Johanna’s Story | “I can scarcely believe my placement is almost at an end”

Coming to the end of her placement with our team, University College Cork (UCC) student Johanna Murray looks at how her time in Haiti causes her to rethink our relationships with gadgets and technology.

Welcome back everyone: another week down, and now only two weeks and four days left!

I can scarcely believe my placement is almost at an end. Ever since I started my course in college, our third year placement was always what I was aiming towards. It is a very unique opportunity for an undergraduate to be able to go on a placement such as ours. It gives us the hands-on experience many others may not have and, in the development sector, it’s important to have experience as it can help you to get your foot in the door.

Anyhow, we must carry on and, with that, I’d just like to say a quick thank you to everyone who has messaged me about these blogs. I really appreciate it as, half the time, I’m just musing away and I don’t even know if I’m making sense, so THANK YOU to all of you who have supported these!

An observation I have made whilst over here in Haiti is how we take technology and the easy comforts of home for granted. Now, nearly everyone has a mobile phone here, but these are often your most basic type of phone with no capacity for the internet. There are of course many people who have lovely fancy phones, but the wide majority of the population just have the basic models. I even remember at an introductory talk we had for one of the first groups at Morgan Weinberg’s Little Footprints Big Steps (LFBS) becoming involved in our Vizyon Pam programme: we needed to take people’s mobile numbers so we could contact them and, amazingly, almost half of the group either didn’t have their phone on them and couldn’t remember their number, or they simply didn’t have a phone. Imagine the same situation in Ireland? Nothing like that would never happen.

And even if you have your normal joe soap phone, power is a huge issue. This is especially true on the island of Île à Vache. You have to be quick to make sure you charge your phone at the right moment because the power can be off for hours at a time. Most of the power here is generated through solar panels and generators. This can cause problems like, for example, during a storm we had here a couple of weeks ago, we rarely had any power as we didn’t see any sun for four or five days.

Some people do not even have the luxury of a solar panel. There are many instances where a few locals will pop into our office and ask to charge the phone – this is the reality. People don’t have the capacity or money for all our gadgets. There are no electric cookers, washing machines, dishwashers or fridges. There is no light in my room, which means I have to fight the mosquitoes with a flashlight on my head. It’s just life here!

But, since very few people have TVs, phones or any other sort of electrical distraction, you always see people around the place. In the evening, everyone is around, making food, going to the pub or just chilling at their houses. People are constantly chatting and meeting with one another. It creates a lovely atmosphere.

Everyone says “bonjour”, “bonsoir”, “en forme?”, or “ca va?” to every individual they pass all throughout the day: people actually have conversations and know the people of their village.

The art of conversation is dying in our society: I can attest to that myself. I’m constantly on my phone and hate when the internet doesn’t work here. Can you imagine saying “hello, how are you?” to every person you met in Ireland? To be fair, in the country, this is probably a common occurrence, but definitely not in towns or cities. Observing this has made me question my own actions when it comes to meeting people. Yes, I would consider myself quite outgoing, but I can use my phone whilst being in a conversation with another person. I’ll keep my head down on the phone when walking around Cork or college. It really is a shame and my Dad is always giving out to me about it.

What is lovely to see is that this does not happen here. People are constantly in big groups chatting and I think that is a skill modern society has truly lost. I sincerely hope the people of Haiti keep this up and ensure it stays in the culture and society as they continue to develop as a country.

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