It’s so easy for photographers such as myself as well as other journalists, to swoop into a country, stay for a week or two and come away pretending we are experts on what we’ve seen. Yet there are so many factors contributing to a countries culture and circumstances that it takes years to even start to have the breadth of understanding to be a credible authority on such things. So, I think we have to be very careful about what we report and make sure that the reader comprehends the limited exposure and understanding we have on the subject. That said, I also feel it’s important to inform people of what we’ve experienced even though it’s through our lens, how we saw it. So it’s with that proviso that I share about my recent visit to Haiti.
I first visited Haiti back in March last year, soon after the earthquake hit the capital city of Port-au-Prince, devastating the whole region on a scale rarely seen before. UN officials stated that it was the worst disaster they’d ever had to confront. I’ve already documented here on my blog some of what I experienced during that trip but suffice to say I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. From the moment I walked off the plane and entered the cataclysmic area of Port-au-Prince it seemed as though I’d entered a war zone, all of my senses felt as though they’d been hit by a bowling ball at 100mph and I came away thinking that there’s no way this country is ever going to get back on its feet again, the task was too great.
In the few months leading up to my recent trip to Haiti the news agencies seemed to be reporting that there had been very few improvements since the earthquake hit last year. So although I went out there hoping to see improvements, in reality I wasn’t expecting many. However, what I saw didn’t align with the reports I’d heard from the news channels. When I first visited Port-au-Prince it was extremely difficult to get to places by car as many of the roads had rubble restricting access but this time I hardly saw any rubble on the roads at all, if only 10% of the debris has been cleared (which some organisations are quoting) then they must be hiding it somewhere. One of the more difficult situations I found last time was the amount of people begging for food and water yet this time not one person approached me for this type of assistance. Previously, there were only a handful of children in the temporary schools which had been assembled but this time these schools were full of children engaging in their lessons. I sensed a feeling of optimism from the people I met and I hesitate to say this but it seemed as though things were getting back to normal. But let me make things perfectly clear here, ‘normal’ for the people of Haiti is not as many of us in affluent countries would consider normal and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that everything is fine now in Haiti and that they no longer need any assistance as that also couldn’t be further from the truth. We need to remember that even prior to the earthquake Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 80% of the population living in poverty (earning less than $2 per day).
Before leaving for Haiti this time around I heard many comments along the lines of “what has happened to all the money we’ve given and where are the results of that giving?”. Well, from what I saw the money has been going to ensure basic needs are met, providing food, water, shelter and treating the cholera outbreak. I travelled to Haiti on behalf of Outreach International and visited numerous schools where temporary classrooms have been provided along with educational resources, enabling the children to continue with their all important education. I met one visionary teacher who fervently believed that education is the answer to Haiti’s problems, he said “students from this school have gone on to become nurses, engineers, teachers and have studied at university, they are the future of Haiti, they will lead us out of poverty”. Hearing words like this gives me hope that they are on the right track but I know that we’ve got to continue in assisting them in whatever way we can. Many residents of Port-au-Prince are still living in tent communities and are suffering from the lack of security. Cholera continues to spread around the country, UN officials told me that this disease still hasn’t peaked yet. Turmoil surrounds the governmental election process resulting in protests and uncertainty over the leadership of the country. These problems and many more continue to hinder the country from healing yet I returned from Haiti with an optimism that things will get better.
I know I may sound like a stuck record but I want to mention the workers on the ground in Haiti, those people who are living the relief effort day in, day out; these are the ones that are also having a huge impact on the future of Haiti. I had the privilege of visiting various communities alongside Mary Jo, Ellis, Alex and Erick, all workers for Outreach International, I simply couldn’t do what they do and I’m so grateful for their dedication and expertise.
I’m not sure when I’ll next get to visit Haiti again but until I do, I’ll continue to remember them and support them in whatever way I can. I encourage you to do the same.
Children happily playing at school in Cote Plage, Carrefour
Students preparing for their final exams in July (Cote Plage, Carrefour)
Student in school at Cite Soleil
Kindergarten class in Cite Soleil
Children enjoying a nutritious meal through the school’s feeding program at DeMichel
1 year anniversary of the earthquake – people continue to hurt
Photos by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images