“The counselor used the word 'traumatized'. As if on cue, something inside me shattered into a million little pieces. Tears started and did not stop. I was not ok. I was not the same joyful person
who had arrived. My hope had fallen down.”
The opening excerpt was written shortly after I returned from working in the Haiti earthquake response.
After having worked abroad for almost a decade, including the last three years in humanitarian coordination, I began to notice a trend among myself and my peers: reduced resiliency to physical, emotional and spiritual
stress stress; risky behaviours, negative coping strategies, and lengthy working hours. Yet initiatives including access to psycho-social support were often dismissed and feelings of fear or anxiety often suppressed.
In a profession where bravado and exposure to danger are worn as badges of honour, the discussion is only starting to emerge. But how can it be that everything we hear, we see, we smell doesn’t somehow etch itself
into the fabric of our being?
My objective is to tell this story through documentary photography, starting in Haiti. The spine of this work will become a documentary that discusses the psycho-social impact more broadly in the humanitarian community.
Why is this important?
Brene Brown once said, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” By creating a space for aid workers to increase the dialogue about the emotional strains of their work and the impact and provision of support
-- both among colleagues and within the greater humanitarian community, we will become kinder, more patient, more empathetic, and more connected to the cause -- to ourselves and to the communities we serve.
When a disaster, emergency, or outbreak of civil war strikes, aid workers are often the first responders to administer healthcare; provide search and rescue; launch recovery efforts; and distribute
water, food and temporary shelter. The impact of crisis on a community includes a profound sense of loss, disorder, breakdown in social space, and an immeasurable level of trauma.
Aid workers are not immune to such trauma and often witness incredible suffering, endure dangerous conditions, threats on their lives, and tremendous devastation. World Vision conducted a study and
reported that “60% of those surveyed had experienced a traumatic event during their current field posting. The three most common events reported were road accidents, threats, and being near gunfire” (Mackay, 2004, pp 20-30).
My objective is to expose this impact on aid workers, all the while acknowledging the trauma simultaneously experienced by affected communities. Organizations work at a local level to implement
psycho-social assessment and healing initiatives for affected communities specific to each culture and language.
It is my hope that is this project will increase the dialogue within the humanitarian community itself.
Above are some of the portraits I took when I was last in Haiti. I will take additional images in Haiti and provide a choice of 4 photos for supporters to select from for their reward. I will send a link to access a gallery in the update section of the project site.
I plan to spend 10 days in Haiti in June, and will aim to have the rewards delivered by August 15, 2013.