Mentally Preparing for Haiti on the Earthquake Anniversary

With every assignment, my job is gaining more meaning and thrill, becoming increasing moving and educative. From researching Frida Kahlo to cutting videos on Nelson Mandela, I’ve been diving further into pivotal, global issues. And though – technically – our upcoming trip to Haiti is a freelance assignment to document a medical non-profit, I’m going in the capacity of a filmmaker and an indirect educator.

For the past month, I’ve been taking in knowledge of old Saint-Domingue like a sponge, and I’m hoping to include you, my ever-enlightening audience, in this pursuit of awareness.

On the Anniversary of a Catastrophe

On January 12th, 2010 at 4:52pm, a 7.0 point earthquake knocked an already feeble Port-au-Prince into a deeper state of instability. I was isolated from this knowledge in Nakavika and only became aware three days later, along with the rest of the village. Though we weren’t on the exact antipodal point from the epicenter, we were pretty darn far away. Even on the other side of the globe – in a culture relatively out of the information loop – the Fijians had a visceral moment of sadness for their brothers and sisters in Haiti. I couldn’t fathom what I heard.

Houses of concrete cards collapsed with ease under the pressure of this rumble. Three million people felt the shutter and the awful repercussions afterward.

I didn’t grow up feeling particularly infuriated with the injustices of the world I couldn’t see, but I remember being saddened to the core when viewing beggars on the highway ramps. To use some classic American lingo, it’s hard for me to react viscerally until I see the whites of eyes.

Understanding the plights of those in countries with which I’ve had little contact is difficult for me. Black voids usually become inhabited with faces and experience once I step foot inbounds. It shouldn’t, but it takes a personal relationship to make that connection happen – that relationship sometimes only need be as deep as a passing glance. Even today, I go through a constant battle with my own mental inertia, knowing I have a civic responsibility to my world to understand what my fellow humans go through.

To simply feel sad seems selfish and unproductive. And to not feel this sadness at all presents a personal situation that confronts our own humanity and capacity for evil inaction. Global citizens must push themselves to form thoughts and emotions regarding their unseen kin. One year later, it’s still hard for me to realize what happened in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne.

Steps Toward Some Understanding

I’ve only just begun my education on Haiti, an island a three hour flight from my current home in New York City. Though that country on my mental map is still hazy and underdeveloped, faces are slowly appearing and the smell of the tropical air is hinting itself at my hungry brain – thanks to some research pre-trip.

I’m not only doing destination research this time around. This will be a trip far different from any I’ve ever taken to this point. I’m not going there to celebrate through documentation. I’m documenting in hopes trails can be blazed toward some stability – that then can be celebrated.

I have no experience being anything close to a war photographer or a hardcore journalist. Up to this point, I’ve been playing the part of a documentarian in my own terms, happy with what I could produce as a self-taught. Now expectations are mounting, and I find myself filling roles from which I thought the humble part of me would want to flee. Of course, the only barriers created between people and ideal jobs are those created by the person themselves. Therefore, if I want to be someone who documents with impact, I am completely capable of making my own preparations – logistically, mentally, and actually.

In order to be a responsible global citizen and an adequate documentarian on this upcoming trip, here are some steps I’m taking that may be beneficial to you in your own pursuits of awareness:

Researching History and Culture: Haiti doesn’t make frequent news appearances, so instead of relying on periodicals, I went for my favorite medium: the narrative. I’ve been reading Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From the Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation. This is essential knowledge for any first Haiti trip. I hope Ms. Palin is reading.

Learning Haitian Creole: According to this narrative, many Haitians are suspicious of American and foreign visitors due to previous colonization and hostilities. I hope that knowing even basic, conversational Creole will help me interact with people and immediately allow the possibility of good rapport and trust. I’ve been tweeting my newly-learned phrases. It’s like phonetic French and very easy to remember.

Scouring The News: On top of other reading, I’m hoping to keep current. There should be plenty out there today due to the anniversary. For example: Haitian Amputees Find New Outlet in Soccer, Haitians Take Rubble Removal Into Their Own Hands, A Symbol of Hope for Haiti, a Landmark Again Stands Tall, and Dark Tales Illuminate Haiti, Before and After Quake.

Observing Others’ Documentation: Identifying style, timing, equipment, storytelling, involvement choices, etc., this method is proving to be key preparation. Here’s a recent video from The New York Times:

Milking My Eyes Dry: I am a crier. Every day in Fiji, the pressures of the exchange and the struggles of humanity led me to tears. I’ve worked my entire life to harness this pattern of mine, but it’s settled; I cannot stop myself when I’m moved to weep. At this point, I’m telling myself it’s because I’m so darn passionate, but when it comes to this work, I really need to know how to keep it together. I do have the capacity, however, to go numb and detach myself with severe meditation. Therefore, I’m hoping to desensitize myself pre-trip in order to maintain composure. Looking at United Nations photos helps in this process, and watching videos (like the one above) are also effective.

