Before I left for Haiti and Nicaragua, I bought a new piece of camera gear that I like to call a context expander. Before you do a google search to find out what a context expander is, let me say that it is a tool that allows me to establish the context before I begin a new section of a documentary. It allows me to get above everything with my camera, and really pull back the veil of what is surrounding the setting we are working in. Still not sure what I’m talking about?
A context expander is what is so lovingly referred to as a “drone”.
I hate the word “drone” because of the negative connotations that go along with it, but calling it a quad-copter or a flying machine just confuses people, so every now and then I just have to say the word “drone”. My hatred of the word aside, I acquired one in February so I could be ready to safely fly it by the time I left for Haiti. After several frightening crashes and at least 8 broken propeller blades, I finally really started to get the hang of it and felt confident enough to fly it for filming. I wanted to use it to get a good glimpse of exactly the surroundings we would be staying in. Test footage from home was pretty incredible, so I was excited to see what I could capture in the field.
When the time came for me to leave for Haiti, I lovingly packed the quad-copter into my box of gear, and hoped that it would survive the flight in the belly of the plane. It did, and as we began our time at Tytoo Gardens, I was anxiously awaiting my chance to get the flying camera out. I wanted to wait until it would not be a disruption to the activities going on at the orphanage, and I was waiting for a time I thought I could fly it as safely as possible.
After several days, the moment finally arrived, and I was growing nervously excited as I attached the propellers and turned on the transmitter. After doing my pre-flight stuff out of sight behind one of the buildings, I started the motors and watched as the little white bird climbed gracefully into the air. Quad-copters are not particularly quiet, so it wasn’t long before I had a small audience asking me questions in Haitian that I could not understand. I did my best to answer questions while still keeping my eye on the bird and trying to capture great context film to use in the documentary.
The first flight ended with me reaching up from a crowd of kids to grab the landing skids of the quad-copter. This isn’t the proper way to land, but since I didn’t think the kids were going to stay safely out of the reach of the propellers, I made the decision to preempt the possibility of injuring one of them. I flew the drone a few more times while we were there, each time going smoothly and ending with the landing skids in my hands, reaching above my head to keep the kids who had gathered below safe.
It wasn’t until the day before I left that I heard an interesting story. When I was showing some of the Tytoo Gardens staff the footage of the place they called home, one of them mentioned that when the kids saw me grab the landing skids, they began asking if I was going to fly up with the drone. They genuinely thought that this little 8 pound piece of plastic and batteries was going to pick up all of my 190 pounds! Ridiculously funny right? I was chuckling inside at the absurdity of it.
The staff member went on to explain that some of the Haitian’s who are hired to serve the orphans in the role of mothers were asking the same questions. They even asked if that is how I had gotten to Haiti in the first place. My internal chuckling subsided as I realized what I was being told.
Tytoo is only 45 minutes from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, home to the largest airport in Haiti. I had personally watched jets flying over on their way to land. Hadn’t these people ever seen an airplane?
The more I thought about it, the more astonished I was. Seriously? By the time I was 10 I had probably been to 2 or 3 airshows, had walked around a museum full of airplanes several times, had sat in the cockpits of airplanes and had probably even flown in one to Florida at that point. I forget what birthday it was, but I was even given the opportunity to fly one (okay…so there was a real pilot doing the hard stuff, I just got to use the yoke a little bit). I had grown up with airplanes my whole life, my wallpaper is pictures of fighter jets, and I spent many hours as a kid accidentally gluing my fingers together while trying to build model airplanes my parents had bought for me. Our school even spent a day at a museum wandering around looking at various generations of planes.
Really my whole life has been nothing but one of opportunity.
Before I left Haiti, I was waiting on some of the adults to be available so I could interview them, and the kids came over by the cameras and wanted to be stars. There wasn’t much else going on, so for 7 or 8 kids in a row I asked a pretty basic script of questions while I interviewed them. I asked their name, age, if they went to school and where, I asked them their favorite subjects, and the last question I usually asked was what they wanted to be when they grew up. When the first kid said he wanted to be a doctor, I wasn’t surprised, it is kind of the stereotypical answer you get in a country like Haiti. I had several kids who wanted to be doctors, a few who wanted to be engineers, and then a couple times I heard a word I couldn’t understand. I just brushed it off the first time I heard it, smiled and said “Merci, bien! Fini!” (Thank you, good! Finished!) When it came up the second time, I tried a little harder to understand what they were saying. The third time it finally clicked.
They were saying “aviator”.
Just by winning the geographic lottery, I had already attained something that these kids could only dream of aspiring to. I had flown in an airplane. They had probably never even seen one up close, but they knew it was a job that could bring them some stability. They knew it was a job that offered them the chance to travel outside of their own country.
When you are Haitian, you don’t just get on an airplane and visit the United States. Even if you are married to a citizen of the U.S., you can’t just fly there without getting a visa first. By contrast all I had to do to get to Haiti was buy my ticket. When I got off the plane in Haiti, I showed them my little blue passport and paid the customs agent 10 dollars and that was it. I didn’t have to fill out a form to request entry to their country. I didn’t have to go to the Haitian Embassy to submit my documents before I could travel. The opportunity was given to me, seemingly free of charge!
What opportunities will those Haitian children have?
Will they ever get to see the inside of an airplane? Will they ever have the opportunity to fly in one? Even if they do, will they get to visit the United States?
What about their opportunities to become doctors or engineers? Who is going to give that to them?
One of the places I flew my quad-copter over was a small little school that serves 900 students. It is on top of a tall hill on the outskirts of Simonette. As you stand by the flagpole you can look down the hill and see the Tytoo Garden orphanage poking its way up through the trees. Every kid I interviewed went to that school. It started in a makeshift hut made out of pallets, and is now a half dozen block buildings, complete with outdoor basketball court and a cafeteria. If these kids are going to have an opportunity at achieving their dreams, it is going to be because of the education they receive at that school. They will likely never have the opportunities I have, simply because they were not born in the United States, but this little school is going to do its best to ensure that they have at least SOME opportunities.
Who is going to give these kids an opportunity?
You can be the answer to that question.
Head over to http://touchofhopehaiti.com/donate-here/ and send them something you have marked for the school. You can even sponsor a child for their school expenses.
Give these beautiful children an opportunity to become something great.
I threw this quick video together pretty much on a whim…I wouldn’t consider it a finished project by any means…just a rough draft to get something out there.