Monday, June 27, 2011

Solid Women

These five women are what brought us to Haiti. They call themselves “Solid Women”, but individually (and less imposingly) they are Marriette, Seden, Lozelle, Antonia and Joseline.

When we first approached Fonkoze about helping to tell their story, we were eager to see what micro-finance looked and felt like up close. Most of us have been exposed to the idea of micro-finance in the form of Kiva or Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, but broadly MF means financial services for the poor. It turns out that millions of poor people through out the world can activate their entrepreneurial potential when given access to small loans.

Our work at Good Eye Video has taken us through the wide and varied galaxy of approaches to solving social problems and micro-finance struck us as one of the most elegant and inspiring. At the same time I know MF has been criticized in recent years for either over stating its effect on poverty reduction or leaving many of the poorest untouched. Which story to tell?

I’d like to say we found some answers, but I think what we experienced was much more important. Over the course of a week we visited each of these Solid Women, in their homes as well as shooting their various business ventures. We learned lots… in the next few posts we’ll share some of our biggest takeaways.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The NEGES Foundation

(note: due to a combination of internet scarcity, lots of shooting and generally getting into the pace of Haitian life... we have a few blog posts going up a bit late)

As we've come to discover, Haiti and the US are intertwined in a deep and fascinating way. First of all 1.2 million Haitians are our fellow Americans. These diaspora communities exist in cities like Miami, New York and Boston and are responsible for almost half of the national income of Haiti (estimated $1.2-$1.5 billion annually in remittances)

Lucky for us, Brooklyn is full of Haitians.... and that's where our next project got its start. We ran into the NEGES foundation through friends at Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. This small community development project is led by Yoleine Gateau Esposito and James Philemy, two Haitian Americans who wanted to help develop the educational opportunities in Léogâne, a coastal community about an hour outside of Port au Prince.

The 2010 earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of the structures in Léogâne (which was at the epicenter). This of course was heartbreaking for a small development project like NEGES, built up over the course of years with small donations and lavish amounts of personal time and commitment.

We only had a few hours to stop by NEGES, but we were given a tour in the power of resilience. The drive to Léogâne leaves no doubt about the impact of the quake... rubble and destruction still line the road. There are tent cities everywhere. Which makes it all the more remarkable that inside the gates of NEGES we found a primary school fashioned out of shipping containers ready to receive its first classes. We found a Women's center, community space and a beautiful little restaurant.

There are many arguments we've run into against this kind of small development. It isn't scalable, it's hard to get self sustaining, it can throw the local balance out of whack. But it's the human thing to do. It's the kind of project whose warmth, ambition and attention to detail are evident in all sort of ways. There is something beautiful about people who will build an educational center on a far off island. And then do it again.

We hope our video and pictures can help. If you want to, you can visit every dollar makes a difference at a place like NEGES. We heard about many cool programs waiting to be enabled by funding.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A picture of Shada

I leave you with this picture of a slum called Shada. You can see how the awe-inspiring landscape is made even stranger with the addition of ad-hoc structures and a sea of trash. As one doctor said… we all know that places like this exist, but don’t really contemplate it fully until we are walking the alleys of broken concrete and sheet metal. As a storyteller, I’m conflicted about what role images of poverty this powerful should play. It think it’s easy to see this and think it’s a dream… some alternate reality where people live ten to a room next to open sewers. I often find myself falling into the same trap when my vision of a visit to a place is mainly through a viewfinder.

What made Shada real for me was playing an evolving game with a gaggle of joyful, shoeless kids who didn’t speak my language. We played catch with some piece of plastic junk, then wall ball, then bloody knuckles, then they taught me different high fives (the entire time obviously making fun of me in Kreyol). Trying to think of these rascals spending their childhood playing games on the banks of this inlet of trash is the only way Shada seems to exist in the same world I do. At our nice American style hotel I thought of this as the A/C hummed and I was clean from the shower and some part of me was longing to file this picture under D for dream.

