Haiti 10 years later: three powerful films in Seattle, Miami, and New Orleans, January 12-14.
The ground shook with a force that flattened a city in a matter of seconds. The walls crumbled, killing so many people that piles of bodies lined streets for days. The world watched in horror as women, children, fathers, mothers, and entire families were lost. These are people who were already struggling against so much. This is Haiti, January 12, 2010.
Not long after the catastrophic earthquake, I made my first trip to Haiti for World Vision, NetHope, and Microsoft to create a short film to support the recovery. The suffering was devastating to witness. Despite our mission to use storytelling to help, I felt overwhelmed by how much was needed, and how little I felt I could do. I struggled to wrap my head around why people who have already suffered so much were again hit with a tragedy of such epic proportions. As we drove to refugee camps that stretched as far as the eye could see, I told myself I would not come back unless I felt I could actually make some real difference in peoples’ lives. I left deeply depressed and overwhelmed with grief.
From the city I called home, Seattle, came a man I did not yet know on a different and much more important mission:to find his mother. David Pierre-Louis, a Haitian-American businessman and social entrepreneur, flew to Haiti not knowing if his mother survived the devastation. Days of uncertainty ended with an emotional reunion with his mother and the beginning of a fateful reconnection to the country of his family (See his movie Kenbe Fem). David resolved to use his business skills to make a difference in the lives of Haitians, founding Kay Tita and Impact Hub Port-au-Prince. Contending with the daily struggle to make a difference in the lives of the Haitian people, David was able to provide business training and access to the tools necessary to be entrepreneurs and improve their own lives.
During my time in Haiti, I met some folks from Sean Penn’s non-profit, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, and his Haitian Country Manager told me a very important story of Haiti’s natural resources. Sharing insight into solutions for Haiti’s long-term suffering, he told me the key is the connection between poverty and a healthy ecosystem.
That same year, I reconnected with a dear friend from college, Adam Brown, Lead Biologist and the co-founder of Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC). He was working in Haiti and told me the story of a bird on the brink of extinction called the Diablotin (Black-Capped Petrel). Prepared to focus on the bird’s survival, Adam told me that just down the mountainside from the last of the species nests were families of Haitian farmers struggling to feed their children. In order to become a better conservationist, he said, he had to become a humanitarian because the two are connected. The story he told me of the resilience of both the Haitian people and the Diablotin moved me deeply. I had to help tell the story.
Seven years later, Soulcraft Allstars has become way more than a storyteller, we have become an active player in the relief effort. The project is a modest one, working in one community of Haitian farmers and protecting one habitat of the endangered Diablotin, but by helping involve strategic local partners, slow and steady progress has been made. One project, located atop a mountain in rural Haiti in one of the last remaining forests in the region, has yielded crucial improvements to the environment and the community. Watershed revitalization and modest reforestation, the building and repair of nurseries and clean-water cisterns, the creation of community savings groups and in-school education programs, and investments in the local soccer team are just a few pieces we’re honored to have helped with. The most important piece to me, however, is that the local and regional Haitians were hired to organize and run it all.
Then I met David Pierre-Louis. David inspired us, encouraged us, advised us, and included us in what he was building in Port-au-Prince. Now our two projects have begun to connect and feed each other. It is all shoestring budgets and volunteer work, but we’re empowering local people to do what they are so capable of doing, and make their own communities better.
One thing that we learned early on was we had to flip the storytelling script and stop making movies for donors. Most donors didn’t understand the complexity of the process, and many felt Haiti was a lost cause. What we really needed to do was document the actions of these brilliant and hardworking Haitians in changing their own future, and then show them the stories of their own heroic progress.
The result was magic.
One cold night high in the mountain village of Boukan Chat we strung up a borrowed bed sheet on a cement wall, set up our battery-powered HD projector and speaker system, and, surrounded by about one-third of the village community, showed the first movie that many of these folks had ever seen – a movie featuring THEM. In all of my years of working with big wigs and fancy pants… screening at high profile events, on TV, and at film festivals this was THE best screening experience of my life. While the movie played it was silent. It is never silent in Haiti. It was otherworldly. At the end, the only thing that was said was, “play it again…” and again and again. Three times the village watched the movie about their work. I’ll never forget the look on their faces and the pride they felt. The following year they were ready for the movie, and this year they will be waiting, ready.
2020. 10 years after the earthquake, David asked if we would be willing to share the movies we made for the community of Boukan Chat, Haiti. We were honored and excited. The movies are in Haitian Creole but subtitled in English. This is a remembrance of the 2010 earthquake and the movies screen in Seattle, Miami, and New Orleans January 12-14th. If you are close by, go. We’d love to share this project with you.
Go see Haiti, my love, The Diablotin Festival, and Kenbe Fem! For more information go to https://risingfromtherubble.splashthat.com/ This event is sponsored by the amazing folks at Kay Tita, The Vera Project, Konbit Cafe, Breach Barista Collective, and 100 For Haiti. All of them deserve your support.
And to be clear, there is endless work to be done. These projects are all flawed, underfunded, and hanging together by the threads of deep love and willpower, but they are happening and making a difference in the lives of real people, animals, and forests on the brink of extinction. The project is a coalition of the the People of Boukan Chat, Haiti, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), Société Ecologique D’haiti, Grupo Jaragua, Plant with Purpose, and Soulcraft Allstars.
Join us. Respect.
Written by Aaron Straight | Soulcraft Allstars.
Soulcraft Allstars is a Bellingham / Seattle based filmmaking and storytelling agency. If you are interested in learning more. Say hello: [email protected]