Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words,
Especially When It's a Photo Like This

All the endless coverage of the disaster in Haiti didn't really begin hitting home to us in a real way, at least not until we came across this chilling, unforgettable photo, snapped by Juan Barreto of AFP/Getty Images. It's all the reminder we'll ever need of the power of good photojournalism. Meanwhile, we'd love to see the stories, photos or video that affected you, and hear your reactions to this event.
UPDATE: The New Yorker, befitting its status as one of the world's great (if not the greatest) magazines, offers this roundup of Haiti material, a blend of fresh reporting by its sublime staff and golden oldies from its archives, to add the leavening of historical perspective. Hats off to you, Mr. Remnick.


At 6:09 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

John, I'm mostly saddened by the horrifying posturing by some to spin this into some sort of wrath of God punishment.

Blogland is hopping with outrage, including my own brand of it on my Eagle's Wings blog. It's just heartbreaking and my prayers are with those affected.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Rita K said...

The thing that freaks me out - besides the enormous magnitude of the damage now and for the foreseeable future - is the response to the local radio, PD and other straw poles indicating people in this country “can’t afford” to help people in Haiti. Here’s a newsflash for these hide-your-head-in-the-sand folk: you and I live like blissed-out royalty compared to the average resident of Haiti. Put your beer/latte/burger down, and send $5. (And if you really CAN'T afford any of the above, then by all means, you are excused.)

At 8:32 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts, ladies. Rita, I admit I was one of those people who wasn't terribly moved by this story either, at least not till that photo got to me. But that's why good journalism is so important.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger June Calender said...

The photo that got to me was of a forearm extended from under rubble and there were feet standing on that rubble -- which was the same as standing on the person that arm belonged to.

I've read a great deal about the poverty in Haiti and know a couple of Haitans who live in the US and are admirable and gentle people in the helping professions. I've seen deep poverty in other parts of the world but have not been to Haiti.

Sometimes it seems remarkable that I can go about my usual activities while a part of me returns to that picture and to all the rest I know about what has happened there. I had the same feeling immediately after the tsunami.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I saw that photo also, June. Haiti's poverty apparently goes beyond anything else in the Western hemisphere. As one fellow said on the radio today, the only thing the country seems to have going for it is good weather, which came in handy with so many being forced to sleep outside since the disaster.

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Gabriela Abalo said...

The Haiti tragedy is very sad indeed, but it is one of those things we can’t prevent or control. God gave us the strength to overcome the things we can’t control. This are the times that call for solidarity, for unification, love and a helping hand to anyone in need.
This tragedy was caused by nature and we can only deal with the aftermath of it, but what about all those tragedies that are constantly caused by human actions? Those are the ones we can prevent by taking actions before it is too late.
The world could have helped to ease Haiti poverty levels before this tragedy actually happened, but sadly we only react when we are hit by reality.
Today, now, exactly at this moment we can do something to prevent many tragedies that are taking place just now. Why we do need to wait until the disaster takes place so we can then deal with the aftermath?
There is a post I posted on my blog last Wednesday: “Pondering about” – this post touches some of the tragedies taking place right now.. please have a look at it and share your observations on the same.


At 10:31 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Welcome, Gabriela. You're special as a first-time commenter, and doubly special as (I believe) our first-ever commenter from Africa. I'm glad you found us, and I'll be sure to closely study your blog over the weekend.

As for how to best combat poverty, I'm not sure we'd agree there. The developed world has poured billions into Africa and other places over the decades, to little effect. We need to find a better way. The Jeffrey Sachs/Bono method of doing even more of what we've already been doing merely means we'd fail in a larger way.

Ironically, on today's NYTimes op-ed page, David Brooks nicely explains these dynamics, and I'd be hard-pressed to do a better job myself, so I hope some of you might give his column a read and share your reactions.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Kass said...

The image that brought tears to my eyes this morning was Good Morning America's Robin Roberts visiting an orphanage. A little girl on a blanket, injured, with her eyes covered by bandages, reached out and held onto Robin's hand when it was placed on her stomach. I lost it. Why do I feel guilty? Why do I feel like the money I sent through the Red Cross is nothing?

At 11:44 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wish I would have seen it. If anyone can find the clip on You Tube or the ABC website, please post it for us here. Anyway, Kass, you did your part. I hope you'll come to see it that way.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I'm reminded of nothing so much as images of the 2004 tsunami from the Indian Ocean region, or the post-Katrina photos from N'Orleans.

In some ways, all disasters look alike.

