A Day in Port-au-Prince

Port-au-Prince The first thing you notice when you wake up in Port-au-Prince is the smoke. Your eyes sting, and it feels as though you’ve had a smoky cloth held over your mouth all night from the Haitians’ cooking fires. I half expect to wake up next to a campfire in my tent, not in a major city.

The streets of Port-au-Prince are a zigzagging labyrinth that all look the same to me, and I can’t understand how everyone isn’t permanently lost. The streets are steep like San Francisco, and so potholed that you practically have to have a truck or SUV to buck up and down and over the broken cobblestones.

Women in tank tops carry baskets of fruit on their heads, while others squat roadside frying plantains for passers-by.

Tap taps, the main transportation through the city, spill over with thin men in suits on their way to work. The tap taps are a chaos of color, pickup trucks painted in fuchsia and purple and green with pictures of famous singers and Jesus on them.

As our truck sits in traffic, a woman with blank eyes taps on the window with her hand held out.      

We arrive in front of the white-barred gate of a Compassion-assisted child development center, that opens up to a wide courtyard filled with children playing basketball and running about.

The children spot my camera right away and timidly tap me on the shoulder, hoping to have their picture taken so they can see their faces on the screen. They smile and giggle until I raise the camera, when they suddenly stand up straight and compose themselves seriously for their photo shoot.

The courtyard is ringed by classes, and we smell cookies baking in the cooking class filled with teenage girls. They give us a plate to take home with us.

We poke our heads in various classes where some are learning sewing, some painting, and some are studying the Bible.

In the class of 3- to 5-year-olds, we greet the class, “Como ca va?” And 30 little voices shout back in unison: “Ca va bien, merci! Et vous?!”

port au prince

I speak to the teacher of the painting class, who learned to paint in that very project. Now he makes occasional money selling his paintings on the street. He is meek and quiet and asks that I’ll pray he can afford Bible school so he can become a pastor.

port au prince

I talk to the project accountant, a tall, well-spoken man who asks for the prayer of the sponsors as he and the other project workers serve the children.

After disrupting several classes and giving an impromptu geography lesson, we leave with our plate of cookies. We bump back up and down the Port-au-Prince streets, and I’m frankly relieved to pull safely up to our clean hotel away from the noise and smells of the streets. 

We have dinner at the hotel, looking down over the pool and tennis courts, surrounded by lush green overgrowth. I ask my Haitian friend if he likes it here, in Port-au-Prince, where he has grown up. He shakes his head no. Although it is home, he would rather be elsewhere, like the millions of the Haitian diaspora.  

And yet, he stays. I’ve grown to admire these people who believe in and love their country, even when it would seem so tempting to desert in a situation so hard. Yet each day, they get up and choose to try to be a part of changing their country by serving the children and giving them hope for a different future.

port au prince

18 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    ron fox January 5, 2010

    Hi I been there on a mission trip to fix car you gave a good picture ouline of Haita but I saw thing different like kids take a bath ouside with borad place at different high so you could see any thing and girls put on clothe outside that were dry on the ground thank you may god bless you

  2. Avatar
    bill van Steenis January 5, 2010


    I have been to PAP many times and you describe it well. Haiti assaults all of your senses. For those that have never seen real poverty it is often overwhelming. I was in PAP once during a hurricane. As we were trying to get back to the Hotel there were torrents of water running through the streets down the sides of the mountain and into PAP. There were dead animals, garbage and all sorts of things washing down what was a road but had become a river.

    The hard part for me when this happens is that there is never enough rescue workers. So many people live in the mountains where mudslides often cover their villages, never to be seen again.

    Additionally cities are sometimes cut off for days from any help. People are stranded on roofs with no water. Unlike Katrina no help from the government comes for them. As soon as they are able the mission organizations make their way to these towns as quickly as possible to bring food, water and supplies to the stranded.

    I love going to Haiti.I get to look Jesus right in the eye every time I go to a project and interact with the children. There is no way to describe that experience unless you have been there.
    These children would have no hope were it not for the dedicated staff of Compassion workers and the sponsors that faithfully send in their support.

  3. Avatar
    Mike Stephens March 28, 2009

    Amber thank you for your post!!! I am so jealous you get to travel so much!!! I am trying to appease my jealousy by traveling myself!!! I went to Nicaragua last year on the sponsor tour and it was AMAZING!!! Why? b/c I actually got talk with, play, run, and eat with Osmari. It was interesting for me to meet her mom and even the project director!!! I am happy they were a little surprised I actually visited!!! I am going to the Philippines in June and am not trying to compete with you in visiting Compassion places. I just wanted to visit all the kids I sponsor once while they are young (under 10) and once while they are older maybe around 15. I read some of your book and really learned a lot. I believe I will get to meet and hear Olive speak at our SW Regional Advocates conference in Breckenridge!!! I read a little about her amazing story in your book. Keep up the GREAT work!!!

