Indy loves Haiti (slideshow)
Amy King, leader of local efforts to benefit Haiti, shares some cherished images of her trips to Haiti... some by her, some by other photographers.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti. An estimated 3 million people were affected, and a global outpouring of charity donations, good will and volunteers flooded Haiti. Locally, more than half of Indiana households donated to relief efforts. But, this is not a story about the earthquake nor is it about the millions of dollars raised. This is a story about one woman's love affair with Haiti and how that affair has impacted her home city of Indianapolis and the world.
"You should come to Haiti with me!" Amy King said with such sincerity and enthusiasm I thought it might propel her right off her seat at Calvin Fletcher's Coffee House, as we sat and chatted on a blustery January evening.
King wore an over-sized fleece pulled over her scrubs. She'd just come from the VA hospital where she works as a nuclear medicine technologist in the radiology department.
That's her job in one world, but in another world, Amy inhabits a small village in Haiti. She volunteers on a medical mission, leading responsible tourism trips, visiting orphanages or simply enjoying some rum and freshly caught lobster.
"Trust me," King said. "I want to live here and I love the convenience that America affords and I love the fast Internet connection. I'm way more efficient here, but Haiti has, even in the midst of chaos, what matters: family, tradition, colors, dancing, music, more family, working together."
I asked her if her heart was in Haiti and she answered in a dreamy, drawn out, "Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh."
King brought that passion back to the States in the form of the web site Provocate-Haiti, which features a vast amount of articles King and others have written, on everything from the history of Haiti, to local initiatives in Haiti, to recommendations for books about Haiti.
"This web site is how I've taken the last two years of chaos in my mind and it's actually becoming something, like this real idea of having the local community work together to help this global initiative," King said. "The future idea, when I don't have to work at the hospital every day and I can do this and really spread this idea, it would be so every state could have a Provocate idea."
In addition to this web site, King is active in social media, including Twitter and Facebook.
"I love networking probably more than anything on earth," King said. "As soon as I meet someone, I connect with them on Facebook and connect them to the people who I think they could have great synergy with. When I meet someone, I can't just talk to someone and have a normal conversation. I immediately see what they have to offer and what they need or what the need is and I immediately am in my head connecting them."
Via Facebook and Provocate-Haiti, King compiled a list of approximately 300 people and organizations that were either working in Haiti or had an interest in Haiti in doing so.
In the process, she forged and facilitated relationships that have changed the way groups in Indiana are working in Haiti. As King is fond of saying, there are "10,000 groups in Haiti doing 10,000 different things," — she means this figuratively, of course but her goal is to connect those groups.
"There are three huge water groups working in Haiti and none of them knew that all three of them are right here in Indianapolis," King said. "It just so happens that one of them does purifiers, huge water purifiers, that can give water to a community of 5,000. And another does bucket filtration for individual houses.
"So, it ends up that they complement each other perfectly, but they didn't even know the others existed. Whenever a connection like that is made, it makes me so happy. It's like the fuel that keeps me going."
Read more about Amy's personal life.
Warning: The next part of this story contains a dramatic image of doctors helping an earthquake victim that some readers may find disturbing.
On a medical mission
Amy began going to Haiti in 2007 when she joined St. Thomas Aquinas for a medical mission in Belle Riviere, Haiti.
"I love what they did," King said. "They take a team in and it's not evangelizing at all. It's only medical care."
While there, King worked as a triage nurse. She and about a dozen others worked side-by-side with Haitian nurses and doctors for five days at St. Thomas Aquinas' twin parish, St. John Marie Vianney in Belle Riviere.
"I went with the idea that I could check Haiti off the list and maybe next year go on a trip with the Timmy Global Health," King recalled. "(I wanted to see the world) and I wanted to do it through a medical mission because that was my career — and still is."
However, the plan of checking Haiti off the list quickly morphed into something else.
"I went on the first medical mission and, I can not explain it, but something happened and I totally fell in love with the country," King said. "Everything went right."
