Remembering Haiti

This is going to be a difficult post to write.

It was only four months ago that I was walking through the rubble of Petionville, Carrefour and Leogane in Haiti, speaking to some of the people who had been badly affected by the earthquake. To be honest, I sometimes find it difficult when I remember those ten days. I watched a BBC documentary last week about the orphans of Haiti and it was tough viewing, mainly because of the memories that came flooding back. Other than my family and some friends, I haven’t really spoken that much about my experiences and although I know that others have probably seen much worse, these memories are still imprinted on my mind and heart and occasionally they come to the fore of my thoughts.

I still see the face of the mother who pleaded with me to take and look after her daughter as she was living on the streets and couldn’t provide for her child.

I still recall seeing the people who were sitting scavenging for food in the filthy litter strewn canals which run throughout the city.

I remember how my translator panicked at the least bit of noise which resembled anything like a rumble of an earthquake.

There was the old woman who told me she couldn’t get hold of any tarpaulins from the aid organisations as she was too old to be able to fight the young men who would demand she hand the token over to them. She has to sleep in the streets without anything over her head.

And of course there were the children, many having lost relatives and were living with anyone who would have them, the children who were desperate for a small drink of water or a scrap of food.

These are just a smidgen of the memories I have from those few days in Haiti.

But fortunately, that’s not all I remember.

I also remember seeing families coming together to help each other.

The Pastor of a church who took in families and children, providing them with some basic shelter and food even though his own house had been demolished and he had very little money himself to buy food and water.

The young boy who roared with laughter as he ran down the hill with his pig in tow.

The teacher singing songs with those children who were willing to come back to school.

The 500 strong congregation singing their hearts out at a service on Sunday morning with their demolished church and school in the background.

I remember the friends I made, Alex, Augustine, Christelle, Charles, Paul, Precile, Marie-Esther, Rose-Andre, Dieusel, Simeon, Victor and Stephanie.

And I remember all those children who had a beaming smile on their face even though I struggled to see what they could be happy about.

That was Haiti as I saw it four months ago and from the reports I hear, things are still similar now.  As I sit here writing this blog, I’m wondering if any of the photos I’ve taken have actually helped any of the people I met. I know the images have been used by organisations to help communicate the work that is being done, and the work that needs be done in the future, but have the images made a difference?  I really don’t know.

I’m due to go back to Haiti in November to document the situation almost a year later, I hope from the bottom of my heart that I find things have improved. Right now there’s a real feeling that Haiti has dropped off people’s radar, but for the sake of the people in that country, that mustn’t happen.  They rely heavily on others to support them as they try to rebuild their lives and their homes and I hope that my images may go some way to encourage others to continue remembering Haiti.

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Real Lives – Charles

There are many heroic stories from the recent earthquake in Haiti, some were shown on national television but many others have gone unheard. Whilst visiting the area of Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, I had the opportunity to meet a teacher from one of the destroyed schools in that area.

His name was Charles.

When I first met him he was in the middle of teaching a small class of children underneath a tarpaulin, using a makeshift chalkboard and some salvaged church benches, surrounded by the rubble of the destroyed school.

We all know that there are some teachers who just seem to have a gift for communicating with children, Charles was one of those gifted individuals. He was dynamic, animated and clearly loved the children he was teaching.

Here’s a brief video clip I took of him in action.

This is his story from the day of the earthquake

On Tuesday, 12th January at 4:53pm a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti and lasted for about 30 seconds. Charles was still at the school playing basketball in the outside play area even though classes had finished for the day and the majority of the pupils had gone home. However, there were still twenty children within the school finishing off their homework and Charles’ immediate response was to get the children out. Fortunately, nine children were near the entrance of the school and he managed to get them out safely, the building shook with an incredibly violent force and collapsed in front of him. Charles said “There was dust and debris everywhere, I could hear people screaming close by and I  couldn’t think of anything else but get to the remaining children”.

From one side of the collapsed school he managed to break through the debris to rescue two children that had been trapped, then he heard cries from the other side of the building but it was getting dark and he couldn’t see where he was going very well.  He needed to climb onto the demolished school to get to where the children were crying.  Charles eventually got to the area where the children were crying and tried to calm them down saying ‘I will get you out as soon as possible’.  He needed to move a large concrete slab which was stopping him from getting to the children but he couldn’t see what he was doing, he said “it was hopeless without light”.  He then started to think about his own family and realised he had no idea what had happened to them as he was caught up in trying to save these children.  He decided that there was nothing he could do anymore at the school until there was some light, so he explained this to the two children.  Both of the children cried and said “don’t leave me!”  It was very hard for him to leave, but there was nothing else he could do at that point so he made his way back to his house and found that it had been totally destroyed. His sister was injured but fortunately, the rest of his family were safe.

The following morning, as soon as there was some light, he returned back to the school and went to where the children were trapped under the rubble, he went along with another adult who wanted to help him. It took several hours and Charles had to crawl through a very small opening in the concrete and then smash through a concrete block to get to the children but he managed to eventually drag them both out. One child had received an injury to the side of his face where the concrete had fallen onto him but he is okay now.

He then went on to find four more children in the debris but these had unfortunately died and so he removed their bodies from the school.  He said that he thought there were two or three other children’s bodies who had died which were still under the school.

 

Charles had just started to teach again in the makeshift school when I met him but only a handful of children come to the lessons as they’re still too frightened of being near buildings.  Charles told me that he hopes the school can be re-built so that he can get back to doing what he loves the most – teaching children.

In my opinion, Charles is a true hero.

Here’s Charles at the place where he broke through the concrete to rescue two children.

The school that Charles teaches at in Petionville is supported by Outreach International, their plan is to rebuild the school but they need donations to make it possible.

All photographs and video by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images 

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Real lives……Cipriana

The sun was beating down and we were walking up a steep rugged dirt track laden with camera equipment to meet a woman called Cipriana.  After a short while and feeling slightly exhausted I asked the typical question “are we nearly there yet?”.  I was with a small group of local NGO workers from Outreach International who wanted to show me a typical household which was in the early stages of their project in this particular area. We were in a mountainous part of Nicaragua near a small rural village called Los Alvarez, we had to leave the Land Cruiser behind as it couldn’t make it up the steep track.

After a couple of hundred meters up the trail and about fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a small house located in a clearing of trees at the side of the track.

A 78 year old woman by the name of Cipriana greeted us with a beaming smile and welcomed us to her humble home.  She’s 78 but certainly not frail, I found out that she walked up and down that steep dirt track twice a day to the local town of Santa Lucia which is 2km away and did it in 20 minutes!

After a short while I soon came to realise that this was one amazing woman. I found out she was a herbalist, a volunteer nurse, an indigenous midwife and to top it off….a philosopher.

Her life was far from easy, in fact many of the simple things of life that we take for granted was a considerable chore for Cipriana. She showed me the well which was located close by to her house, a well which she had to build herself to enable her to have water and which also served several other neighbours.

Down in the village of Los Alvarez a water distribution system had been installed where most of the community now had a fresh water tap within their home. Cipriana is now part of a group working with Outreach International to install a similar system into their own households. She is a strong believer in people working together to overcome their difficulties and told me of a local bird who when starts to sing, the others all join in together to make a beautiful sound.  Cipriana went on to say that when people come together to help each other to sort out their problems and difficulties then they can do something beautiful and affective – a great philosophy!

I won’t forget Cipriana and hopefully, I’ll be able to return to visit her some time in the future and see her receiving water from a tap rather than the old well she currently uses.

All images by Wayne Rowe/Visioning Images

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