Monday 20 November 2017

Haiti's heroes: John McColgan captures the indomitable spirit of the island's people

Haitians not only live in one of the poorest countries in the world, they have suffered more than their fair share of devastating natural disasters. John McColgan, creator of 'Riverdance', travelled to the Caribbean country to capture, through photography, the people's kindness, good humour, dignity and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds

A local woman at Haven's Christine Farm, where food is distributed to local people. This woman is just one of 200 families to have received food on that day
A local woman at Haven's Christine Farm, where food is distributed to local people. This woman is just one of 200 families to have received food on that day
A mother and her two children in Cavaillon, one of the worst areas affected by Hurricane Matthew. Their home was completely destroyed by floodwaters
Yvrose Telford, she and her husband live and run Hope House Haiti, home to 40 children and young people
John McColgan and his son Danny, who was very moved by his visit to Haiti

Haiti is an island in the Caribbean about the size of Munster, with a population of 10.6 million people. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has often been struck by natural disasters.

In January 2010, a catastrophic earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and displaced one-and-a-half million. The earthquake caused $8bn in damages - 60pc of the city's government buildings and 80pc of all schools were destroyed.

A cholera epidemic followed, and continued for the next five years, during which 9,000 Haitians died and hundreds of thousands were affected by the disease.

While Haiti was getting back on its feet, with support from all over the world, disaster struck once more. On October 4, 2016, a tropical cyclone which had intensified to become Hurricane Matthew, swept the country, killing 1,000 people, destroying 200,000 homes and leaving businesses and farms devastated.

Haven is an Irish non-governmental agency (NGO) set up by Leslie Buckley and his wife Carmel in 2008. It operates solely in Haiti.

Haven has facilitated the training of 78,000 people, empowering them to build sustainable livelihoods and enabling them to live free from poverty. It has built, or upgraded, homes and shelters for 20,000 people.

Haven has directly employed 1,200 Haitians and, through its volunteer programme, has brought 1,400 volunteers to assist in the building of houses.

At the invitation of Haven, I travelled to Haiti, along with my brother Gerry as videographer and director, and my son Danny as drone operator. Our mission was to capture, through video-recording and photography, the living conditions of the Haitian people, showing how they cope, and, in so doing, highlight the work Haven is doing on the ground in Haiti.

It was a challenging, moving but ultimately uplifting experience. The people of Haiti stole our hearts - kind, good-humoured, dignified and resilient, they live in impossibly difficult circumstances, and without the support from the United Nations, the United States and other countries, like Ireland, they could not survive.

Haven is one of 400 NGOs doing essential and impressive work there.

While the world may be in turmoil, Haiti is testament to the kindness and generosity of thousands of people who have come to aid the Haitians in their darkest hour. It restores your faith in the basic goodness of human nature.

Haven's unsung heroes in Haiti are John Moore, Haven's country director, and Ailish O'Reilly, its programme director, both of whom are utterly dedicated individuals, doing selfless and enormously valuable work.

I hope some of my photographs touch you and give you some sense of these beautiful people, who are filled with pride, dignity and hope.

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