Initial Impressions of Haiti


This morning I am waking up to roosters in Hôpital Albert Schweitzer’s lovely guest house on its campus about two hours north of Port-au-Prince. The others who are here are medical volunteers. I’m the only writer.

Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS) is a 24/7 nonprofit hospital serving 350,000 people in central Haiti. This morning I will visit the hospital as well as vaccine programs, then it’s back to Port-au-Prince I go!

Since there is no way for me to upload photos right now I will describe what I saw yesterday. Haiti, for all intents and purposes reminds me greatly of Africa — hot and sunny! The sun-baked, beautiful faces are the same. The way enterprising people set up stalls of foods and goods along the roads is the same. The splashing of Haiti’s primary cell provider is everywhere on road signs, stalls, and painted on concrete. It is the same. Here it is called Digicel. It’s like seeing Airtel everywhere in Africa. Everyone has a mobile phone just like Africa, maybe two!

There are also the ways that the children play in the streets and come up to your SUV looking for something, anything as soon as you stop. Some people were moving fast on the go and others were laying under mango trees with seemingly nowhere to go and nothing to do. And boys sell water to buses of people as they stop in between towns.

As we drove north I saw too much trash everywhere! Too much! But, where are people going to put it but down the mountain or outside of their home or in the trenches? The amount of standing water and sewage you can see in the alleyways where people live is the same, and, of course, all of the motorbikes with two and three people on them…it’s the same.

There are many similarities between Haiti and say, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia. Many! But, of course, I have been here less than 24 hours and I have only seen the surface of Haiti. I have spoken to a few people in the little bit of French I know. I definitely don’t know Creole.

I cannot describe Haiti without sharing how beautiful the scenery was coming up the mountain. Around certain bends of the highways the sun shimmered on the ocean just so. It made me feel like I was on vacation in Jamaica, not coming for work in Haiti. The banana tree groves are thick, the mountains very steep, and mango trees are everywhere!

Last night when I went to bed the heat was sweltering. But just like Africa it gets cool at night and everything seems right in the world again.

More when I get to Port-au-Prince! I also be tweeting today at @jenniferjames.

Somewhere in Transit to Port-au-Prince


These past few days have been fairly intense. First, I spent Thursday and Friday at the SwitchPoint conference in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, then when I was coming home from SwitchPoint I heard about the massive earthquake in Nepal where I actually have friends, all the while readying myself to travel to Haiti today. It’s been a lot!

As you read this I’m on a plane somewhere in transit to Port-au-Prince. I am excited to go to Haiti and although things have been a bit overwhelming nothing can stop me from gathering great stories while I’m there for the first time.

While at SwitchPoint I thought critically about my work as a writer and founder of Social Good Moms and how I can make both better through powerful storytelling. SwitchPoint is a conference for global health thinkers, artists, and communicators. That’s not their full definition, but that’s how I define it for myself. That’s what I like about SwitchPoint: The flow of it hits people in different places. Mine was about telling the best stories we can with the tools and knowledge we have.

Everyone had a story to tell even the freestylers who have traveled the world creating Beat Making Labs for the youth of Africa and Asia…

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… to the husband and wife owners of Haw River Farmhouse Ales who wanted a full-fledged brewery and funded it themselves without any investors (impressive) and could care less if they grow big or not. They are taking it one step at a time and are staying true to the Saxapahaw community. I love that.

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By the way, their ales are fresh and delicious. I tried two: one dark, stout beer and another light, lemony beer. Both were two of the best beers I’ve ever had in my life mainly because of the unique blends and because they were literally brewed 10 feet away.

And with that…I will talk to you when I arrive in Haiti given I have Wi-Fi. Be sure to follow me at @jenniferjames. I may be able to tweet and not write full blog posts.

Talk soon, friends!

 

 

Spending a Day With Smart, Global Innovators


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It’s early, early Friday morning. In a few hours I will be back at the SwitchPoint conference in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, a quaint, small town that is known for the global health innovators summit it hosts every year. SwitchPoint is a gathering spot for global change-makers who work to drive social change through data, or drones, or communications, or photography, among many other disciplines. I wrote a full post, Can Creative Innovators Drive Global Health and Humanitarian Change? about my first day at the conference in one of the most beautiful places in North Carolina on the Haw River.

Tomorrow I will take more photos. I always vow to take more photos when I am at events, but usually I rely too heavily on my phone. I’m putting a stop to that because I don’t want to miss a thing and I also want to share Saxapahaw in photos, not just words. The town is about twenty miles from Chapel Hill and has really grown into a destination of its own. The New York Times  even wrote a piece about the sleepy, little town in essentially the middle of nowhere.