King returned to Haiti with St. Thomas Aquinas in 2008 and 2009. But, in 2008, not everything went so smoothly.
On Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, the group flew from Indianapolis to Atlanta to Miami to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but was stuck at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport because Haitian customs had confiscated their supplies. The supplies weighed almost one ton and included important medicine and equipment for a team of 17 medical professionals.
On Saturday, the group was still waiting. Haitian customs wanted documents from the Haitian minister of health, who was out of town for the weekend.
Sunday, the group was still held up. They decided to visit Holy Angels hospice to spend time with children.
The next day, Monday, most of the staff of the medical mission stormed in to the Minister of Health's office. He referred them to the Director of Pharmacy, who referred them to the Director of Protocols, who referred them back to the Minister of Health.
"I can't even make this stuff up," King wrote in her journal. "(We) decided we couldn't get the meds back because we couldn't show proof of some expiration dates."
They attempted to contact the U.S. Embassy, but it was closed because of President's Day. Resigned, they gave up for the day and went to Petionville for dinner. On the way back, the car was pulled over by police and one of the authorities pointed a machine gun inches from King's face. Luckily, the documentation they had on hand appeased the police.
On Tuesday, a few people from the medical mission went back to customs where they were told they could have their supplies, but they'd have to pay a tax. They decide not to. On Wednesday, one of the men on the mission negotiated the release of the group's supplies for $156 U.S. dollars.
They decided to scrap the idea of going to Belle Riviere and made plans to travel to the slums of Cite Soleil the next day and directly distribute medical help and medicines.
The area where they worked was rife with gang members, but many Haitians still sought the group's assistance.
"(There were) burns, shingles, goiters," King wrote. "They were grateful, we were thankful. So exhausted, so fulfilled!"
Read about Steve Zentner, a local doctor who's been going on medical missions to Haiti since 1966.
"On Jan. 12, 2010, I'm out walking my dog, an evening just like this — snow on the ground, sun setting," King said. "I get a message from my grandma and she says 'Amy, turn on the TV there's been a really bad earthquake that hit Haiti and it's devastating.' And I was literally glued to the television."
What King saw: a phantasmagoria of razed buildings and pleas for help, bodies and blood, screams and sirens.
It was another blow in a series of unfortunate events that began unfolding in 1492, when Christopher Columbus claimed the country for the Spaniards, who subsequently exploited the land and people for gold and slaves.
Centuries passed and Haiti saw more foreign rule, occupation, exploitation, debt and disease. All of this only compounded the worlds' — and King's — desire to help.
"I got my name on a list to get down to Haiti and I actually got down six days after the earthquake with a team of surgeons," King said. "Honestly, my medical skill set was not enough to help the patients at that time. What I was really able to do, and this has been the pivot point of my life, I started posting about what was happening on social media and getting connections and posting about our needs. I was getting incredible positive response and incredible traffic to the site as well. Literally, the earthquake changed my life as far as social media goes."
After returning home, King was emotionally drained. One of her godchildren had died in the earthquake and she attended the burial while in Haiti. Images of broken, dead bodies stuck in her mind.
"Since the earthquake I've grown up so much," King said. "Haiti's been my teacher. It's been the best and the worst parts of my life."
Regardless, King pushed ahead with an idea she had. An amateur photographer, King decided to host an exhibition featuring her photographs of Haiti. Her first show was in March at the Athenaeum, only two months after the earthquake. Her second show was in May near Purdue University's campus in West Lafayette.
"I have had two art shows to raise awareness," King said. "Again, advertising through social media and then telling the story through pictures. I was raising money to go right back to Haiti."
Every cent King profited went straight to Haiti.
It was at her art show at the Athenaeum that she met Provocate's founder and IUPUI SPEA visiting professor, John Clark.
"He said, 'I have this idea that I'd love to do,'" King recalled. "Over half of Hoosier households donated (after) the earthquake in Haiti and that kind of blew his mind because he's been working in international affairs his whole life. The more he was asking around, the more he found out how many people work in Indiana, in Indianapolis and in Haiti.
