If you ask Paola Mathé, Instagram isn't just for shameless selfies and pics of delicious foods -- it's a great way to change negative perceptions of a country, too.
With over 8,600 followers, Mathé's Instagram account is filled with images of pristine beaches, colorful street art and swaying palm trees set against blue skies -- photos some wouldn't associate with Haiti, the country Mathé grew up in and frequently visits.
Mathé, who owns Fanm Djanm, a headwrap line, is among a number of young entrepreneurs and activists utilizing the power of social media to change how the world sees Haiti, Fusion reported. On Tuesday, HuffPost Live spoke with Mathé about her efforts to shine a light on a side of the Caribbean nation many Americans rarely see.
"I have the opportunity and the voice to show what Haiti is also about," Mathé said. "It's not just about extreme poverty, which we're also trying to fight and help -- but at the same time, it's a beautiful place."(Story continues below)
According to BBC News, Haiti was a tourist hotspot in the 1970s. But throughout the past three decades, a handful of misfortunes caused major setbacks in the country's progress. In 1983, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed Haitian entrants to the U.S. were at an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, causing a "major blow" to the nation's tourism industry, AVERT.org pointed out. The devastating 2010 earthquake that left more than 300,000 dead and the ongoing cholera outbreak resulting in its aftermath further damaged Haiti's global appeal.
A household survey taken in 2012 found that 59 percent of Haitians lived under the national poverty line.
"I hope to see this country get back on its feet, because when I was a kid, Haiti used to be the most beautiful country in the whole Caribbean," one Haitian who immigrated to Canada told BBC News in 2013. "Things deteriorated -- just too bad. But Haiti would be the perfect place now for the tourist people to invest and come back, and [help] this nation get back [on] its feet."
Lucie Cincinatis is another small business owner in Haiti who spoke with HuffPost Live about her efforts to change the country's reputation. She first visited the country as part of a program that allowed her to teach in Haitian schools, and -- after finding creative inspiration in the local talent -- gave up her life as a financial analyst in New York City to build locally sourced handbags in the Caribbean nation.
"I met so many artists that were just so good at everything, but had no access to bigger markets," she told the outlet. Now she works with some of those talented artists at her company, Jacmel & Co, and frequently posts photos of Haiti's natural beauty -- as well as her co-workers' artwork -- to more than 2,400 Instagram followers.
She told Fusion that some of her friends from different countries are shocked to see her photos.(Story continues below)
Thanks in part to people like Mathé and Cincinatis, Haiti's outlook is changing for the better. In April, Caribbean News Digital reported Haiti experienced a 20 percent increase in tourist arrivals from the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
"Haiti is the only truly emerging tourism destination in the region," Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie, the country's finance minister, told Fusion.
Although tourism may be improving in Haiti, the country still faces chronic social and public health challenges. Only one third of 14-year-old students are in the appropriate grade for their age, the World Bank reported, and waterborne diseases remain a leading cause of infant and child mortality.
Still, significant progress has been made since the 2010 earthquake, including a substantial growth in GDP, a drastic reduction in cholera cases and the opening of dozens of health centers across the county.
To Mathé, it's important to focus on how far Haiti has come in order to further improvements.
"I understand everything that is happening," she told HuffPost Live. "Obviously, I know that there is a lot to be done. But what I'm asking for everyone is -- we need to invest in the country, and to see the bright and positive side of it, and to strengthen that side, and then pull all of the negative stuff up with it."