Interview by Carline Severe for FKN
Carline: Good morning Alice. Thank you for giving me few minutes of your time. What strive you to live between Haiti and Belgium? What is your motivation to work in Haiti because I know you could go to another country.
Alice: Good morning Carline. Thanks a lot for your interest in my work. I came to Haïti for the first time in 2007. At the beginning I didn’t like it much due to a culture shock. But a year later I got the feeling that I wanted to come back and I did. With every trip I liked Haiti more. So why am I here today? There is no rational answer to this question; it’s more an emotion. Maybe it Is because I like challenging situations, maybe because I like the love for life of the Haitian people, maybe it is because I am waiting to witness a change in this country, maybe it is because I like to get to know a country in a very profound way. But probably it is a little bit of all of that combined.
Carline: You were a part of the exposition” Eyes on Haiti “which took place in Pétion-ville, what was the objective of the courses given by these non -Haitian artists about photography to the youth
Alice: The objective of our 6 month photography workshop was to train young Haitians (between 16-30) to become professional photographers. There is a market and a demand for professional photographers in Haïti (advertisement agencys as well as NGOs fly in photographers from the States or Europe). In Haiti we found already some photography workshops given by NGOs, but their concept was community strengthening and art therapy. We wanted to go further than that. We found 150 students interested, chose the 20 best ones after some tests and helped them to understand the art and business of photography during a period of 6 months. After the workshop we organized a photography festival in Petionville to show the outcomes of our students work, which was very impressive. Right now, most of the former students are working as interns in agencies, newspapers, NGOs or as assistants of photographers in Haiti. One got already hired and some others have a permanent job in perspective.
Carline: Your next project is a documentary about NGOs in Haiti which sadly have outnumbered High Schools in Haiti. What are your thoughts on the role of NGOS in Haiti? What is your main objective and what are the issues raised in this documentary?
Alice: Since 2007 I have been coming to Haïti and just like everybody, I was shocked by its poverty. My first reflex was: Oh my god, I have to help this poor people. I started collecting donations in Belgium to distribute it to local, Haitian aid organizations. One of the biggest mistakes I made so far. I had to learn that most of the money helped only the leader of the organization and that my collected money didn’t help anybody in the long-term. I learned from my mistake and when I started my own NGO in 2010 I understood much more about development aid and tried to put that into practice during the photography workshop. This time it worked much better, but it didn’t stop me from learning more about the whole aid system and I started questioning my work and those of other international organizations.
During the last 5 years I also worked for a number of NGOs as a photographer and had a good insight into their work practice. There are many mistakes being made, that I have witnessed with my own eyes. Not intentionally, most aid workers really come to Haïti with the objective to help. But after more than 30 years of development aid with almost no results to show, we have to ask the question if development aid is really contributing to the development of Haïti..
While in theory, industrialized countries know they can not develop a third world country without the active participation of this country, they do not put that into practice and are rather preventing it.
So in the form of a documentary choosing the example of Haiti, we will examine the issue of necessity and usefulness of traditional development assistance and solutions for improvement.
Carline : when will this documentary be available to the public?
Alice : It will be shown in Belgian television in October 2012 and hopefully be distributed to other countries as well. If anybody wants to support our project and already order a copy of the movie, they can support us here: http://www.emphas.is/web/guest/discoverprojects?projectID=600
Carline: Do you have plans to stay in Haiti permanently?
Alice: I love making plans and right now I am planning to stay in Haïti. But knowing myself, my plans can change any day. It all depends on where life, love and work will lead me in the future.
Carline: One of your photo essays is on “restavek” which is a very sensitive matter to explore especially in the case of Haiti, being the first black republic…tell us a little bit more about it..what were the challenges that you encounter?
Alice: There are about 300.000 children in Haiti, who are engaged as domestic slaves or ‘Restavek’. Restavek is a creole word derived from the French ‘rester avec’ with the original innocuous meaning ‘to remainwith somebody’. Many of the children are orphans, others were sent by their families from the countryside into the city. It is upsetting to note that the economic distinction between host and natural family is negligible. Thus almost all Restavek go from bad to worse – from the countryside straight into the slums or from a life on the streets, with at least some tangible sense of liberty, to being deprived of even this last precious possession. Alexandra, the girl, who I spent one week documenting, is 14 years old. For the past seven years she has been living with her host family. She has been abused, hit and treated in a horrible way. Another journalist told me about her and asked me to help to get her out of her host families house. That’s what I did. The Restavek Freedom Foundation agreed to let her move in the house for former Restavek children.
The biggest challenges I encountered was spending many days in these horrible conditions, trying not to judge and doing everything I could to help the girl.
Carline: You have another photo album, titled the “other Haiti”…in your own words based on your own experiences, is there another Haiti?
Alice: The Haiti we see in the press is always misery and poverty. And although that is a big part of Haiti, it is not everything. Haiti is very complex. Haiti is also very rich. It has beautiful landscapes, people that are full of life, good music and food. That’s something that should not be forgotten. Moreover, Haiti has a rich community. Its estimated that 10% of the people own more than 50% of the countries wealth. I want to capture the life of these people as well. They belong to Haiti and I am documenting their life again trying not to judge.
Carline: As a photojournalist, what do you see when you look at Haiti?
Alice: As a photojournalist and as a human being, I see contrast and complexity when I look at Haiti. These are the two words to describe Haiti the best.