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
"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
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
"(There were) burns,
shingles, goiters," King wrote. "They were grateful, we were thankful. So
exhausted, so fulfilled!"
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
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
"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
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,
"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
"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
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
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: email@example.com
6055 N. College Ave.
DOVE Missions is a youth outreach program that
exists to serve abandoned, abused and orphaned children in Haiti and the
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
Dr. Michael Blood:firstname.lastname@example.org
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
in Blue Wateris 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
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