P.A.T.C.H. - Photography in Aid To Children of Haiti
"... the pure art form involvement of Carole Devillers is only one aspect of her activities. She is the founder of the Photography in Aid To Children of Haiti foundation, PATCH, which she modestly set up in 1984. PATCH is a non-profit organization designed to help out needy children-oriented projects. At first, she was selling small reprints of her pictures adorning greeting cards as a fund raising means. Revenues were small but nonetheless allowed helping out some programs in which children were involved. But feeling the need at this time to increase PATCH’s activities, Devillers enlisted the help of prominent members of the community to form a board of directors and set out new objectives for the foundation. PATCH accepts donations from the public in general, and its membership is open to all individuals, groups and companies who want to aid children in Haiti. Contributing to one’s environment makes one part of it. For her contribution to Haitian art and photography, for her involvement in social causes, meet Carole Devillers, Haitian photographer.
" Jean-Pierre Cloutier (Haiti-Times, 1986)
WHAT IS PATCH? Carole Devillers
It all started in 1984 when, after having been in Haiti for over a year, I just had to give back. This country had taken me by the hand, shown me its courageous and resilient people and its wonderful rural hospitality - it has stolen my heart. How could I not do something to help in return? I was not wealthy, had no money to spare, but I had one talent - photography. The name came of itself: Photography in Aid To Children of Haiti - PATCH - it was perfect: I would be patching things up with the proceeds from the sale of my Haiti photo cards. And so over the years PATCH gave a few thousand dollars here and there - an orphanage, a couple of schools and individuals in need.
But before PATCH even began...
A CHAIN OF EVENTS STARTED BY LEGRAND SANTIAGUE
One day in July 1983, as I was walking in the town of Ville-Bonheur (the town where the famous waterfall of Saut d'Eau is located and which was my reason for being there), I was approached by a Haitian man in his late thirties who started engaging me in conversation. Normally I would not pay attention as at this time of year, with the festival, people approached foreigners to ask for money, but this time something told me it was different and I responded . After talking while walking with him, I was intrigued - he was not begging for anything, he had a nice demeanor and his conversation was about the town. He offered to guide me around and since it was my first time in the village, I accepted. It turned out he was the local voodoo priest (houngan) of Haut Saut d'Eau (Upper Saut d'Eau), well respected by the community - Legrand Santiague.
Over the next few years, Legrand became a good friend. He divided his time between Saut d'Eau and Port-au-Prince where he lived in the slums of Cité Soleil with his family. His companion Ismane became my house helper, not that I needed one, but she needed the salary to raise her four children from a previous mariage. That's what you do in Haiti - you hire people to help them. I celebrated new births in the family as two more children were born, and also attended less happy events such as the funerals of their youngest 18-month old son who died of diarrhea.
THE "CENTRE DE L'ESPOIR" (Center of Hope) PRIMARY SCHOOL
By 1986 I felt the need for PATCH to increase its activities and have its own special project. Colleagues volunteered to help and we formed a board of directors. Legrand had told me how the lack of education in Upper Saut d'Eau was badly felt as there was no school and the children were very isolated. And so it was decided - we'd build a primary school in Haut Saut d'Eau. But where and how do you build a school with little money available? That's when Legrand came to the rescue: he had leased a field to grow crops and would put it at our disposal. He was more than happy to contribute in his own way to the education of the children of Saut d'Eau. The whole community was ecstatic! At last education was coming their way.
What started then was a fantastic demonstration of communal work: parents, children, grandparents, everyone contributed. The school was built with rocks dug out from the fields, carried in bags on horseback and on people's heads, adults' and children's alike, all the way to the school site. Strong young men brought in the logs necessary for the roof structure. Nobody spared any effort. Within a year the school was built (mainly a huge warehouse type divided in half that comprised four spaces for four classes), and in April 1989, it was blessed by Father Mathelier, a Catholic priest from Port-au-Prince, and dedicated. Over a hundred children, age 4 to 15, were registered, and three teachers from the area were put in charge of the school. The Centre of Hope was born. (See photos at left of the community getting together to build the school).
Little by little, as PATCH got more money from fund raising, improvements were made: uniforms and shoes were given to the children, and most importantly one hot meal a day was made available to them, cooked on the premises by two hired helpers. People are so poor in this area that children can go the whole day without eating a thing .
Everything ran smoothly for a couple of years until a fateful event...
THE END OF A DREAM...
One morning I was awakened in my house in Port-au-Prince by a distressed call from one of Ismane's children: "Come, come, Papa's been killed!" the little girl cried. I took my car and rushed to the slums. And there I saw Legrand, hung by the neck with knees on the floor, savagely murdered in his house during the night.
Over the months that followed, there were family feuds, the land in Saut d'Eau was lost as the lease was not renewed, Ismane was accused of the crime, arrested and put in jail (I never believed she had anything to do with it), political troubles were brewing in Port-au-Prince and as a photojournalist for Reuters I had to document the situation with very little time to dedicate to PATCH or the school which by then had stopped running. I was contacting lawyers to try and get Ismane out of jail. To no avail, money pocketed, and no word of the prisoner. One memorable morning, I got a call - it was Ismane! There had been a coup during the night and all prisoners had been let go. She escaped also and was now in hiding.
To make a long story short, the 90's were eventful in Haiti with Artistide fleeing and the U.S. military intervention, then the various U.N. missions. PATCH volunteers were now too busy caring for their own families during those catastrophic years and in the end I was the only one left with a dormant organization. Ismane returned and resumed being my house helper. By 2000, interest for Haiti in the news media had greatly diminished - "How many pictures of burning barricades can we publish in a month?" I was told - it's true there was not much else to photograph then and so it had become redondant. Barely making a living from the news, I left Haiti by the end of 2000. There's a French song that says "Capri, c'est fini..", well, for me it was "Haiti, c'est fini" (Haiti, it's over), with a heavy heart.
