A non-profit lifting the children of
Haiti out of poverty
Long story short
Hopestart International started 5 years ago from the humble beginnings of an orphanage. It naturally expanded to a soup kitchen, education facility, housing and family. It was then ready to undergo a rebranding as it had finally established itself as an organization.
The co-founder, Jennifer Law, asked for me to use my creative expertise to bring branding and arts to Hopestart International. After several phone calls and email exchanges with the two co-founders, 3 ambitious projects hatched. Because the projects were a tall order, I invited a former colleague and photographer to join: Steven Davis.
The first project was to build an archive of images for Hopestart International to use for branding. A solid collection of imagery would help donation, social media, awareness and volunteer efforts globally. Little to no formal documentation had previously been done. Hopestart reached the age where its story was ready to be told.
Finding and capturing the narrative as an outsider to the organization and Haitian people was difficult. The line we were toeing was to capture the story faithfully. Prior to arriving to Haiti (for the first time) we both extensively researched its history, people and culture coupled with multiple interviews with the co-founders.
Some of the points we considered during the branding exercise…
Understand co-founders’ origin story & inspiration
How to express spirit of Hopestart through visual styles
Balance of documentary and lifestyle photography
Research, create shot list and schedule shots
Every day logistics of navigating in Haiti with extreme resource constraints
Highlight reel of select photography:
Connecting through the arts
The 2nd project introduced arts to the children. The orphanage successfully addressed the children’s immediate needs: food, health and shelter. Now that they had a sturdy foundation, Hopestart wanted to focus on education in the arts.
I have never lesson planned for a class or led a community project. Even so, I dove straight straight into the unknown. It was important to me I propose art that was culturally aware and understanding so I researched and spoke to the co-founders at length about Haitian culture. I even mapped out my lesson plan with a proper art teacher in preparation.
The 2 projects I led were “Twister” and “Wings for Hopestart”.
The current status of orphanage looked like a plain, uninspiring dormitory. The aim was to creatively find a way that invited colors and also double up as a way for the children to re-engage with the same space. The tricky part was the community art project had to include kids ages 5- 13 years old. It meant the art piece had to accomodate for all artistic levels.
Understand the architectural blueprint of the Hopestart International grounds with little documentation
Understand culturally Haitian culture prior to little to no knowledge
Source meaningful imagery / colors / textures that can bridge American culture and Haitian children
Art materials have to purchased prior to departure and needed to clear TSA guidelines
Art materials have to clear weight requirements for small seater plane for second leg of the travel
Teach and lead a series of art classes for the first time
Project needed to flex with availability of materials that can only be purchased upon arrival
Childhood is universal
Introducing an American childhood game extremely delighted the children. Twister was a simple game of colors, naming body parts and contortion. There was no cultural gap to understand how to play. There was an added bonus of the game naturally being bilingual as we exchanged color and body part vocabulary. It was a fun language exchange for everyone.
Control is an illusion
Type A planning could only drive a project a certain limit. For example, the paint needed for Twister hinged solely on the fact if we could source it locally. In such a resource-striken place, any logistic can delay a project indefinitely. It taught me to work better with ambiguity and spontaneity.
Nothing is accomplished alone
The Haitian people will show up. Neither of these projects would have been a success without the extra effort from the children, staff and volunteers. The willingness helps make up for the lack of. We all worked early days and long nights to accomplish the overambitious goals I set for the trip. To this day I’m amazed how much we could accomplish with so little infrastructure.
The best to capture life in Haiti and the good work was straight from the people on the ground. The aim was to collect a variety of stories which included:
Founders of Hopestart International
Teenage children at the orphanage
I was tasked with the challenge of interviewing a diverse group of people for the first time on video. My photographer friend handled the video and sound setup. The hardest part was the staff and children could only answer in Creole- their native language. Interviews translated from English to Creole between 3 people.
How to be a good interviewer
The first task as an interviewer was to create a comfortable, relaxed space to answer earnestly. It took several failed attempts to quickly build trust and working chemistry. The harder task was to build a good rhythm with the assigned translator- which changed due to scheduling. I have a new found respect for professional interviewers.