I am attending SwitchPoint as a guest of IntraHealth International who I met last year on a trip to Tanzania where I saw some of their work with male circumcision that helps curb the spread of HIV. The presenter of SwitchPoint, IntraHealth International does innovative work with health workers in 100 countries. Working with IntraHealth International is really a full circle moment. I remember being in Zambia and seeing their offices in Lusaka in 2013. I wasn’t fully aware of everything IntraHealth International did at the time, but I knew I had heard about them and I recognized their logo. I am thrilled to now know more about their work!

I will say that I am excited about all of the talks we’ll hear tomorrow. I am equally excited about a scheduled field trip I am going to take to Saxapahaw’s brewery. If you read me often you know I love beer no matter where I am in the world. It’s my thing. I can’t wait to try Saxapahaw’s beer. And, of course, I will be taking photos.

 

Two Conferences + Traveling to Haiti


1376627_10151669054530838_978630771_nI have an extremely busy month ahead of me and I am grateful for it. I haven’t traveled outside of the States yet this year. It’s time!

Next week I will attend SwitchPoint, a global health ideas conference that’s put on by IntraHealth and is held every year in quaint Saxapahaw, North Carolina about 20 minutes from Chapel Hill. I was lucky to connect with IntraHealth last year in Tanzania when I traveled there with PSI and Mandy Moore. IntraHealth was also a partner on that trip and does amazing work with health workers in over 90 countries. I’ll be reporting from SwitchPoint as IntraHealth’s guess.

At SwitchPoint, I will be able to indulge in the work I love best; that is listening to change-makers who are thinking critically about ways in which to make the world a better place. It’s amazing how small the global health world is. I will get a chance to meet Lisa Russell and see her speak. I have been connected with Lisa online for a few years. Lisa is a well-known filmmaker who focuses on women and girls’ stories and talks poignantly about storytelling and narratives. It promises to be two amazing days!

Right after Saxapahaw I’ll be off to Haiti to visit women and mothers to hear and tell their stories. And, then after Haiti I will go straight to New York for Moms + Social Good. Let me know if you’ll be there.

May is going to be jam-pack as well where my work will take me to France and Africa. Looking forward to those trips! But first, SwitchPoint! I have to take one day at a time to maximize my brain to do the best work I can and stay in the moment.

I’m excited to get back to work and traveling!

Why I’ll Be Carrying Bling Sting


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It’s a beautiful, sunny, warm Saturday morning. I’m sitting here writing and thinking back fondly on my trips to Johannesburg and listening to one of my favorite South African groups, Beatenberg. For some reason Joburg keeps calling me back.

If you read my blog often you know I travel a lot alone both domestically and internationally. That’s why I decided to review Bling Sting, even though I don’t review many products these days. Bling Sting is pepper spray with a fashionable twist. It’s perfect for me while I travel in the States because you just never know when it will come in handy. It’s better to be prepared than not in my opinion!

SONY DSCI like Bling Sting because it’s bedazzled pepper spray. I received the “Socialite” Bling Sting with confetti rhinestones.

I remember my aunt used to carry pepper spray with her everywhere. This was years and years ago – probably close to 30 years. I also remember the black case that was attached to her house and car keys. You’ve probably seen those cases. This, my friends, is a brand-new day with a much more fashionable pepper spray.

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#TBT That Time I Was This Close to President Obama


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Four years ago I attended the Beginning of the End of AIDS event at Georgetown University that was hosted by ONE and (RED). A lot of celebrities were there: Bono and Alicia Keys to name a few. But, it was President Obama who actually came down among us to shake hands instead of just leaving right from the stage, which was nice of him. I was close enough to get this photo of the President even without a great lens. He was that close!

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Why I Won’t Be Rushing to Buy the Apple Watch


Watch Hunger Stop WatchI just read and watched a New York Times review of the Apple Watch and it looks pretty phenomenal except for one thing: if I bought one I would have to look at my wrist all day long! I’d never get anything done! I already incessantly use my phone and am addicted to notifications as hard as that is to admit! I can only imagine getting all of my notifications on my wrist. I would look at my arm constantly. It wouldn’t be pretty, friends. And, of course, I wouldn’t get rid of my phone so I would be doubly distracted by my phone and my watch.

I am quite sure (no, convinced) that there will be millions of people who will give the Apple Watch a try and will love it and will rave about it everywhere. In fact, the New York Times reviewer said he fell hard for the watch after a three-day steep learning curve.

I used to keep up with all of the latest technology but somewhere around 2012 I just didn’t care anymore. As long as my phone had every social media app I needed and I could get my email it wasn’t as important to me the type of phone I had.

Who knows: a year or so from now I might feel an overwhelming urge to buy an Apple Watch. But if I’m going to spend a fortune on a watch I’d rather buy the “Watch Hunger Stop” watch by Michael Kors. At $295, it’s not cheap, but for every purchase it will provide meals for 100 people through the World Food Programme.

What about you? Do you plan to buy the Apple Watch?