On March 18th, 2016, I traveled to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and met up with Kathryn Adams, Executive Director of the Lidè Foundation. As the website states, "Lidè is an educational initiative in rural Haiti that uses the arts and literacy to empower at-risk adolescent girls and help them transition into school or vocational training." I traveled there as a guest teacher for 11 days for the purpose of teaching the girls (and teachers) about photography and portraiture. Based out of the city of Gonaïves, we traveled daily to rural communities where the program works with adolescent girls on an ongoing basis. Culturally, the female, including the youth, have huge responsibilities (ie. cook, clean, do laundry, make charcoal, farm, and child care, among others). Typically, these girls do not have any down time. To know what it means to simply be a child and explore creatively is virtually nonexistent. Thus Lidè. They have an ongoing program in 7 (soon to be 8) locations throughout Haiti. They are giving these girls the freedom to hear their inner voice and to find out who they truly are through the arts.
My first stop after a night of sleep. Terre Des Negres is located up in the mountainous area of Artibonite. A class of about 35 girls awaited our arrival, all saying "Bonjou' Monsieur Chris". Creole is 70% French (if not more) and a mélange of other languages. Although I speak French, understanding Creole is nearly impossible. Fascinating to listen to but impossible to comprehend.
I was introduced by Dr. Kathryn Adams (Executive Director) and proceeded to teach my lesson on portraiture. I was provided an interpreter. After my lesson, the main teachers and assistants passed out the donated digital cameras to each student. Their first assignment was to take pictures of each other, limiting the number of images they can take to 10 each. This limitation was to let them take their time, assess what they are doing and make sure that the three main things I wanted them to focus on were being addressed: composition, lighting and background. This lesson was repeated at the various other locations we went to throughout my stay. When we returned to a location on another day, the next assignment was to take their new found skills and go into their respective community where they were to take pictures of the elder women. This project was Kathryn's brain child and she calls it Women of Valor.
Terre Des Negres
Terre Des Negres
Terre Des Negres- We came upon this girl who was working hard with her older brothers near a water source. She was not part of the Lidè program. Kathryn asked her if she wanted to join the program. Her brother, not letting her answer, said that she has to work and there isn't time for her to do "those kind of things". She was loading jugs of water onto the back of a weary donkey.
This fertile area is a beautiful farming community. Part of the Small Holders Farmer's Alliance, this area produces many agricultural necessities for Haiti, although with negligible infra-structure, it's not going where it needs to go. Thus the Farmer's alliance. It's in this community where there are a lot of young adolescent and teen girls who work hard on many levels. And, as you can see, sometimes with a big smile on their faces.
Bayoné- With assistance from a Lidè teacher, the girls practice their skills with donated cameras.
Taking a little break from class.
Bayoné- A new student in the program.
Bayoné- Part of the teen program, Wislene had a pretty serious face for most of the time I saw her. But when she broke out into a smile (like most of these girls), it would be a radiant beam of light.
Bayoné- When we returned here later in the week, the girls went out into their community and took portraits for Kathryn's Women of Valor project. In this picture, a local farmer woman, sweating away out in the blazing sun, stopped for a brief period. After much coercing from the young girl, she posed for this picture and her radiance just poured out.
Bayoné- A woman poses for a moment between shovelfuls of burning embers. She's making coal, a major way locals make a little money. Sadly, it's also a practice that has decimated the Haitian landscape for centuries.
Bayoné- Kathryn and I accompanied a group of girls where they took us deep into their community to work on the Women of Valor project. We met elders of all ages. It was fascinating and, I felt so lucky to have this type of access.
Bayoné- For the Women of Valor project, we went deep into the community where we met this astounding woman. For generations, her family has been living here. She didn't know exactly how old she was (records were destroyed from fires from the earthquake in 2010) but believed she was around 80. She has been living in the exact same location her entire life along with her entire family. This was the young girl's grandmother.
Located in a Catholic school run by nuns, Lidè uses their facility to work with a range of children and teens. One of the students, Christina, had accidentally hit her head while selling liquor on the streets at night for her family. For a "remedy", the mother stuffed tobacco in the wound, which became highly infected. Kathryn was able to clean the area and the girl has since been to a clinic. Even though the day I met her was not her day to come to Saint Jean, she showed up anyway. She was fed and participated in the program.
Saint Jean, Gonaïves- New to the program, this little girl wasn't sure exactly what to do or feel.
Saint Jean, Gonaïves- The same reluctant girl from the previous photo poses with a Lidè provided sandwich and camera.
Saint Jean, Gonaïves- Mayberline kept a stoic face for nearly the entire program and would refuse to let me take a picture of her. But by the end, she finally acquiesced, producing a smile that destroyed any thought to the contrary. She even posed for my Yashica film portrait series, of which I only took a select few for the entire trip.
This is the picture taken with the Yashica Medium Format. At the end of the day, Mayberline grabbed a sandwich (provided by Lidè) and the hat on my head and sat for one more picture.
Saint Jean, Gonaïves- Lucianna appears to not be too sure of my motives. She loosened up and became quite playful later in the morning.
Saint Jean, Gonaïves- Walking with Elie, Mona and Christina, we walked into the labyrinth of Gonaïves and procured our students for the morning class. It was Easter weekend and some had thought class had been canceled. Without electricity or a phone, the only way to bring them to class was to go get them.
The last destination I went to was Guerot, about an hour and a half south of Gonaïves. Also a farming community, the main agriculture is rice.
Guerot- Using the local school's classroom on a Saturday, a child sits next to a classic chalkboard ladened with algebra.
Guerot- This photo is entitled: Naked Baby Toting A Machete To See What Damage It Can Do While No One Seems To Be Concerned That Naked Baby Is Toting A Machete.
Guerot- This is Monsieur Longpais (or something to that effect, it was hard to understand him). He was hard at work making a rope when I disturbed him for this photograph. When asked if it was ok to photograph him, he immediately said yes and proceeded to put on his blue shirt.
A local fisherman flaunts his latest prehistoric catch. Straddled upon his "moto", people stop in the streets, creating a traffic jam while everyone is in awe of the slippery fish.
Since it was Easter week, Wilson, our native driver and Zen master of all things Haiti, drove me into the throngs of people celebrating the Ra-Ra Festival. Make-shift instruments along with people parading wheelbarrows of homemade flavored moon shine strode down the main road. Dancing, music and mayhem filled the street.
A close up of the passionate musicians during the Ra-Ra Festival.
A musician is not pleased with my photographic quest during the Ra-Ra Festival.
Riding home on the "moto" with Wilson as my guide (and bodyguard).