptics, and rightly so. You can send donors pictures of not only the supplies once purchased, but photos of where they were purchased. Donors would be happy to know that their funds not only covered the cost of supplies but it also benefitted small businesses. People want to make sure their money goes where they assigned it.

As far as the airport situation, pay for the cart and tip the workers who help with the luggage. You are investing in a Haitian and therefore in Haiti by doing so. It’s truly that simple. Also, the person escorting you out of the airport will fight all the other guys off so you won’t feel harassed. The airport in Haiti, India, and many other nations, are not easy to navigate at times. You’re not just paying for your bags to be located more quickly on the carousel, but also to help you through customs more expediently. Then, with the porters you are paying for someone to carry your belongings and safely escort you to your vehicle. I know porters who have waited as long as four hours with people until their driver arrived. They deserve a hefty tip.

How much to tip?

“I’ve only led 4 teams….so I’m still a rookie. I know we all have had to deal with this. Has anyone got the answer on how much do you pay the porter at the airport who carries my luggage and then load it onto my vehicle? What about if there are two, four, or even five of them?” 

I always hope that a person going to work in Haiti is focused on how it benefits the people of Haiti and not on the furtherance of their own organization. So, I tell people to focus in actually building a relationship with a porter. How? By taking a picture of yourself with the porter so you can recognize each other for future trips. Tell him not to let anyone else “help” by grabbing your bags. If you have a large team or more luggage than you can handle, get two or three porters, but there should be no need for three porters, especially if you’re buying your supplies locally.

“I can’t buy medical supplies in Haiti?”

Sounds like a great opportunity for a small business. Haiti has needs like any other country. Why are there no labs and so few factories, and yet so many NGO’s? What if instead of donations for handouts, the focus was on using the donations directly to build Haitian-owned small businesses that are needed. In fact, anytime I hear that a government or big organization is giving a donation to another organization in Haiti, I freak out. The money would best serve the Haitian entrepreneur who is directly investing in Haiti and using the profits to care for her own family.

See every hard working Haitian as an entrepreneur, a small business owner, and not as some poor Haitian that you’re helping, and it will help you to see what resources you can provide. For example, in relation to the porter situation, I have a dear friend who is a porter. Frank is deaf and communicates using sign language. He’s very tall and looks tough but is definitely a pussycat. Frank is the only one necessary to help my family or a group of friends coming with me, as we only bring one suitcase each. In fact, my daughter and I have been known to only bring a backpack because we can buy our toiletries and other supplies in Haiti when we’re staying for the summer. So, we don’t really need a porter because we can technically carry out bags, but because we love to bless the Haitian economy, we absolutely use a porter.

Frank keeps all the other guys back and he also waits for my transportation to arrive if they’re late. I’ve given him $5-$10 for just me. If I have more people I’ve given him as much as $20. This is because I know him. I have developed a relationship with him and also because I have a son who is deaf and I know it could not have been easy for Frank growing up in Haiti with a disability. I know that he has to pay for his own transportation to get to food and his meals. Frank is an entrepreneur. He is a hardworking who he is not asking for a handout. Frank wants to live off of the fruits of his labor.

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