Humans of Haiti by Maya Reagan
Tout moun se moun- Every person is a person.
Have you ever given thought to the fact that every person you’ve ever seen, even if for the briefest of moments, has a life that is as intricate as your own? They have a favorite color, an alma mater, childhood stories…but most importantly they have a life and a history like you. People we pass on the street, speak to in the store, and interact with at work have a past, present, and desires for the future that are unknown to all who don’t pause their own lives to listen.
“She” isn’t just the friendly cashier that works the night shift and sells you ice-cream; she’s a full-time college student/mom of two who wants to be a lawyer and move to France one day. She has a life outside of what little you know about her, a life that is just as fascinating and complex as your own. But sometimes we forget. We’re moving too fast within our own lives that we forget to care about the life of a stranger. As Americans, we’ve grown accustomed to not truthfully answering the question, “how are you?”, and in return, we subconsciously don’t want to hear any answer other than “good!”. Whether we’d like to admit it or not we only like to hear and see what we want, and we put the world through many filters before we actually accept it. Perhaps its because we’re too busy, frightened, or just don’t care to see it in its raw form. This doesn’t just apply to the night shift cashier or the man sitting at the bus stop every morning.
Last week as I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck in light rain I had an interesting conversation with Faiha Zaidi, an intuitive young lady from Siena College. We were on our way home from an overnight adventure in Cap Haitien and as we bumped along through countless little villages we started talking about how each was home to a few hundred people who had all had different life stories, experiences, hopes and dreams. We discussed how many Americans think of Haiti as a place to send US Aid, do charity, send donations, and come for their college spring break trip but what they see of Haiti is what they choose to see of Haiti: the dirty children, lack of clothing, sub-par living conditions, and malnutrition. They foster these circumstantial temporary relationships but often fail to see (or hear) the life stories that go with the individuals they’re taking pictures of and with. What do they do for a living? Is that what they imagined they’d be doing when they were in school? Did(or do) they go to school? Do they have parents? What are their dreams for the future? Are these questions left unasked for fear of the answer? Are we scared that the answer may disrupt the safe little world we’ve filtered for ourselves? All these questions are ones that help further our understanding of the person and indirectly, Haiti. Those pictures eventually are circulated through every social media outlet and end up in google photos with no story…and that is where we come in.
When you look at pictures of developing countries like Haiti I urge you to do so with the understanding and awareness that the people in the pictures are in fact, people. People with stories and lives, with good days and bad. The world needs to stop looking at Haiti through jaundiced colored glasses with the preconceived notion that the Haitian people need pity and sympathy. The images coming out of Haiti have stories behind them, some beautiful and some disturbing but altogether raw and true. I think that even if one isn’t aware of the backstory of the picture they can still look at the images and not objectify the individuals photographed but instead keep in mind that they too have lives “as intricate as your own”.
Many people that I know in the States are aware of my presence in Haiti, but very few know much about the village(or country) in which I live, work, and have grown to love. To help be a small part in the change of this systemic objectification of Haiti through media and to help people back home better understand the Haitian people, culture, and lifestyle I have started a project I’m calling Humans of Haiti modeled after and similar to Humans of New York (HONY). I have been interviewing and photographing individuals from around the Fontaine/Pignon area and have been preparing, editing, and compiling them to release at the end of my trip. The goal of my project is exposure and awareness for the average American. People need raw stories and images. Not images and stories that only show the negative parts of society. There is so much beauty and energy that has yet to be shown. I have a hard time watching people come to Haiti and see only what they want to see (mainly the poverty) and they close their eyes to the beauty that lives beyond the poverty and beyond the dirt. If we only took pictures of the poorest parts of America, what would the world think of us? While yes, many of the people here are malnourished, impoverished, and their children have dirty feet (I often have dirty feet too but nobody is taking pictures of me!), they have stories that show the vibrancy and genuineness of the culture and way of life. That is what I want people to see when they look at my pictures, but not just mine…all pictures of Haiti. I want people to not just take them at face value but to look deeper and understand that there is more to the picture than what they want to see, just like the night shift cashier who sells you ice-cream.