I spent almost 24 hours of my 4 days in Haiti in the car. While the roads were bumpy and rough (to say the least), I was always poised with my camera to capture the stunning beauty that makes up the island
While after 4 weeks of being in the tropics I’m beginning to fall in love with palm trees and this ideal weather, the heat is beginning to be a bit excessive. Especially in Haiti. Being away from the coast, combined with the country’s lack of A/C and electricity, has made for a tiring week.
After an awesome, and restful, week in Miami and The Everglades, I made it to Haiti.
For me, Haiti is a special place. This is my third time traveling to Haiti, and each time I am amazed by the people of this island nation. From the second you step off the plane, you’re greeted with smiles and generosity; the latter of which can be overwhelming. I’ve been floored by the generosity and love of the Haitian people. It does not matter how much or how little they have, how big their house is – or if they even have one – they are welcoming and giving regardless: a humbling thing to witness to say the least.
A man watches as people cast their votes in the Haitian election on Sunday
I traveled to Haiti with a nonprofit organization, Let’s Share the Sun, to create a documentary film about their work in Haiti. They have been working in Haiti for the past 5 years, and work to install solar panels on school, hospitals and orphanages that otherwise would not have electricity. This trip,they were a group of 16. As journalist I try to keep a special bond between subjects and myself. I believe it’s a balance between staying objective and not entering into your own story, and treating “subjects” like humans, or and forming a relationship. This past week was special for me as I was able to find that perfect balance. By the end of the trip, I was considered a team member and part of the group, yet I was able to remain objective in my storytelling. Maybe it was the 30 hours in the van we spent together, but I’ve never felt so close to a group of people I’ve worked with before, and I’ll cherish that for a while.
I first traveled to Haiti in 2012, and was struck by what I saw. It had been over two years since the devastating earthquake in 2010, yet many people still lived in tents on the side of the road. It was hard for me. I was discouraged. It took me a while to process it all after I returned home. However, this trip was different. A team member of this trip, John Nagy, said it well: “My last trip in Haiti was full of sadness, but this trip is full of hope.” While the amount of poverty and suffering is still staggering, the improvements that have been made throughout the country are awe-inspiring. This time the people we met were not just thankful, but they were hopeful. They were hopeful that this way of life may change, and their beautiful country may reach its full potential.
On Saturday, we left the airport and traveled straight to St. Gabrielle’s school in Fountain, Haiti. After five, long hours in the car, we arrived shortly after sunset. We found the school because it was the only lit building in the town. As we drove down the road, houses sat in the dark and people used flashlights on their phones to walk, but there was a glimmering light when we arrived at a school. A light that Let’s Share the Sun Foundation (LSTSF) installed three years ago. Three years ago, they installed 6 solar panels on the roof of the school, which gave the school light and electricity for students to charge phones and flashlights. This year, LSTSF brought 26 new panels which will enable the school to create a computer lab, medical clinic and kitchen. St. Gabrielle’s school will now be one of the few, if not only, schools in Haiti with 24-hour electricity.
After being at the school for 5 minutes, it became clear that the electricity did more than power lights or cell phones. It powered the community. At 9pm on a Saturday, the school yard was full of people of all ages. Kids played soccer in the corner of the parking lot, some sat and read and others just stood and talked. The school had become the center of the community. Some students walk 2 hours a day to the school, but are driven by the promise of electricity and an education unmatched in the area.
Hernz Guerrier, 20, uses a solar powered lantern to study for school. Guerrier is a student at St. Gabrielle’s school in Fountain. In the past, Guerrier was unable to study at night, but because of the electricity at the school (from LSTS), he is able to charge is lantern and study into the night. He says that because of this, he was able to pass the national exam; something he would have been unable to do otherwise.
Let’s Share the Sun Foundation works in a sustainable way by employing a fully functional team of Haitian electritians. 4 years ago they taught how to install and maintain the solar panels; now they manage. In this way, solar energy will continue to grow even when the foundation is not present in the country. Furthermore, the pride of the local workers was inspiring. They showed up at 6am and worked until 9pm, never taking a break other than to eat for a few minutes. Their work ethic and sense of purpose was a beautiful thing to capture.
As I prepare to leave this beautiful land, many things are running through my mind. While this trip was full of hope, there is still so much to be improved. As someone else on the trip put it, “Haiti is greatly improved, but there is still far too much suffering for 2015.” In the day and age, no one should have to wonder when they will eat next, or what 2-hour window their electricity will be turned on for that day. But working with such groups inspires me, as well as the Haitian people. Let’s Share the Sun Foundation’s selflessness and generosity is unparalleled.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll get on a plane and 20 minutes later I’ll be in another country. But it will be a world away. Less than 50 miles apart, yet so different. It may be easy to leave Haiti, but it will be impossible to forget what I’ve seen. But in a way, that’s the beauty of this job. How do I tell these stories full of overwhelming emotion and faith? How do I process it all? How do I capture its essence, and make the viewers feel said emotions?