  4. Avatar
    Chris Giovagnoni January 21, 2009


    The post that you’re thinking of is Focus on the Forest. I’ve shared your suggestion with the person who runs our online store.

  5. Avatar
    Heather January 16, 2009

    Hello Vicki,
    No I won’t be going on the Ethiopia sponsors tour next month. 🙁 🙁 I’m out of work since November and just can’t justify putting it on one of my credit cards just so I can go. I haven’t been sponsoring both girls for all that long either-I don’t know how much that should be taken into consideration before going on a trip..

  6. Avatar
    Amber Van Schooneveld January 16, 2009

    Hi Barbara! Thank you for your kind comments. Let me look into that question about the art for you, and let you know!

  7. Avatar
    Tracy January 15, 2009

    Thanks Vicki! And thanks so much for the nice comment. Keep in touch, I can’t wait to write more about the trip! 23 days and counting!

  8. Avatar
    Judith Tremblay January 15, 2009

    Speaking of purchasing paintings, I’m not sure where I saw it, but there was a posting that had a slideshow of different paintings done by children from different Compassion centers around the world. I’d be interested in purchasing prints of some of them–the purchase price could be donated to any fund that impacts the children from whose countries the paintings came from, or “where most needed”, or whatever. If this were to become an option in the store, *hint*.

  9. Avatar
    Vicki Small January 15, 2009

    By the way, Tracy, Jo Ann Stroup will be your tour leader from Colorado Springs. If you don’t know you, you’ll be glad of the opportunity. She’s terrific! If you have the chance to sit next to her on a bus, or anything, take advantage of the opportunity to chat with her. And tell her I said “Hi!”

  10. Avatar
    Barbara Hall January 15, 2009

    Thank you for that story Amber… you write so very well.

    I am somewhat new to Compassion. I started sponsoring a little boy in Rwanda back in May 2008.

    Recently, I have been enjoying Compassion’s blog page and also have a site listed on the blog roll (God’s Hands, My Hands).

    I was wondering, is it possible for me to purchase a painting from the painting teacher? I don’t know anything about the area he lives in, or how/if things could be shipped, but perhaps the opportunity for “us” to purchase his work could bless him with the money he is in need of for his schooling(?) If you could find out, I would love to know. It would be a true blessing for me to have an “original painting” from him.

    God bless you,

  11. Avatar
    Vicki Small January 15, 2009

    No, Tracy, I won’t be going. I asked, because my husband just began sponsoring a 9-year-old boy there, and we would so love to send him a few things.

    I’ve been alone on each of my sponsor tours, but I’ve met such neat people! You’ll probably have some staff folks from Colorado, as well, which can offer you an opportunity to ask questions. I’ve had no further contact with most of them, but I consider several of them friends.

  12. Avatar
    Tracy January 15, 2009

    Vicki – are YOU going to Ethiopia? I’ll be traveling alone and need someone to chat with!

  13. Avatar
    Vicki Small January 13, 2009

    Heather, are you going on the sponsors tour to Ethiopia, next month?

  14. Avatar
    Heather January 12, 2009

    Thank you for such a great story!! It feels like I’m walking with you thru Port Au Prince! I read all I can and watch the news for anything to do with Haiti. The news is always so tragic! I don’t have any sponsored children in Haiti(mine are in Ethiopia)but I’ve been considering it..

  15. Avatar
    Lindy January 12, 2009

    Thanks, Amber, for the beautiful photos and the beautiful description! You blessed my heart today!

  16. Avatar
    Meredith Dew January 12, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I sponsor five children in Haiti, and have not yet had the chance to experience Haiti due to cancellation of Compassion sponsor trips to Haiti in the last year. This is a great glimpse into Compassion’s work in Haiti, and I will share it with my blog readers!

  17. Avatar
    Juli Jarvis January 12, 2009

    Thanks for this great description. It takes me back to my visit to Haiti a few years ago. I certainly hope to return some day to see two boys I’ve sponsored there.

  18. Avatar
    Judith Tremblay January 12, 2009

    Thanks so much for sharing, Amber. You write so that it feels like I’m there, seeing it with you.

    So good to know the staff at this center care so much about the kids, and providing hope of a better life.

    I wonder if the art teacher has applied for LDP?

    Thanks again for this post. It touched my heart today.

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