80% of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and almost 60% on less than $1. Yah, yah, we know, Haitians work like animals but never make any money. We know because everyone who ever wants to prove just how miserable the lives of Haitians are make sure to point out this statistic. It’s just slightly more specific than saying that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Google blogs about Haiti, you’re sure to find this statistic on almost all of them. Search YouTube for videos from Haiti, same thing. Somehow we think that siting these numbers paints a picture of a society that most people have never encountered first hand by contrasting their Haitian economic figures with that of the reader/viewer/listener. Unfortunately, this statistic conjures up an image of what a person who lives on that little must look like. They must have to walk barefoot on the ground. Do they even have nice clothes to wear that don’t have holes in them? How do they even afford to buy soap to bathe with if they make that little?
Granted, on these same blogs and YouTube videos, many of them go on to show pictures that aren’t the exaggerated examples of pathetic, undignified poverty. Most groups have gotten beyond that image in these days, yet using this statistic to describe a country full of such beautiful, vivacious humans, betrays the good intentions of what they are trying to express. The fact is, living on less than $1 a day isn’t the worst thing in the world. We should all be so blessed to be able to experience it sometime. However, when we use this statistic to define a people with the intention of evoking pity so that people will support whatever externally heroic mission we’re pushing, we passively insult the Haitians that we’re wanting to help.
I once watched one of these YouTube videos at home with some of my roommates with me and I translated the part where they shared the statistic.
“Why’d they say that?” One of them asked me. “That can’t really be true, can it?”
“Do any of you make more than $1 a day?” I asked them. None of them did.
“But that’s not who we are.” Was their response, meaning, they’re much more than just a bunch of people who have to live off less than $1 every day. They don’t define themselves by how little they make every day, so why should we?
So, for this reason, here’s some pictures of people who live on less than $1 a day. Sure, they’re just a bunch of my friends in Haiti. I didn’t have to look far to find a few pictures of Haitians looking good in my pictures folder. Although none of them actually make more than $1 a day I don’t think that they’re what we typically think about when we hear that figure. These aren’t the sort of images that we think of as people who fit into that 60%. Pity is the ultimate enemy of progress, and if we are ever going to make any progress as a human race, I think we need to start rethinking how we describe in word, number, and image, those who we are working with to make life more beautiful.