HOPE NEVER DIED, THANKS TO PLACIDE JEAN-SOMMENER
Eight long years went by before I could return to Haiti in 2008. I wanted to see how things were in order to prepare a photo tour. There's a saying that says "Haiti, love it or leave it". Well I love it too much to leave it for good. Last July (2009) I went back to Saut d'Eau, with participants, on the occasion of a photo expedition to the sacred waterfalls (see Haiti: voodoo prilgrimage of Saut d'Eau). It must have been my first time in Saut d'Eau in fifteen years.
All along the way to the waterfalls (the school was built on that road), I heard people calling my name in disbelief - I was back "home", among the people of Saut d'Eau, bound to them by our common school project.
We stopped at the compounds of our first students' parents, and were welcomed with joy and gratitude and fresh coconuts quickly plucked from the tree. It was my turn to open my eyes wide in disbelief: I learned the school had never closed but was still running with 150 children and 5 teachers! How could such a miracle have happened?
It turns out that when the lease was lost and the school could not continue at the former site (we did lose the building), our head teacher Placide Jean-Sommener took all the desks, chairs, blackboards and moved them to an old barn his father had on the family land. Passionate about education, he refused to let the dream die. Walking in Legrand's footsteps, he carried on with the same dedication for the past fifteen years, paying the teachers with the proceeds from the sale of his own corn and beans crops that he cultivates nearby and foregoing a salary for himself. I was astounded and so happy that the school was still functioning. "And what is the name of that school?" I asked Sommener. "The Center of Hope of course" he replied with bright eyes.
Needless to say, my determination to help Sommener and the teachers of the Haut Saut d'Eau community is renewed. Here are the facts:
- The school budget for 2009-2010 is $10,000. That pays the salaries of 5 teachers, 2 cooks and 1 cleaning person for 10 months, registration for 150 children (most parents cannot pay the yearly fee of $3.75), school supplies and some furniture (desks, blackboards) and food for the school meals.
- At present the children are cramped into a small building. The construction of an additional school-room and a needed kitchen and small warehouse will cost $3,400.
- We have to rely on fund-raising to aid Sommener run the school. Individuals, organizations, schools that would like to help out are most welcome. The fee to put one child to school for a year is only $3.75 (the cost of a Starbucks beverage) - That is a wonderful opportunity for school children overseas to help a third-world country boy or girl go to school. All funds raised will go to the Center of Hope or to pay for expenses connected with the school. PATCH does not have administrative fees. This is a volunteer project.
- A donation of $250 will be given to the school for each participant signing up on a Haiti expeditio. A day excursion to Saut d'Eau to visit the school and the beautiful waterfalls is included in our trips.
OCTOBER 2009 UPDATE
I was in Haiti in September 2009 on a caving expedition ( Caves of Haiti) and visited the Center of Hope, photographing the first days of school to update this page. Unfortunately it was not a happy time for the teachers as Sommener and his wife just lost their 7-month old baby boy the day we were there. The baby who was a lively little boy, died of diarrhea, in spite of hospitalization.
Not all children were present as the school year had not officially started. The building is in great need of renovation and ideally most of the school desks and benches need to be replaced. A new room definitely needs to be added so that the children are not as cramped. And the children do need one good meal a day. As we say in Creole "Sak vid pa kanpé" (an empty bag cannot stand up).
MARCH 2010 UPDATE
We're happy to announce that the Center of Hope in Saut d'Eau was spared by the earthquake of January 12, 2010. The house of one of our first students from 1989 was damaged though and we provided funds for the repairs.
PATCH RELIEF EFFORTS FOR EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS
TENTS DISTRIBUTION Project (Click link for details)
Following the devastating earthquake PATCH has been involved in helping individual victims get on OREworld's food distribution list. Furthermore PATCH has been providing tents to some identified families homeless in Port-au-Prince. At this point, we're a very modest program, but our heart is big and so are the people's needs. Your donations can help us provide more relief.
POST-EARTHQUAKE THERAPY Project
PATCH is also starting a new project: "THROUGH THEIR EYES - How Children of Haiti See Their World" aimed at providing therapy to children victim of the earthquake through the creative process of photography. The idea came from a child who asked me for a camera when I was in Haiti last.
Originally we were going to distribute basic digital point& shoot cameras to identified children in camps in Port-au-Prince. Because of security reasons, we've slightly changed the program to providing supervised field trips during which children will practice photography with cameras lent to them for the day.
Of course the more cameras we get, the wider our reach, and you can help! Should you have a point&shoot digital camera sleeping in a drawer (but still working!) that you no longer use, it can get a second life and be put to good use through PATCH. Please consider donating it (with a digital card) It will be most appreciated as are donations towards this project. We'll keep you updated.
FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT RELIEF EFFORTS BY ORE AND PATCH, see MISSION TO HAITI, Carole's blog.
FROM HAITI WITH LOVE Note Cards.
These note cards are adorned with photos of Haiti by Carole Devillers. They are not commercially reproduced but printed with archival inks and suitable for framing. We have two sets of 6 different cards with envelopes to choose from: Children or Street scenes, all taken after the earthquake. Each pack is sold $20 (plus $3 Sh&H per set) and all proceeds wil be applied to relief efforts and used to help internally displaced victims of the earthquake.
To contact us about PATCH and its projects or to donate, please fill out spaces below: