Over the past decade, Haiti has suffered through multiple natural disasters that they are still feeling the impact of today. From disaster relief to school construction and a water sanitation project, Royal Caribbean has been committed to supporting Haiti for over 30 years as they build towards a better future.
A Catastrophic Earthquake Strikes Haiti
On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, reducing the capital city of Port-au-Prince to rubble. The earthquake’s epicenter was dangerously close to the city—just 16 miles out and a shallow 6.2 miles below the surface—and what buildings didn’t fall in the initial tremor crumbled from the 5.9-magnitude aftershock a week later.
The aftermath of the quake was nothing short of devastation. The landscape was flattened. The buildings collapsed, and the streets grimly filled with the homeless and the dead. Over 220,000 lives were lost in the earthquake, and 300,000 more were injured. The 1.5 million people left behind were displaced and forced to live in makeshift camps. The Port-au-Prince metropolitan area had been home to more than 2 million people, who were now left to slowly pick up the pieces of their lives and community.
"The effect of the earthquake on Haiti has been catastrophic, leaving the country in need of not only immediate support, but assistance in their long-term recovery," said Richard D. Fain, Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises. "Royal Caribbean wants to do its part to help out not only the general response, but also our hundreds of Haitian employees and their families through this disaster."
In the aftermath of the earthquake, Royal Caribbean Cruises reached out to the Haitian government to see how they could aid disaster relief efforts. Since 1988, Royal Caribbean has had a permanent home in northern Haiti and been one of the island’s largest foreign investors, supporting their economy and promoting the region’s development. When Haiti made it clear that they welcomed ships to the island—both for the economic benefits and the humanitarian relief supplies—Royal Caribbean didn’t hesitate to return to Labadee.
"We have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti,” said John Weis, Royal Caribbean Cruises Associate VP of Private Destinations at the time of the earthquake. “Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most."
Within days of the earthquake, Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas loaded up with relief supplies to bring to Haiti, including essentials such as water, rice, dried beans, powdered milk, and canned goods. Over the following weeks, more ships delivered between 40 and 60 pallets of supplies with each trip to Labadee. The ships also donated extra lounge chairs, bedding, and mattresses for the makeshift emergency hospital opened in a nearby gym.
All supplies were unloaded in port and transported to an offsite location in Cap-Haitien, which was undamaged in the quake and became the destination for thousands fleeing the capital. There, Food For The Poor—one of Royal Caribbean’s long-time partners in Haiti—distributed the food, shelter supplies, hygiene kits, and other essentials like shoes to those in need.
“We are grateful to Royal Caribbean for extending a hand to the people of Haiti in their time of greatest need,” said Robin Mahfood, President & CEO of Food For The Poor. “This will help us get aid quickly in the hands of those who need it most, and even more importantly, to begin to look to the future and rebuild homes and schools that were destroyed in the quake.”
While working with Food For The Poor to provide immediate relief, Royal Caribbean also partnered with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and the Solano Foundation to fund additional efforts to help the nation recover. For each ship’s first visit to Labadee after the earthquake, 100% of the company’s revenue was donated to the relief effort, and guests sailing onboard Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara were given the opportunity to donate to Food For The Poor’s Haiti Relief Fund.
Royal Caribbean also committed $1 million in humanitarian relief, including support for their Crew and Employee Disaster Relief Fund administered by The Miami Foundation. The fund offers financial assistance for employees in need after natural disasters and personal crises, providing a vital resource for Royal Caribbean’s 230 Haitian employees and their families in the affected areas.
As the initial disaster response started to give way to long-term recovery plans, Royal Caribbean Cruises was committed to helping Haiti rebuild. The earthquake left approximately 4,000 schools damaged or destroyed, giving Haiti the monumental task of repairing and rebuilding half of the nation’s schools as well as its three main universities. Doing their part to invest in Haiti’s future, Royal Caribbean funded the construction of a school in Haiti, a location near Labadee that would benefit students from nine local towns and villages.
