I have created a web page with notes and resources for a talk I give tomorrow about teaching photography in Haiti. The above image is from a series about children who are, effectively, given away into indentured service because their families cannot afford to feed them. Kenia Pierre Dominique is one of six students at the Episcopal University of Haiti in Port Au Prince (UNEPH) that I am working with to build small community discussion groups by using photography.
Mackenro Jean in His Tent, Port Au Prince, Haiti. December 2011
Goudou Goudou – ‘earthquake’ in Haitian Creole, but colloquially being used as the name for the big earthquake that hit Haiti two years ago today. Mackenro is a college student, living near the Champs Mars district of Port Au Prince. He has been in this tent for almost two years. A 10 by 8 foot area, with enough possessions in it to fit into a small backpack. Mackenro is a communications student at the Episcopal University of Haiti (UNEPH), and studying documentary photography. To all my Haitian friends and those who choose to actively help with the recovery effort, to all those Haitian politicians and civil servants who are truly committed to bringing about change and building up democratic and civil infrastructure – I am thinking of you, and thank you for all you do. Here’s to Hope. (I hear echoes of ‘Yes We Can’ from the Obama campaign – but, Mr. President, as you face criticism for failing to realize that aspiration, please remind people of what happens when government is reduced to a level of being dysfunctional.)
Jean Saint Louis, Fisherman at Ville de Dieu, with his son.
Port Au Prince, Haiti. December 18, 2010
I am about to leave for PAP, and hope to see Jean Saint Louis once again, almost a year later to the day. His relaxed attitude belies the tension we were all feeling after hearing gunshots a couple of blocks away. As we headed out of the neighborhood, guided by Jean, we drove past a deserted street – its sole occupant a dead body, in a white shirt, dark pants and feet pointing our way. A gang killing. Like the sewage laden tidal back-flows on which much of the ‘ville’ teeters, darkness flows in, and then, after a momentary silence, back out.
The more I think about the situation in Haiti, the more I feel convinced there are two and only two primary solutions to its long-term survival:
water management policy (and all that it entails: effective government = infrastructure –> transition from NGOs managing and running the country, to the governent doing so and thereby having the Haitian people holding government accountable)
mental health policy (and all that it entails: mental HEALTH = effective education –> a health care system that, along with infectious disease and public health, deals with matters of gender violence, crisis and trauma, education of and for conciliatory approaches to societal fracture)
- I am currently editing much of my work in Haiti. There will be an updated posting of the resulting folio shortly. For now, here follows an updated statement.
Haiti is on the USA’s doorstep. It is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and by many indicators, both economic and social, among the poorest and most at-risk nations in the world. Its history reads as one of a steadily darkening downward spiral. This nation, less than 30 years younger than its sibling republic, the USA, seems to careen drunkenly from one tragedy to another. Once a primary supplier of sugar, coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton and cacao to Europe, Haiti has gone from a forest cover of 60% of it’s territory to less than 1% today. Similarly, its distribution of civic resources, educational systems, social services, health care, legal and regulatory frameworks, and core government infrastructure have been in catastrophic conditions for decades. In short, Haiti is manifesting all of what are largely believed to be the most troubling global issues of the 21st century: the environment, population and development, water and food, health and education and transparent and sustained government.
“This is a country in search of itself” said Haitian poet Syto Cavé. Strange that I increasingly believe the global community needs to pay attention to Haiti not so much to save, urgent as that need is, a desperate population from disaster, but more importantly, in order to find itself, in order to protect itself from the worst possible outcomes of cultural, political and environmental opportunism and neglect; the problem of Haiti matters to all of us. The photographic work here is my effort at trying to make sense of this complex dynamic. It is a narrative of disintegration and resuscitation, a traverse through a series of themes and lives. What manifests in Haiti becomes relevant to all of us through the minute rendering of facts and concerns.