Our Perspectives


For a young Haitian, hope beyond the earthquake

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young manOriental was born in a slum area of Port au Prince. Before the earthquake hit, life had already hit him hard. Photo: Raul de la Fuente/Kanaki Films

Oriental Meliance was born in Haiti in 1990. When he was 10 years old, world leaders agreed on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Oriental was among the 2 billion poor worldwide classified as living on less than US$1.25 a day. By the time he turned 25 in 2015, the world had halved the number of poor. These huge numbers eclipse the real faces of people, like Oriental.

What does it mean to live in poverty?  We now have more complex definitions of poverty that go beyond income, which address multiple needs and shortcomings. Beyond living on less than US$1.25, the lack of adequate housing, water and sanitation, access to health services, and education classify a family as “multi-dimensionally poor”.

This second definition is more interesting: it allows us to shift our understanding of Oriental (or Tattoo Love, as his friends call him) from being an income-related number to a real person living under certain conditions. We know, for example, that the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 affected him. Since then, he has lived in a shack he built with his own hands, with no access to running water and a ceiling and walls made of corrugated iron. He cannot afford educational or medical services.

His story helps illustrate a new understanding of poverty.

Oriental was born in a slum area of ​​Port au Prince. Before the earthquake struck, life had already hit him hard. He became an orphan when he was 15. He did not want compassion but employment. In his dignified daily struggle to get by, he gained the respect of many.

According to him, as paved his own path towards happiness, he found that life is worthwhile. He organizes soccer tournaments so the neighborhood children can practice sports, enjoy themselves, and learn values. He helped a friend build a house and he buys and resells charcoal in plastic bags.

Some days he eats, other days hunger knocks on his door. He dreams of becoming a DJ and hopes he won’t get sick. One day, while taking out the trash, he found an abandoned baby whose mother could not take care of. He fed and raised the baby until the mother regained strength to nurture it.

The good news is that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come into effect, coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the devastating earthquake. And the first goal is to eradicate extreme poverty in the world.

UNDP’s upcoming regional Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean focuses precisely on this idea, linked to the first of 17 SDGs, all of which are interrelated. New inter-sectoral public policies focused on people’s well-being, inclusive business models and consideration of their environmental impact, and interaction with civil society are all necessary to advance this agenda.

Our world is full of anonymous Orientals, women and men of all ages who are made invisible by numbers and figures. Implementing the SDGs is a major step towards social justice and a needed balance between the economic, social, and environmental realms. The clock is ticking. Oriental is waiting. Many others too.

A documentary about Oriental is currenting screening in festivals. Watch the trailer here.

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