Guest blog from Justin Ide, Assistant Director for Photography at Harvard Public Affairs and Communications, (HPAC).
I started in photography at The Times West-Virginian, a small newspaper in Fairmont, West Virginia, and I’ve worked at Harvard since October 1999 when I left a staff position at The Boston Herald. When I photograph, I’m drawn to people and what they do, what they are about, what makes them tick. I’m not much for landscapes. I want my photos to tell a story, to share and on the rare chance, to enlighten.
I shoot photos so I can chase wild trout with a fly rod, and when I’m not doing any of that I can be found in the kitchen with my wife and daughter, and our two Labrador retrievers.
I was in Italy on vacation when I heard about the earthquake (January 12, 2010) and my first thought was that we (HPAC) had to go there. In 2003 our office sent a team to Haiti for part one of a two-part story on Partners In Health. Partners (PIH) is affiliated with Harvard through connections at the Medical School, and it is headed by Paul Farmer, the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. I didn’t travel to Haiti, I covered the second part the story, in Lesotho, Southern Africa, but I knew of Farmer and the role Partners played in Haiti. I also knew from previous experience with The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that they too would be sending a team as well.
I didn’t get back from Italy for another six days after the earthquake, but as soon as I did I started making calls.
The difficult thing about coming “late” to something like the events in Haiti is that logistically there is enough organization on the ground that travel and access is somewhat organized, but not enough for it to be easy or efficient. After several attempts, our office was able to secure a way into Haiti via the Dominican Republic with HHI, as well as an exit strategy from Port-au-Prince with PIH.
Al Powell, a reporter from our office and myself departed for the Santiago, DR with Dr. Michael VanRooyen, Director of HHI ready for a whirlwind tour. We arrived in the DR on February 6th, 24 days after the earthquake. Al and I have travelled in Africa and Central America in the past, and we also spent time in the DRC with Mike VanRooyen, so we were excited to be back working together.
Arriving in the DR after midnight we slept for a few hours, and then started early Sunday morning on four days of almost non-stop work. We flew by helicopter from Santiago, DR to a border town with Haiti, and then on to Fond Parisien, Haiti where members of the team from HHI had organized a rehabilitation hospital.
The primary focus in Fond Parisien was post-operative care on patients who had been seen in Port-au-Prince or if they were lucky had been treated aboard the USNS Comfort, stationed off the coast of Haiti. With teams of people from Harvard, The University of Chicago, Operation Smile and other smaller groups of volunteers, Fond Parisien was very organized and staffed well for the 300 or so patients they were serving.
In Port-au-Prince, the sheer volume of destruction struck me as most shocking and hard to comprehend. Standing amid the dusty ruins it was hard to imagine parts of the city being anything but a pile of rubble. Almost a month after the quake, rescue operations had all but ceased, but a flurry of recovery and demolition operations progressed with no end in sight. Despite the smell of decaying bodies, made worse by the searing afternoon heat, many people, mostly young boys and men, clamored over piles of rubble and in the backs of dump trucks, searching for items they could either use or sell.
As mind numbing and stunning as the destruction and loss of life, equally baffling is the logistical and public health nightmare faced by survivors. Thousands upon thousands of people, their homes and families in tatters, have become refugees in their own neighborhoods, their own countries. An exodus of over half a million people out of Port-au-Prince, combined with the emergence of makeshift encampments within the city has set the stage for potentially lethal public health disasters in the coming months. Weather related catastrophes, including heavy rains and cyclones, are just a few of the potential threats that present shelter and sanitation resources are likely to face.
The first shelters, which sprang up days after the quake, were made from simple bed sheets hung over discarded wooden slats, but have now rapidly grown into hard sided shacks using recovered wood, metal and other construction material from the piles of rubble. Temporary shelter locations are currently estimated at over 300 “spontaneous sites,” housing a total of 1.1 million displaced persons.*
In going to Haiti, my job was to document Harvard affiliated personnel and their efforts to help in Haiti, and in my mind, to bring back a story of hope. I’ve been a number of places with Harvard in the last eleven years, and this trip to Haiti was one of the more difficult ones I’ve made. The destruction is worse than you can imagine, and the increased burdens upon a country already suffering from the worst poverty in the western hemisphere are immense and complicated.
The Harvard Gazette is the primary recipient of my work, some of which is up now, but our images are used in various ways, either by the specific programs we are documenting, or by the University in general for any number of publications. I’m fairly certain that I will be back in Haiti in the next six months to continue documentation of the rebuilding process, and Harvard’s involvement on a public health, medical, educational and social level.
* Numbers from OCHA Situation Report 21, dated February 19, 2010
Posted by Justin Ide
Photos by Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office