Hands up for Haiti

Hands up for Haiti is one of many small NGO’s that have sprung up in Haiti over the last ten years (and particularly right after the earth quake). Started by several medical doctors who felt called to help the Haitian people, Hands Up has started to hone in on its niche here in northern Haiti: facilitating medical volunteer trips for US doctors, nurses and students. It’s always interesting to work with new organizations as they shape themselves and especially if that task is the daunting one of healing people in a nation notorious for poor public health. Here are a few things we’ve been learning and thinking about.

First of all Haiti is a classic case of development chaos. It’s certainly a place in need of transformation and its proximity to the US seems to only fuel the creation of NGOs of all shapes and sizes. We’ve heard Haitians call Port au Prince the world capital of NGOs. Here in northern Haiti were finding a huge patchwork of groups, often times working like lasers in a dark room… doing good work, but so focused that they seem to leave mere dots of light and lots of dim area. Groups like Hands up for Haiti seem to be aware of this problem and will hopefully lead to better integration and cooperation. It will be interesting to continue learning more about this as we travel south.

Lesson number two is that taking pictures of sick kids never gets easier. I personally feel awful each time we have to capture images of people in vulnerable moments of illness. Thus far we’ve shot in a small local clinic, a clinic in the giant slum of Shada and at a medical training session. The docs we’ve been traveling with report pretty lousy health in most of the patients they encounter. We saw lots of painful looking cases of pneumonia, fever and malnutrition. There was even one person who needed an operation immediately to avoid serious complications. How do you capture this experience? For us it’s been a difficult trade-off between respecting the Haitians we meet and doing what we can do to help support them. I’m thinking I might make up a little badge to wear around my neck wherever I travel to do video work.

Hello, I take pictures to try to help people. These pictures help raise money and sustain projects.

Every person in the world has the right not to be photographed. Please raise your hand if you don’t want your picture taken.

Would this work? Maybe it’s just a tough job that requires us keep in mind that we do this not to be voyeurs, but to change things. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I do know that when I heard later one of the babies I photographed would likely not make it (107 fever… so high the thermometer couldn’t read accurately), I knew that we need to make these videos and pictures count.

PS. Many thanks to our friends at Hands up for Haiti. You made this leg of our journey a pleasure. The work you do is changing lives. And yes... I promise to start taking my B-12 supplement.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


It’s a shame people don’t mention beauty when they talk about Haiti. My first impression looking out of the airplane window was that northern Haiti was simply stunning… a cradle of farmland between mountain ranges. This entire trip we’re hoping to tell an honest story about Haiti, one that involves the immense long-lived suffering of Haitian people, but also one of a place that deserves to have its mountains and old buildings remarked upon…. we do it for Italy and France don’t we? Bermuda? Jamaica? So here lets get started. We begin in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti and not far from where Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the other half of the world. First up, a video for an organization called Hands Up for Haiti.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bon jour Haiti

Remember that earthquake in Haiti? Bad news about a place of which you've only ever heard bad news about? Last year when world attention and charitable pocketbooks turned for a brief moment to Haiti, I found myself feeling helpless. What other stories could be heard amongst the devastating images of destruction and news of despair that flowed hourly to us? As the months passed and new emergencies blossomed, Haiti has remained a place of mysterious hopelessness.

But from our experiences at Good Eye Video, we know that anywhere that people continue to wake up each morning, start a fire, find water, haul mangoes to marketplace... there has to be hope somewhere there. We decided that knowing Haiti in a different way was important challenge to undertake.

In four days we embark on a three week trip to Haiti to shoot videos for two amazing organizations. The first is Hands Up For Haiti, a brand new NGO aiming to facilitate American medical professionals volunteering in Haiti. The second is one of the best regarded poverty alleviation organizations in Haiti, Fonkoze We'll be telling the Fonkoze story by focusing on a group of five women (one of thousands such solidarity groups in Haiti) who are climbing the staircase out of poverty together.

We hope you'll follow along with us as we learn a little bit more about the Haitian people and the organizations that are working with them to change not only our perception of Haiti, but also the reality of life in the poorest country in the hemisphere.