It took me all year, but I finally made it to Haiti earlier this month. It’s a fascinating and beautiful country facing some daunting challenges, and it was an honor for me to participate in Oxfam’s response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.
The best moments of the trip were meeting with entrepreneurs rebuilding their businesses right out of the rubble of their homes and their lives. We met one woman named Carole who runs a small shop in the Carrefour Feuilles district in Port-au-Prince out of a small shipping container on the ruins of her home. She painted it pink on the inside. “I just like pink,” she says. She now lives in what used to be a warehouse next door. The roof leaks so much, when it rains, she says, “it’s like being outside.”
“Oxfam is the only one who came here,” she says. We gave her the shipping container, set it up on her land, and helped her with a grant to stock it with drinks, toilet paper, matches, and canned goods. “It put joy in my heart,” she says, “If it weren’t for this container, I don’t know when I would be on my feet…” Now, she says, “I’m on my way.”
The worst moments were encountering people who have lost hope. One 21-year-old man told me his life ended last January 12th. He spent that night under his collapsed home and lost his right leg above the knee. He’s living in a tent at a large camp an hour outside Port-au-Prince, and hobbling around like a ghost on crutches, with no money to finish his education and unable to live in the countryside with his family, where it is simply too difficult for him to move around. I asked him what he wants now, and he said he just wants a place to live, maybe his own house. The prospect of sorting out property rights, rebuilding homes for people who have clear title, and finding places for all the others who don’t, is an enormous challenge, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
I could see why this young man was living in the flat area of the camp instead of out in the countryside. The day after I met him, I spent about five hours with a young woman named Margarite in Artibonite, where the recent cholera epidemic started in October. She was moving around to different agricultural fields explaining to farmers how to prevent transmission of cholera, how to treat their water to ensure they do not get sick, and how to provide care for people showing symptoms of cholera. (Check out the video we just completed about Margarite and her work.)
At one point we had to jump across an irrigation channel; I took a running start and came up a little short, landing one foot in the mud but quickly springing up the bank before I got stuck. I held on to my tripod, but my camera bag slipped off my shoulder and slammed into the bank. I just barely accomplished this with two legs—hard to imagine doing it on crutches.
I realized later that when my camera bag hit the ground, it broke the UV filter on the end of the lens – but the lens itself was all right. Sacrificing the filter meant I could keep shooting photos of the people I was meeting, so I’ll share a few of them with you here.