I wonder if we'll learn anything from the aftermath of this disaster, though, any more than we did from those previous disasters, since it seems like people are so quick to want to forget the disaster and return to their illusions of normalcy.

I also think that there are two reasons disasters seem so much more common than they used to:

1. the media cycle is faster, and disasters get reported, and over-reported, much faster than they used to, in graphic detail;

2. there are so many more people on Earth now, that people are living in every disaster zone you care to name, and there a lot of them; overpopulation is a root cause of most of the problems of the world.

And, finally, "disaster" is a human definition of events. Disaster to whom? To humans who are affected by it. The earth itself hasn't really changed, since earthquakes have been around for billions of years; it's our viewpoints that change.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I especially agree with your first point, Art. It's similar to how most Americans tend to greatly overestimate their chances of experiencing violence because of the way it's "reported" by propaganda outlets masquerading as local TV "news" stations. In my book, there are few charlatans more disreputable than they.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I meant to add, Art, that I'm not sure I recall images quite as devastating as this from Katrina, but certainly the tsunami yielded similar (or possibly even worse) horrors. But then, the memory does play tricks that way.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Gabriela Abalo said...

Thank you John for the warm welcome to your blog.

I did read the article from David Brooks today (I even posted it on my facebook ). I do agree with his observations, there is need to change the way we are trying to reduce poverty, as we have more than enough proof that the current paternalist methods are not working as expected. Then donating more money is not the answer to solve poverty.
I’ve been living in Africa for almost 15 years; during this time I had the chance to experience progress and failure on different development projects. During this time I have learnt that giving money does not help the countries, it only helps individuals pockets and increase the corruption of the governments and a few civilians.
A good example of success is the one that David uses, China without external help did manage to reduce their poverty levels and is now becoming one of the world’s strongest economic powers. What this is telling us is that change has to be driven from within and from the top; if the will is not with the ones affected then nothing will make them to change.
External help represents easy money, this money comes with conditions/expectations from the donors, to which the ones receiving will agree without excitation. The problem lies on the fact that the set targets are not realistic, as they are based on a different reality and culture, then unachievable. To make fundamental changes, there is need to have a plan, a strategy and strong drivers who will do whatever it takes to make things happen. But the plan and the target have to be realistic, they have to be based on the reality of the country being helped, taking into consideration their social-economic challenges. If we look at Haiti today, what we see is: 80% of the population live in extreme poverty, 80 out of 1000 new born children die, life expectancy is 49 years old, 70% of the population are analphabet, water and electricity are luxuries no many can reach. 4% of the population controls 64% of the country economy.

I’m also lost on which is the best way to help, I hope by now we do have enough statistics and experiences to start trying different ways. I’m also felling the pressure to do a better job, I’m really looking for ways to do so.


At 12:21 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Gabi, I'm not merely pleased but also touched that you came back to continue the conversation. And how foolish of me to simply assume based on sketch evidence that we disagreed. Sounds like we're on the same page.

I was thinking about this in another context this morning. Cleveland, Ohio, the city in whose suburbs I happen to live, showed up a couple years ago on a list as statistically the poorest city in America, which caused much gnashing of teeth and harumphing in this area. I recall that when the mayor convened a "poverty summit," which naturally came to little or nothing since, as far as I'm aware (please don't be shy about educating me on this, anyone), a fellow I know took exception to the language. "Why would I or anyone else want to attend a poverty summit?" he asked no one in particular. "I would be interested in attending a wealth-building summit." Anyway, I think that nicely speaks to the larger underlying dynamic we're talking about. We need to help teach and support others how to build their own wealth, rather than simply transferring our own to them, which is a waste of time and money. Skill-development and rebuilding the culture of poverty is the key. And I think microlending is a really promising way to at least begin. Any thoughts on that subject, Gabi?

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Maria said...

This begins as a digression: one of my former students actually met the Nobel-prize winner who created microfinance or microlending, en route from Bangladesh to elsewhere. I had never heard of that concept, and it surely has merit. Back to topic: We are all a heartbeat away from such tragedy, and sad as it may be to contemplate, those who can help in even small ways can find ways to do so. As I see it, the world is one. As troubled as our own region is, we need to--in addition-- think globally.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Maria. And that was utterly on topic, by the way. While I was aware of micro-lending initiatives and had read a good bit about them in the last year or two, the fact that one of its greatest practitioners has lately won a Nobel prize for that work has put this important subject before a far wider audience, and given the whole idea a well-earned booster shot. It may well also be why it was so front and center in my mind when I was thinking and writing about this topic.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

The microfinance trend also reminds me of the local produce trend, the Alice Waters and "slow food" movements, which I strongly support by shopping at local markets, using the farmer's market as much as possible, and so forth. That "small is beautiful" lesson was learned in the 1970s, it seems, then decimated in the public eye by the special interests behind Reagan's voodoo economics—which was exactly the same moment that the neoconservative agenda rose to prominence. This is no coincidence. Now I see people going back to the "small is beautiful" lesson while also thinking globally, as Maria says, and the results of that are innovation and small-scale but very effective solutions.

