Haiti Update #3 Friday 5 February 2010

It is time to share experiences from Jacmel, the Pearl of the Antilles. We’ve been concentrating our efforts with ACFFC (the organization with 60 impoverished children and our collaborators for many years), Zanmi Lakay’s small group of young men in our Transition Program, and local paper maché artisans and families.
But first … an example of an exciting day in Haiti. Today we went out shooting with the kids and a bunch of photographers with Andy Levin’s 100 Eyes Workshops in small groups. Guy, Andy, and I went out with Ti Charles and Rodyle. We stopped by Ti Charles house and were drinking sodas and talking about Vodou when we noticed a door directly across the dirt road from us had a Baron cross on it. The Mambo of the ‘Kay Magic’ (magic house) came out, introduced herself, and invited us in to show us how the earthquake had ruined her house. It was full of everything Vodou with vévés, posters of spirits, gris gris, and a beautiful altar. She let us photograph her as we listened to her stories. On our way back to the ACFFC house we strolled through the Jacmel Cemetery and came upon a woman praying at the black wooden Baron cross, burning a rope at the base, and throwing rhum on the flames. She wouldn’t let us photograph her, only the cross, and when she left told us NOT to follow her…so we didn’t. Then we went to the airport to wait for our 1:00 plane that soon flew in with 60 much needed tents that my sister facilitated along with Craig, pilots Marc and Lyndy, and I’m not sure who else, but they got it done. Besides a care package for one of the girls working there, our tents were the sole purpose of that flight. Miracles, baby! There were hugs all around and it is a good day in Haiti.
There are a lot of NGO’s in town (as you can imagine) working on food distribution programs, assessing needs, and trying to figure out what to do about living conditions. We visited three on the second day we were here with Georges (ACFFC’s director) and tried to get food and/or tents to no avail. ACFFC was “too small”, supplies hadn’t arrived yet, or organizations were still assessing. The director of the World Food Program told us we were too small and I found out last night that they handed out 28,000 meals yesterday, so we are very thankful for the donations, pilots, and planes that delivered the 5000 pounds of food that we picked up on Tuesday for the children and their families. We received a call about noon with the pilot’s first names and a tail number, Georges made a call and immediately a truck and driver were on the way, and in 30 minutes we were all at the airport. Guy and I got through security easily because I was white, but the other Haitians had problems and I’m not getting into that here. An hour later we were unloading 2,500 pounds of rice, beans, corn meal, cooking oil, and tomato sauce in tag team muscle fashion at ACFFC’s foundation building with the kids. Then we received another call about a plane just an hour later and repeated it all again. It was exhilarating and wonderful and miraculous. According to the volunteer pilots, the Jacmel airport is the best run in the country. There’s a team keeping track of all flights and the Canadian Military are dug in and maintaining security. Guy and I happily played tour guide for five pilots to the tent city at the soccer field, historical Jacmel, and then ACFFC so that they could meet the recipients of their efforts. These pilots are amazing, generous, extremely sweet, and were so grateful to us for the little time we spent with them….we couldn’t thank them enough. They are making a HUGE difference here. (Check out recent NYTimes article Help from Above.)

We have visited two tent cities in Jacmel – a huge one with thousands of people living in makeshift tents at the soccer field, and another above the cemetery that is smaller and less organized. People are living in misery with very little privacy, and in the soccer field using newly dug latrines, group cooking areas, and a lousy water system. USAID and boys scouts were entertaining children one day, people are selling goods, and there is even a brothel tent. It’s been raining here every night and we heard Venezuelans have taken over and are rearranging the camp at the soccer field trying to get everyone into big tents (something they hate), but the water isn’t draining, mud is everywhere, and it’s a big problem. The Haitians were not happy when they raised the Venezuelan flag however, and we’re not sure how that turned out, but not a good idea.
Onto the Photography Workshop and our Earthquake Recovery Project. As of today, 28 kids have shot eight assignments pertaining to the earthquake tragedy and their hometown shooting two days each. Everyone is sharing cameras and taking turns-one group shoots one day and the second group shoots the next day, then that was repeated. So four days of taking photographs have now happened. We’ve had class time and two long group editing sessions with all the students, and one session included the visiting photographers so the kids had great feedback. The kids begin the mural on Monday, and our end of session fete will be Wednesday. Guy and Georges interviewed each of the students on video, and all of these elements will be incorporated with team efforts into the final project.
The last element of the Project is the Earthquake Song by Trésor, the Haitian rap band made up of four young men sponsored by Zanmi Lakay, and it will be our soundtrack. Yesterday Ciné Institute (please look them up online-Jacmel’s film school that was ruined in the earthquake, but the first people shooting images to the world after it happened) made a music video shooting Trésor singing in locations all over town including the main square with people living in a little tent city. A blind woman joined in singing, clapping, and throwing her arms around the boys. It was absolutely fabulous! The boys were a little nervous at first, but came through each having a little solo time, becoming stronger as the momentum grew. The filmmakers and the townsfolk loved the song, and young girls and children were singing the chorus wherever we went. The boys had never received that kind of attention, and I was so proud!
There will be no usual Kanaval festivities this year in Jacmel. So many homes in the area where the paper maché artisans live have collapsed or are so badly damaged that they will be demolished, and much of their hard work for the world famous parades was ruined in the earthquake. Many of these artisans are also living in the tent camps. Guy and I have been trying to organize these artists so they can somehow show what is left of their beautiful art, be sensitive to the catastrophe, and create an event that can be healing for the city. Zanmi Lakay is now a sponsor of the silent march that will happen this Sunday through Jacmel, and we are collecting funds from visitors to pay a funeral band that will play while walking through the streets. I photographed the beginning of the black banners being painted today paying homage to those that died in the earthquake and to Haiti. Both ACFFC and Zanmi Lakay will have banners. The mayor and the police are on board. There are glimmers of life returning and to cancel Kanaval completely for the first time seems too sad, so the brilliant artisans will walk the broken streets of Jacmel in silence as a funeral band plays sad songs of what is now gone.

No Replies to "Haiti Update #3 Friday 5 February 2010"