"So he said, 'I'm really looking to spearhead this organization that would organize all the various groups because I love nothing more that to support the independent local community and I have this global initiative that I love with all my heart and soul.' To connect the two, and using a term of John Clark's, which is 'glocal,' global and local, it just hit."
The idea of Provocate came to Clark after 20 years of working at large think tanks like the Hudson Institute, which was located in Indianapolis until 2004.
"I realized there is an awful lot of talent and brainpower working around the world and the community and if you could mobilize those people, you could have a think tank," Clark explained.
Provocate helps create a local infrastructure to talk about 'glocal' issues. Provocate also seeks to connect people to issues that they're passionate about and educational and entertainment opportunities.
"It gives them an opportunity to make themselves better and smarter," said Clark.
In the summer of 2010, King and Clark jointly launched Provocate-Haiti and, over the next year, everything seemed to come together perfectly for them.
They partnered with the Haitian Association of Indiana to launch Creole classes; King met with senator Lugar and his staff; she met with congressman Carson and his staff; she lobbied for Haiti at the CARE conference; she helped launch the Midwest premiere of New York filmmaker Alexandia Hammond's documentary Strange Things: Children of Haiti at the IMA; she helped organize Bloomington's Haitian film festival; she held another art show in January; and ever since the beginning of Provocate-Haiti, King and Clark held monthly networking meetings.
Somewhere in all of that, she made another trip to Haiti in May of 2010 to do art therapy with her mother at an orphanage in Cap-Haitien.
"It was obvious she had the energy and the experience from her trips to Haiti," Clark said. "She had the trust of these different groups. Everybody trusted Amy. I told her Provocate was at her disposal. So, in some ways, I've always thought that Amy saved me. It would've just been overwhelming [for me], a source of defeat and depression, doing what she does naturally."
Partnering with Village Experience
In the midst of the flurry of activity that King and Clark experienced in 2010, King forged a relationship that would re-define her involvement in Haiti.
In mid-2010, King met with the owners of The Village Experience in Broad Ripple, sisters Kelly and Anne Campbell.
"You can go into their store and they have art pieces, jewelry pieces, kitchen wares from 35 different countries around the world, and they didn't have Haiti," King said.
"We had several destinations we were involved in," Kelly Campbell said. "Amy came to us and said we need to do more Haiti. At the time, I wanted to go to Haiti and couldn't find an outlet that was wasn't religion-based or medical."
Kelly and King worked together to plan a trip based on responsible tourism.
"Responsible tourism means traveling the world in a manner that gives back to the communities you are visiting," Kelly wrote in an article on Provocate-Haiti. "It involves leaving a positive footprint and forging lifelong relationships. The Village Experience finds locally owned and operated hotels, looks for family-run restaurants, works with tour operators employing locals, and helps artisans to more fully develop their handicrafts for resale."
And that is what they did while they were in Haiti in April of 2011.
Their experiences included assisting with rebuilding projects; spending a day learning about micro financing and how local Haitian women had started their business thanks to a small loan; and visiting the Arts Creation Foundation for Children, whose artwork is now for sale in the Village Experience.
The trip's success enabled King and Kelly to take their first group of responsible tourists to Haiti the following month.
"I want to tell you that the energy of every single Haitian that we met was palpable," King said. "Because they're so excited to show off the beautiful side of Haiti. They're so excited to see 10 tourists come in and buy their products and their crafts and their rum and their lobster fresh from the beach that you can watch them cook. It's income-generating. It is pumping money in to the economy while also enjoying the beautiful parks."
King still works closely with the Village Experience. The team is planning future trips to Haiti.
Tourism and adventure sports
King's most recent trip to Haiti involved pairing responsible tourism with adventure sports. Through Facebook, King connected with a group called Travelcology, a "sustainable, engagement marketing agency that connects people, passions, and projects through brand-integrated adventure and volunteer travel experiences," according to their website.
