These "assisted" iPhone selfies of Haitian children and adults are part of a larger project that documents the medical mission of Seacoast volunteers – dentists, doctors, nurses, and medical technicians – working with the Haitian Health Foundation in the poorest region of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They capture my impressions of people who somehow find dignity in the most undignified of circumstances. My eye was drawn to tensions I saw between wrenching poverty and the vibrancy of activity and color; to blighted towns amidst natural beauty; and to resourceful people who must eke out a living with very meager resources.
Seventy-eight percent of Haitians live in poverty and over half live in extreme poverty (less than a dollar a day). And in rural areas such as The Grand’Anse district – the region served by the Haitian Health Foundation – as much as 85% of the population lives in extreme poverty.
The reasons are many and complex. A country born from the brutal slavery of the sugar cane plantations has endured a history of human and natural disasters: exploitation by Western nations; internal oppression and corruption; repeating cycles of dictators and military coups; hurricanes, disease, and earth quakes – the list goes on. These came to a head in 2010 when a fragile State was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake that destroyed its already challenged infrastructure and killed over 200,000 Haitians.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of problems facing Haiti. But the approach of the volunteers I traveled with and the Haitian Health Foundation is quite basic: “How can we help the person in front of us?” I have documented these caring interactions and recorded the faces of Haitians, a people who deserve our concern despite the reasons for the condition they must live in.