Haiti exhibition launch event

The launch event for ‘Haiti: Beyond the Rubble’ was yesterday afternoon at Central Hall Westminster.  Thank you to everyone who came – it was fantastic to see so many friends and ex-colleagues, and a wide range of others too – thanks.

The whole point of the exhibition is to remind us, myself included, that the story in Haiti isn’t complete yet, that people will be rebuilding their lives for many years to come, and we need to remember, engage, pray for and support the nation and the people of Haiti.  My way of doing that is to tell the stories of some of those people whose lives have touched mine over the past year, who’ve stayed in my mind and who have graciously allowed me to  re-tell what has happened to them.

And to acknowledge that the situation is complex.  It wasn’t sorted by the anniversary in January this year, and there was a lot of criticism of the relief effort then.  If you live in a plastic tent in Port au Prince, it must surely feel too slow, and we were told that by many people we met.  And if you’re still waiting for the economy to pick up so you can find a job, or for some sort of clear democratic leadership to emerge, or for the international governmental response to really engage and deal with some of the underlying issues facing the country, then it is all too slow.

Inevitably, one of the questions I was asked a lot last night was ‘is there any progress?’.  And there is, genuine, clear progress, people’s businesses being re-started, homes being rebuilt, schools re-opening, hope, in all its complexity and grief, beginning again. Some of those stories are in the exhibition, just snippets, but all starting to make a difference.  All that sits in the context of the complexity, of the too-slowness, of the difficulty of knowing where to begin, and how to rebuild safely and sustainably.

Jean-Claude, Tearfund’s country representative for Haiti, spoke at the event, over the phone, and told his story, of part of his home collapsing, but somehow not the part he was in. Of how his wife was going shopping, and stopped to answer a phone call from a friend, and as she walked from her car after finishing the call, seeing the supermarket she was about to enter collapse in front of her.  We heard some of the Tearfund disaster response team talking about their experiences of arriving soon after the earthquake, and the intensity everyone felt in their work at that point, of the rush to save lives and get things going again.  And I talked about Quinet, and his grief at losing his wife and daughter, his home and liveliehood, and his quiet determination to carry on.

Haiti has left me with a lot of questions – there’s obviously nothing simple to say about it, and it’s incredibly hard not to sound trite talking about other people’s immense suffering and loss. The fact is I can’t know what it feels like, it’s far, far more than I’ve ever had to face in my life, and I’m acutely aware of that. But it’s also not right or true to just see the suffering  – one of the wonderful things this year has been not just meeting the people who I’ve mentioned here, but being able to go back and visit them again, and hear how things are getting better, what’s getting worse, to see the continuation of their lives, even in their grief and pain, their sometimes strengthened faith and some immense acts of courage and love.

Again, thank you to everyone who came, and to the people who made this possible – Lynsey, Esther and Holly, Louise and Clive, the staff at Tearfund in the UK and Haiti, and their partner organisations. Thanks Geoff for taking some pics (and everything else too).

I finished last night by saying ‘if you pray, keep on praying; if you give, keep on giving; and if you’re politically active, keep agitating’ – at least I intended to, I’m not sure what actually came out – and I may not quite have said, but I meant ‘and don’t forget Haiti’.

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Richard Hanson :: photographer :: Sheffield

www.hansonphoto.co.uk