Haiti from behind the lens
The winner of the 2011 Habitat World photo contest reflects on his build experience in Haiti.
Courtesy Chris Sebilia
In April 2011, I went on a Habitat Global Village trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had been looking for a way to change my life and accomplish something meaningful in the process. Upon returning, I entered and won the Habitat World photo contest, resulting in a spot as a volunteer at the 2011 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Leogane, Haiti.
During our heartbreaking drive through the worst slums in the Western hemisphere, I got to see a glimpse of tent cities, where people still live nearly two years after the devastating earthquake. I would be partnering with Haitians in a community set among warm, tropical sugarcane and palm trees — and among a population that has an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent. Surely this could not be the state of our neighbors, a mere two-hour flight from Atlanta. I could not help but ask myself, “Would I make a difference? Would our contribution here make a lasting impact on the community?”
Every morning after reaching the build site, we were immediately greeted by one of our new homeowners. Marie Veronila Antoine lost her husband in the earthquake and now, in addition to looking after her own three children, cares for two other children. Though at first timid to help around our team of boisterous Americans, her broad smile and affectionate hugs were more than enough encouragement for us. The other homeowner we worked with served as a translator for everyone. His kind demeanor was as large as his lofty height. He towered over our team of volunteers, his hands nearly the size of our hard hats. Seeing him help his 4-year-old daughter Loryn into the house for the first time will always be one of my cherished memories.
There will never be a satisfying answer as to how much my contribution of installing roof panels in 90-degree heat will make a lasting impact on the unrelenting devastation in Haiti. All I have is what I know in my heart: that I had an effect on two incredible families. Though the time we shared together is over, my memories of my trip are as vivid as ever.