You can't ignore Cité Soleil. With tin roofs scattered all the way to the edge of the Port-au-Prince Bay, it waits for you as you glide onto the runway at the airport in Port-au Prince, Haiti. Designed in the 1950s to house laborers, Cité Soleil -- or Sun City -- developed a less than sunny reputation as the poorest and most dangerous eight square miles in the Western Hemisphere.
For years, armed gangs ruled the area while those displaced by fires and other misfortunes sought haven in its already densely populated neighborhoods. Today, jobs are scarce, sewers are nonexistent, electricity is sporadic, services and infrastructure -- even hope -- are often hard to find.
As the holiday season returns so too do appeals for generosity. We are told to reflect on what we have, and we often go to great lengths to share it with our loved ones. Amidst all of our exposure to the season's advertising and pageantry, however, we sometimes lose track of what it is to be generous. Rather, we purchase expensive clothes and hunt around for the newest electronics.
Consider the following. On Black Friday weekend shoppers spent a record $59.1 billion in gifts for each other, and this holiday season retailers are expected to earn a total of about $586 billion. That is 80 times the GDP of Haiti, a country where 78 percent of people live on less than $2 a day and two-thirds of the workforce lack formal jobs.
But in some ways Cité Soleil is showing signs of improving.
On a 19-acre plain overlooking Cité Soleil you can find Bel Sol, a chicken hatchery that is just one of many community-driven development initiatives. Some 4,000 chickens produce their equivalent in eggs every day, with production expected to increase to 8,000 chickens to meet growing demand. The community, when given the proper resources, developed their own initiative to feed themselves and their families. The Bel Sol hatchery creates growth where there was instability and incomes where there were none.
For the people of Cité Soleil and other nearby neighborhoods it is critical. But it did not happen by itself.
Bel Sol, like all of Haiti's recovery programs, has its roots in generosity -- in the visionary donors who gave local residents the support they needed to build on an idea and bring it to life.
This holiday season, as we give more to those who already have so much, let us also give a little to those who have nothing. Your generosity may be the spark that ignites hope in the lives of the less fortunate.
Through years of work in Latin America and the Caribbean with the Pan American Development Foundation, I have seen firsthand how communities flourish from development programs and generous individuals who contribute resources to reduce extreme poverty, stimulate economic development, bring about social change and create new opportunities. Over the last two decades this has resulted in sharp growth throughout many countries in the Western Hemisphere and has improved the overall quality of life for millions of people.
Cité Soleil has had more than its share of problems through the years. But now, many of its residents are making better lives for themselves and their families thanks to hard work and the generosity of others.
This holiday season we should all think about where we can make a real difference in the lives of others, and as the philosopher Albert Camus said, "Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."
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