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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Action Against Trafficking Body Parts

For a couple of years now, a good friend of mine has been raising awareness of a particularly disturbing practice which is taking place in Mozambique and South Africa. So-called ‘witchdoctors’ are seeking human body parts from live victims to be used in their medicine.

They believe that traditional medicines, when made with human parts are stronger  and far more powerful. Some of the details of the attacks made on people are extremely gruesome and make for difficult reading, but the stories and reports have to be heard as the governments of both countries claim the practice doesn’t occur.

As far as I am aware there are no other groups or organisations highlighting this situation and I admire Simon for his determination to raise awareness, confront the governments with the facts and help the victims of these hideous attacks.

There are many field reports about the attacks but there are many more which go unheard. Here’s an example of a recent incident:

We’ve received an interview from the father of a 10 year old girl who was murdered for her body parts a few weeks ago in Mozambique, her body was dumped in the family’s well. The father believes the bodyparts were to be used for Muti to increase business at the local mill. Here is what he said. “She was 10 years old. They killed her here in the house and then they went to cut her there in the bush. I saw the body, when we took it out from the well. My daughter was cut in this lower part (referring to her genitalia ed.), they removed the tongue and the teeth. They are going to take them to a traditional healer that will make a treatment to have a lot of deals in the grinding (referring to the local mill ed.)”

The police chief for the case of the 10-year-old girl confirmed that they killed the girl and then removed her genital organs, her tongue and her teeth. He then said “After they murdered they threw her in the well that had water, the relatives started looking but they didn’t know that she was right there in the well of their house, they even kept drinking the water from that well even after the child was inside it”.

I would encourage you to head over to Action Against Trafficking Body Parts blog or join up to the Facebook page in support of this important work.

I’m not only blogging about this because I think the situation needs as much exposure as possible but there are some interesting photographic considerations for a cause of this nature. Not long ago, Simon asked me for some advice about the cover of the next annual report and wondered what images I would recommend. To be honest, I struggled with it and found myself asking how on earth would you find a way of providing images to support this type of work. You have to tread a very delicate line between showing the reality of the situation which would be horrific whilst preserving the dignity of the person involved. I particularly like the image which has been used on last year’s report and I hope I’ll be able to help Action Against Trafficking Body Parts for their next issue. But if anyone has any suggestions or comments to make, I’d be pleased to hear them.

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BBC Radio – Humanitarian Photographer – Visioning Images

The Wednesday after I returned from Haiti and Nicaragua, I was invited to BBC Radio Nottingham to have an interview on the John Holmes show.  Here’s a recording of the interview, I’ve taken out the news and music track sections.

Just click on the Audio Player link below:

[audio:|titles=John Holmes 31 03 2010 BBC Interview]
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