I recently had the honor of working with the beautiful children of Artists for Peace and Justice. I can’t say enough about this wonderful organization. They have virtually no staff (by choice) and have been able to change the lives of thousands of Haitians. They are a grassroots organization that truly walks the walk.
We enjoyed the wonderful experience of leading a workshop with over 100 children. We were informed that our first group was orphans, which I’ve learned is an extremely loosely based term in Haiti. Most of the ‘orphans’ likely have family members here in Haiti who are simply incapable of providing for their needs.
When the little ones arrived, they were not quite sure of what to expect. They politely sat at the tables and began to stare curiously at the paint and paintbrushes. It was as if they were gazing at aliens from a far away planet; they simply stared at all the art supplies laid before them and refused to touch anything.
I explained to my team that these children had most likely never seen, much less touched, a paintbrush and relayed that we would physically have to grasp their little hands, teach them to hold the brushes, then place brushes in the paint and watch magic happen. For many members of my team, this was their virgin international trip, and to see the look on their faces when the children began to beam was one of those memories that will be etched in my heart forever. To witness a child holding a paintbrush for the first time is a wonderful feeling, and at times, has literally been my saving grace.
As wonderful as our day was, we still had not received our duffel bags from customs and the ransom to collect them was growing higher by the moment. However, we didn’t let this turn of events dampen our spirits or our ability to get creative with the children. Thinking on our feet had become the norm.
Tired, dirty and thirsty, we returned to our hotel. My cameraman informed me that he had decided to go inside the IDP camp located across the street, stressing the importance to get footage inside a camp not run by an NGO. I begged him not to go since we had already let our security guard go home for the evening, but he insisted.
He came back a short time later — everyone could see he was rattled. This is a man whom I’ve seen escape from militia in the Congo and not bat an eye. He said that he had been surrounded and threatened. He nervously relayed the angry mob kept repeating over and over, “Hey you, hey you, we know what you’re trying to do, get out now or else, get out now.” They then tried in vain to take his camera.
For me, this was just a quick reminder of how angry many Haitians are, and I must admit, I can empathize with them. We have had the pleasure of working with some amazing grassroots organizations, but it appears that many of the NGOs seem to be working at cross-purposes. In my opinion, they are more interested in temporary band-aids and donor dollars than exacting change and partnerships. While I’m well aware we don’t live in a cave, strong partnerships and alliances will be the only way to exact a true measure of change.
Tomorrow is another day in Haiti. I look forward to seeing the children laugh and smile and dance until they can no longer.