January 12th, 2010 was a typical day in Port Au Prince, Haiti. The streets were busy, the skies were partly cloudy, the air was humid and the temperature was in the mid 80’s (Fahrenheit). Life for two and a half million people in the surrounding area moved along like any other day. Then, without warning, at 4:53 pm, the ground, buildings, roads, structures, people and animals shook violently for 30-40 seconds. When the quake ended, over 200,000 people were dead, 300,000 injured and 1.3 million were displaced. The sun set at 5:30 that evening, and the city was dark by 6:00. It happened in about as much time as it would take you to read this paragraph out loud.
Governments, NGO’s, and citizens across the globe responded to the crisis. Among them, J/P Haitian Relief Organization proved to be one of the most effective. Founded by American actor Sean Penn, J/P HRO has become one of the most respected players in the Haitian earthquake relief effort.
Immediately after the earthquake, displaced Haitians took refuge in open spaces throughout the city – parks, football fields, the grounds of the destroyed national palace, a golf course, anywhere they could feel safe from crumbling buildings. Open space morphed into makeshift tent settlements, some of which became sturdier Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. In March 2010, J/P HRO took over management of the larger, Petionville IDP camp, on the site of a former nine hole golf course in a nearby suburb of Port Au Prince. Two years after the earthquake, the camp has gone from a peak of 45,00 – 60,000 residents, to its current level of 23,000. J/P HRO is now a leader in helping displaced survivors of the earthquake. Along with providing shelter they’re also involved in community building, education, medical treatment, rubble removal, construction, home building and relocation.
After a month of photographing in Haiti, a chance meeting with Sean Penn led to spending my last afternoon in the country touring the J/P HRO, Petionville golf course IDP camp, on November 29th, 2011.
The land once devoted to a rich man’s game seemed more appropriately used dedicated to a poor man’s survival. It had the feel of a small city rather than a tent camp.
Among the facilities on site were medical and cholera treatment areas, a women’s health center, a police station, an accredited school, ‘Ecole de L’Espoir’ (School of Hope), booths to purchase clean water, salons for hair cutting, two of cafes, a large market area, and a church for prayer.
A three hour tour of the site, before going directly to the airport, made for a short introduction to this enormous effort. Enough time to leave an enduring impression, but not enough to earn the trust of many residents to allow me to photograph them. Filled with a cross section of young to old, it was mostly children who let me take their pictures.
These images are a fragment of a large and impressive undertaking. For people displaced for two years, they were well taken care of by Haitian standards. To call them homeless doesn’t properly describe their living conditions. Compared to the villages I first visited in the North with the HACAOT mobile medical clinic, these people were fortunate to have the extensive support structure J/P HRO provided. Observing the care and assistance afforded to the camp residents, I wondered if the earthquake was a blessing in disguise for some of them.
I believe the only real difference between myself and any of the people I’ve photographed in Haiti or Rwanda, is that I was lucky enough to be born in the United States. Watching the people of the Petionville camp go about their daily lives reinforced my views. Children laughed and played. I saw two boys karate chopping the air and calling “Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan!” A mother chided her daughter for getting poor marks on her last test. Men played cards and dominoes on overturned boxes.
A middle aged daughter and her mother sat on the ground fixing each others hair. I saw adults and children working in the market area, and others napping in the shade. A young man tucked in his shirt and ran his fingers through his hair before passing a young woman. A group of teenagers hanging out by a café gave me a hard time then laughed and welcomed me into their conversation.
At home, the same kids would have been withdrawn into their phones and video games. Will that day come for the Haitian children too? Could our children survive the conditions the Haitians face daily? What we take for necessities of life, these people have never had. The faces here and in my other blog entries are the faces of survival, pain, joy, anguish – humanity at its most basic. When asked who my heroes are, I think of the Haitians and Rwandans and others around the world who endure these hardships, far beyond what most of my countrymen will ever experience.
J/P Haitian Relief Organization is currently involved in camp and relocations management, education, community and livelihood projects, medical treatment, engineering – demolition and ruble removal, redevelopment and home building, as well as emergency preparedness and response. For more information or to make a donation, please visit their website: http://jphro.org/
Copyright 2011 Adam Bacher. All rights Reserved – Absolutely NO usage without prior authorization.