You Are The Final Prep Step

Baby steps to early February, when I’ll be packing up a little bag and heading out with Jenny Buccos to stay with a Haitian family and document for two solid days. And as I prepare, I ask you:

What is it you can offer to make this the most effective, fruitful, meaningful use of time and efforts toward a better Haiti in the long run?

What is it you want to know about Haiti, one year after the awful earthquake, and do you have any additional suggestions for preparation?

How can I be successful at exposing the realities of this situation to the global community, and how can I be most efficient in providing to the Haitian people through storytelling?

I look forward to our joint pursuit of awareness.

Images available under public domain and creative commons by the U.S. Coast Guard and United Nations Photo on Flickr. Affiliate links exist above, and if commissions are received, they’ll be redirected toward Project Medishare.

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  • Eric Byrer

    Like most natural disasters and other devastating world events, Haiti has somehow fallen out of the public eye. This is no doubt a testament to the power of media. With a job like this, you accrue the same power. To me, the most important part of the story you will tell is injecting it into as many media veins as possible. Find a way to make the story last beyond the anniversary. Push your story forward with awareness and follow it through will a call to action.

    To your question about content I will say that, personally, I want to know what they truly need most right now. I don’t know anything about medicine and would do no good if I came down to care for people in that way. However, if I or anyone wanted to come down, what could we do? Likewise, what are the most important ways in which we can help from here? Are there specific organizations accepting donations that foster the greatest benefit for Haitians at this time? Are there specific supplies that the people need?

    All of that said, you do not want your documentation to become about “how you can save this one child.” The video and images already published in your links is shocking and informative. It is also necessary. A year is not nearly long enough to begin rebuilding the lives of Haitians. Who knows specifically what you will find when you get there. I’m sure there are some incredible stories from this past year and some hopeful plans for the future. But in such devastation, I’m sure the word “hope” has quite a different meaning.

    I think studying up on your Creole is a wonderful step to providing to the people through storytelling. I think that the more direct interaction you can have with the Haitian people, the more informing and effective the documentation will become.

    I’m not sure if any of that is what you were looking for or if I was able to add anything to your preparations. You seem to be on a good path. I can’t wait to see the results. I think the more everyone realizes and internalizes the fact that we are all fellow humans, the greater change that can happen.

    Keep doing what you do and being who you are. You remain an inspiration.

    • Lindsay Clark


      Your comment is amazing. I didn’t get a message for some reason when you wrote it, so I apologize for my untimely response.

      I’m grappling right now with the power of mass media and their disregard to the big stuff happening in Haiti at the moment. It’s been very hard for me to find quality content to explain the situation unfolding this weekend. Though I know there’s no way we could sort out the major stories happening in every country of the world at the same time, I think floating from one story to the next without follow-ups and long term attention investments does make us less aware of the lasting impacts big events have on communities. After giving millions to earthquake relief, most donors don’t know yet how their money is being put to use (or if it even is!). Why is there so little follow-up by mass media on Haiti?

      What does Haiti need? I’d be happy to discuss this with Haitians and NGOs alike, anyone I come in contact with. It’s amazing that so many want to apply their empathy to a good and effective cause, but I agree that we all need to evaluate our own skill sets and whether our presence in the country is required to act on those desires to help. At this point, I’m tempted to say the help we could apply now that would have the most impact would be awareness-related. If we are hearing nothing because cameras and reporters aren’t there, why don’t we do our own research and start dialogues to place a concentrated eye on what’s happening there? From these discussions will come more press, more attention from our representatives, and hopefully a united front with Haitians on the issues that are affecting them most.

      I’m in total agreement that the Christian Children’s Fund method of filming and storytelling in Haiti is the opposite way we should be leaning. It’s too misleading an angle and the opposite of empowering to the communities captured. Especially now that we’re traveling to Haiti during Carnival, we expect to witness a lighter and happier, more united side of Haitians that will infuse our content with good energy.

      Thanks so much for your involvement in this discussion, and I appreciate your kind words. Let’s keep this going, people.

  • Andi

    I can’t believe it’s been a year, I really can’t. I’m a crier too, in fact I’m all teary eyed from this profound post!

    • Lindsay Clark

      Thanks, Andi. It’s so hard for me to really “get” what’s happening elsewhere unless I’m there and can apply faces to events and situations. I’m so anxious to get there and really understand what is going on with our fellow man. What are you most anxious to learn about in regards to Haiti?

  • joshywashington

    I look forward to everything you will discover about yourself and the place you seek to understand. For my part, I want to see a microcosm of the society explored through the family that will house you. What is their story? How will they challenge you? What do you have to offer them?

    I can’t wait for your adventure Lindsay!

    • Lindsay Clark

      Really appreciated it, Josh! We are hoping our hosts will allow us to film and understand their specific situation and outlook on their country. That’s a great idea to focus on our inter-person relationship in the context of this natural disaster and acidic political climate. Thanks for all your support.