There was a fabulous documentary on Sundance Channel this week called "Garbage Warrior," about some eco-designers in Taos, NM, and the work they're doing to create local recycled architecture as well. What was interesting to me was that the film was made in fall 2004, which was when I was living in Taos. I didn't know these people, but I did know where their housing was; it was famous on the Plateau as an eco-friendly self-starter.

Then these same people were invited to the Andaman Islands after the 2004 tsunami to show the locals how to build sustainable homes from the wreckage—literally changing peoples' lives. They also showed the people how they could get all the fresh water they needed by building rain catchments into their homes—which again is something I learned about while living near Taos. There was more than one organic farmer there who did huge rain catchments that allowed them to water their enclosed gardens year-round.

The technology already exists. We just have to have the will to use it.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful stuff, as usual. The slow food/fresh food/local food movement does indeed have many parallels to microfinance initiatives, insofar as they both emphasize the power of grassroots action and the idea that small ideas can become very big when done right. I'm glad you so nicely tied them together, Art.

Also glad you mentioned the Sundance Channel, because I happened to have become a big fan of it literally in the last few weeks, after noticing for the first time over the holidays that we actually had access to it on our cable system. I just had never ventured that far up in the numbers to notice it before (since we have something closer to basic cable than premium, but this tells me maybe we're more like about in the middle of the two). Anyway, I've always heard and read great things about it, and am now thrilled to add it to my staple of favorites, along with the movie and sports channels. But Ted Turner's immortal TCM, for Turner Classic Movies, remains #1. Classic movies, without commercials, 24 hours a day. It's like you died and went to heaven.

My, how far we've roamed from our initial subject of Haiti. But in my experience, that's what tends to happen in all great conversations, in person or virtual.

At 2:35 AM, Anonymous Lou said...

Tragedies such as what is happening in Haiti seems to always bring us back from the foolishness of believing that Tiger Woods’ life/Bradgelina/John & Kate/and all the rest passes as news and something we should care about.

If everyone did something that they thought might help our community, either global, national or local than the world would be a better place. As for what that help looks like, everyone should look within themselves to judge what is best. Though many argue giving money is best, giving time and effort is almost always affordable.

At 3:55 AM, Blogger Gabriela Abalo said...

Why would I or anyone else want to attend a poverty summit? Good point, I definitely agree with him. Effective help comes through capacity building and sharing experiences. Lending or donating money doesn’t solve the problem, if the receiving hands lack the skills, experience and knowledge to work with it.
I’m with your friend, I’m more interested in attending a wealth building summit.
Microlending is one of the answers to reduce poverty levels, as tackles the problem form the root: builds capacity, attracts capital, and creates a network to achieve rapid, sustainable growth. But, this is still not enough, all help becomes pointless is the receiving party lacks the will and the attitude to change and take responsibility for his/her own wealth.
I posted something related to help and its implications, I think it contains some of the answers on why help doesn’t always work.

"If you give a fish to a man, you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life".


At 3:38 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Lou, in your line of work you know better than most how many ways one can do their small part. So thanks for the comment. And yes, Gabi, it's difficult to escape the teaching someone to fish analogy when you think about this subject.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

It makes me think about the fact that most of us have never seen a dead body outside of a casket. This photo is unfathomable.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's a great point, Diane. So for most of us, a single body outside a casket might be shocking. But this?....

At 9:32 AM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

Hi John, I just wanted to pop in and tell your large readership about a pledge I've made on my blog... for every comment left on the blog until Friday, I will donate $1.00 to Doctors without Borders for their work in Haiti.

Hope to meet some new friends and support a wonderful charity this way!

At 10:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good for you, Kim. I'll gladly match that, dollar for dollar, up to 25 bucks.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

Thank you so much, John. It's gotten a pretty lively response so far.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I rather expected it might, partly because of the underlying cause, and partly because of who's doing the asking. Who could say no to you, Kim?

At 6:29 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

John, you've also created a welcoming and comfortable space on the web where it's easy to ask!

At 7:13 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It's a regular mutual admiration society around here today. But there are far worse ways to spend your time, no?


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