"What better way to help Haiti than by educating the children?" said Richard D. Fain, Chairman & CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. “Although we can only be a small part of the solution, we believe our model school is a good start. We hope that these children will develop into leaders who will guide Haiti's recovery in the future."
The 6,500-square-foot school complex would consist of six buildings, each with 12 classrooms, administrative offices, restroom facilities, and a computer lab. The school was designed to be both energy-efficient and waterproof, built with fiber composite panels that were transported to Haiti on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The sturdy materials ensured that the school could withstand any future disasters that threatened the island, sustaining hurricane winds and resisting earthquake conditions.
They hired a team of 50 local Haitian workers to build the school while supporting the nation’s economy, and thanks to the team’s hard work, construction was completed in just four weeks—ready for the start of the 2010-2011 school year. L’Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean officially opened on October 12, 2010, making it one of the first schools in Haiti built after the earthquake.
“It is one of the most important things that Royal Caribbean has realized in this area,” said Aristor Almajor, HR & Community Manager for Royal Caribbean International.
L’Ecole Nouvelle teaches Haitian children from pre-kindergarten through 9th grade with curriculum developed by their partner, the Prodev Foundation. They offer primary education in keeping with the government’s standards, as well as classes in English and environmental stewardship. And in the evenings, after the students head home, the school opens to adults who need vocational training.
As its 10-year anniversary approaches, L’Ecole Nouvelle now serves over 350 Haitian children a year, offering a quality education with financial support. Once enrolled, the students receive transportation, health insurance, and meals from the school, and after graduation, they can continue their education through scholarships at a Cap-Haitien high school. As its students continue to excel in national testing, L’Ecole Nouvelle remains a place of education and opportunity for both Haitian youth and adults.
“Education is the way ahead. Education in any country has to be the way ahead,” said David Scott, Site Manager at Royal Caribbean International at the time of the project.
Royal Caribbean Helps Haiti Fight Against Cholera
One devastating legacy of the 2010 disaster was a nationwide outbreak of cholera, a potentially fatal diarrheal disease that spreads through contaminated drinking water. Since the epidemic began a few months after the earthquake, the disease has killed thousands of Haitians and infected hundreds of thousands more—the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.
To help combat the spread of the epidemic, Royal Caribbean partnered with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) to provide better sanitation and access to clean water for the inhabitants of Labadie Village, a nearby neighbor to Labadee and L’Ecole Nouvelle.
“We seek to enhance the wellbeing of the communities in which we live and work,” said Adam Goldstein, President and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises at the time of the project. “We have been committed to Haiti for decades and are pleased to provide sustainable solutions which make life easier for residents and make them more resilient to potential health threats.”
The process began in 2015 with a census to determine the necessary capacity for any new facilities, as well as the formation of a local committee to guide the collaborative planning process. Once the needs were determined, Royal Caribbean funded the $300,000 project, and local Haitian workers were hired to begin construction on the improved infrastructure.
Over the course of the year, the sanitation project installed a solar-powered water pump, repaired water storage tanks, added a septic tank for waste treatment, and refurbished a drinking water kiosk to provide low-cost clean water. The project also built several new facilities, including community toilets and showers, dozens of laundry stations, and an enclosure to protect the local spring water source from pollution.
In addition to these sanitation measures, Royal Caribbean and PADF also helped support reforestation efforts, planting 8,000 fruit trees to mitigate erosion damage to the nearby aquifer. By protecting the water supply and improving the infrastructure, the project has eased residents’ lives and reduced the risk of community-based disease outbreaks.
As construction was completed, PADF launched a hygiene awareness campaign about the importance of water sanitation, and Labadie villagers began to gather around the new facilities as a social community center.
“We sort of created almost a little community hub… People come around, hang around, and we’ve really seen that since we started construction,” said Helen O’Connell, Community Relations Manager at Royal Caribbean. “Everyone has been very involved and really feels like it’s theirs. And we’re hoping for generations that they will protect it and have it.”
In January 2020, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Haitian Government, charitable and health organizations, and countless others like Royal Caribbean, Haiti celebrated a significant milestone: an entire year without any new cholera cases.