King saw potential for a project. In January of this year, she coordinated a responsible tourism trip for 13 people that included professional mountain bikers, hikers, backpackers, kiteboarders, surfers and more.
"We had a woman who had just done a 3,000-mile rickshaw race across India, who is an ESPN freelancer and has worked for Tour de France and the Olympics," King said. "We had a guy named Jeff Evans who was just on a reality show called Expedition Impossible, and he led a blind man to Mount Everest — he made the Guinness Book of World Records. We had a professional kiteboarder. We had several triathletes. We had an adventure filmmaker. We had a travel writer for Lonely Planet and Bradt travel guides. We had, the main guy Philip, he's on the board of directors for the chamber of commerce in Manhattan."
As always, the group stayed in local hotels, ate at local restaurants and used local guides to transport themselves and all their gear. The athletes set out to experience the wonders that Haiti could offer, but at the same time they sought to educate the Haitians about their sports.
"We went to leave the mountain bikes with the Haitians so they (could) learn the mountain bikes, have a garage, and there's these mountain bikes that you can rent now," King noted. "There's a person there who can fix them now. Our kiteboarder took in a trainer kite and actually taught the kids on the beach how to catch the wind and left it with them."
"I want to get you there"
In King's perfect world, she would stay in Haiti for two weeks a month, every month.
But, in this world, she has only 20 days of vacation a year provided by her job at the VA hospital. Ever since she started going to Haiti, she's used all of those days to go there.
She'll never stop going, she'll never stop loving this country and most importantly, she'll never stop recruiting others.
"Anything you want to do in Haiti, I want to get you there," King said. "I want to get you to Haiti if you want to get your hands dirty. I want you to go to Haiti if you want to build something. I want you to go to Haiti if you want to teach. I want you to go to Haiti if you want to do a medical mission. I want you to go for responsible tourism."
She paused, then added, "And when people go, I want them to enjoy the local food, the local flavor, the singing, the dancing — make sure they dance! I just want them to go."
Amy King will speak at an upcoming, free showing of the IMAX film, Rescue 3D.
Provocate-Haiti exists to encourage discussions around new ideas for solving problems. They are a website for global and local initiatives, education, entertainment, policy and culture.
Amy King: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Clark: email@example.com
St. Thomas Aquinas
Donate to the reconstruction of Belle Riviere's parish center, St. Jean Marie Vianney, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. St. Thomas Aquinas has been involved in Haiti for over 21 years by providing Haitian teachers' salaries, installing solar panels, providing water filtration systems and much more.
4600 N. Kenwood Ave.
The Village Experience
Sign up for an international responsible tourism trip or visit The Village Experience in Broad Ripple for fair trade products from around the world. Amy King will lead the next trip to Haiti on March 3-10.
Kelly Campbell: firstname.lastname@example.org
6055 N. College Ave.
Medical Missions South Haiti
Volunteer in Haiti as a medical professional. This group has made 14 trips since 2005 and taken about 60 volunteers and doctors to Haiti.
Kids Against Hunger
Kids Against Hunger exists to
reduce the number of hungry or starving children throughout the world.
Volunteer to help pack meals for children here at home or abroad.
Dots in Blue Water
In June of 2011, a group of South Adams High School students went to Haiti to install water purification systems they had developed. Over the course of a school year, students developed a system that could treat 55 gallons of contaminated water in a single minute, enough to provide a day's worth of drinking water for over 2000 villagers. Dots in Blue Water is planning a second trip to Haiti for June 2012.
Ban Mwen Dwam
Ban Mwen Dwam is a group that seeks to advocate for Haiti, the rights of Haitians and encourages all Haitians to work together for a better Haiti.
St. Malachy Haiti Mission
St. Malachy provides medical assistance for the St. Marguerite Parish in Port Margot, Haiti, and supports the St. Teresa School.Sign up for their Run/Walk for Haiti on April 28.
983 E. County Road 750 North, Brownsburg
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