HAITI - February 2011
As we arrived in Haiti, we began an hour and a half drive to our hotel; a drive that normally would have taken 20 minutes without the chaos and endless piles of rubble. I was stunned by the thousands of people moving through the streets seemingly unaware of the destruction around them; their city cracked in half at its very core. I was shocked to see an IDP camp directly across the street from our hotel. The reality and subsequent guilt set in as I realized I would soon be tucked into my hotel with armed guards and running water and less than 20 feet away, people were forced to bathe and defecate in public. In the morning we were driven to the Artists for Peace and Justice school where we would be working. We first toured the nearby hospital where I fell in love with two babies whose heads were far bigger than their bodies, caused by swelling on the brain. Evidently, if this condition were caught in time, it was treatable, unfortunately for these beautiful babies; their own outlook was grim.
En route to our next destination, I received a call from the airport letting me know that I had to come and personally pick up two bags of cameras and computers that were shipped prior to our arrival; cameras and computers that were vital to our creative workshops for the children. After hours spent trying to obtain my bags from the airport I found myself surrounded by 40 Haitian men and my two duffel bags (which didn’t appear to be leaving with me). An alleged security guard sat down next to me and asked my name, upon disclosing my name, he grinned broadly, put his hand on his gun and told me that he needed money and that I had to give it to him. Fortunately, in the height of this, my translator arrived and briskly escorted me away.
Today we had the honor of working with the beautiful children of Artists for Peace and Justice. They have virtually no staff (by choice) and have still managed to change the lives of thousands of Haitians. We were delighted to be leading a workshop with over 100 children. When the children arrived they stared at the art supplies we had laid out for them in curious wonder. They refused to touch anything and gazed at the foreign objects for a while. I explained to my team that these children had likely never seen a paintbrush and that they would each have to grasp the children’s little hands and teach them how to use the brushes and paint. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the looks on my team’s faces as the children beamed in delight and the magic began.
When we returned to our hotel, my cameraman decided to go inside the IDP camp across the street to capture more footage. He felt urged to get footage inside a camp not run by an NGO. I pleaded against this decision since our security guard went home for the evening, but he persisted. He came back a short time later, clearly rattled. This is a man I’ve seen escape from militia in Congo and not bat an eyelash. In the brief minutes spent in the IDP camp, he had been threatened to no avail by an angry mob that repeatedly insisted, “we know what you’re doing!” For me this was a reminder of how angry many Haitians are and, I must admit, I empathize with them.
While we had the utmost pleasure of working with many grassroots organizations, it appears many of the NGOs seem to be working at cross-purposes. In my opinion, they seem more interested in temporary band-aids and donor dollars than exacting change and partnerships. Strong partnerships and alliances will be the only way to exact a true measure of change.
To conclude, in Haiti we worked with Artists for Peace and Justice and J/P HRO. We had planned on working with 600 kids and ended up working with over 1,000. Our trip was a success in all regards, despite the obstacles.
Tomorrow is another day in Haiti and I look forward to seeing the children laugh and smile and dance until they simply can no longer.