Firsthand report from Haiti

Written by Sven Eberlein

Photo by The Lafanmi Selavi Photography Workshop

A friend of Deb’s, Jennifer Pantaléon, director of Zanmi Lakay, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for current and former street children in Haiti, arrived last week in Haiti to be on the ground to help these extremely marginalized youth whose circumstances are now more dire than ever. I donated to her group right after the earthquake because I knew she was on her way over there and that the money and supplies would go straight to the childeren most in need.

She’s been blogging about the situation on the ground since she got there (they had to fly to Dominican Republic and then take a car). As the media narrative is often so filtered and there is less and less coverage I think her powerful stories really remind us that for many people there the tragedy is far from over. Please check out the whole blog,, as they are also really involved in teaching photography there are also some amazing photos.

This is from January 27th, the day she arrived:

We didn’t see much, but so many buildings are gone and we encountered ‘the smell’ 3 times. A place we stayed a few years ago is completely gone. We camped out in our tent in the parking lot of our place here with all the other residents. Surreal. This afteroon we will visit the kids at the old Lafanmi Selavi building and also a clinic at a tent city where we have already donated medical supplies to one of the doctors. We brought over 220 lbs. of supplies and it wasn’t enough. Tent cities are everywhere. But we are making people happy with the solar/windup radio flashlights. There is no electricity. Haitians are crowding the markets, yet many streets are completely empty. We took a taxi this morning to get our rental car and he only had one fare besides us. No school at all.

On January 29th, two days ago, Jen wrote:

Port-au-Prince is no longer the same. Champs Mars is now a tent city and you can smell the bad sanitation when you go by. We have been able to see much more of the rest of the city and the more we see the worse it is. We met a friend who is a policeman and his entire station collapsed with many police in it, and along with the prison break and taking care of families he has much stress. The sound of helicopters has become a normal thing. All sorts of military and NGOs have organized tent cities-you can tell those from the organic ones by the kind of tents being used. Coleman tents are everywhere. Some of the areas are strewn with blankets, sheets, corrugated metal all used as shelters held up with skinny wood or metal poles. I can’t tell you how utterly sad it is to see how so many people have to live, but I guess most of you have seen photos from the news. One other note-all over the city you see signs made of cardboard, some spray painted, and some elaborate that say “We need help” or “SOS” or “Mort” or some form of need that they are not getting. These signs are everywhere.

While heartbroken by the devastation I was glad to hear that my donation made it to its intended destination.

Both Fritz and Reginald lost their girlfriends in the earthquake, but all other kids seem to be fine…although traumatized like everyone else here. We delivered Care Bags, candles, solar/windup radio flashlights, some toys for the younger kids, and funds for food and will deliver more food when we get back to PauP. Some of the older boys are now working in the rubble breaking up the big stones to help clean up. At least they have water so clothes are being washed and everyone can bathe. There is a pipe that comes out at one end of the yard flowing with water…that is something.

Jennifer has already covered a lot of ground, traveling around the countryside, checking up on all her peops. It’s a good reminder that so much of the damage is far and beyond Port Au Prince.

Next was Leogane. It is difficult to explain the complete devastation in this town-the hometown of RARA. It is very flat, and on a good day full of bicycles and bustling. House after house after house completely collapsed. I am not ashamed to say I had tears running down my face the entire way. There were areas of the road with huge cracks, and we even saw soldiers taking photos of the shifts in the concrete. On the outside of town, soldiers had landed and set up tents, and we can only hope that help was on the way for this city.

What’s great about Jennifer’s posts and photos is that it is showing daily life as it is happening right now. One thing that tends to happen in disasters is that we only see life through the lens of those who are helping, and the people on the ground become the object of the relief effort. And while “victim” might be one title to hold everyone in Haiti still is what they were before: Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, students, teachers. In short, they are human, just as the rest of us.

The highlight of today was seeing the over 60 children at ACFFC, the amazing organization we collaborate with in Jacmel. We were smothered in hugs and the children were asking us when we were going to begin a Photo Workshop. Everyone is afraid to go into the building for long, but food was being cooked, children were making art, playing soccer, using the computers all outside, and just being together. With the schools closed, it was good to see that these kids, along with the directors, teachers, and local artist mentors were working on making good use of their time and keeping busy.

You can read the rest of her accounts and check out the stunning photos on their blog. It’s a good way of keeping up with what’s going on in people’s personal lives in Haiti. You can donate to Zanmi Lakay here. Another great place to send donations is the daily kos shelter box right here

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Sven Eberlein

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