Haiti Gets an Art Attack
Haiti Initiative 2016 happened in November. As I embarked on this journey to Haiti all that went through my mind was this resounding question, “What will I do for this one orphanage?” I had nine days to accomplish a task. Many of those days I knew I would not be spent at the orphanage. I was resolved to just take it easy and accept whatever would come my way. Realistically, there was no way of predicting what came at me.
Once I arrived at Pastor Fred’s house, he dropped me off and said he needed to leave to a meeting at church. There were two Brazilian guys lounging around on the porch just taking it easy, so I placed my belongings in my room and decided to hang out and meet them. While we sat there on the porch and talked I began to realize that these two are not your average middle class spoiled Brazilian guys. Neither were they the type to perform charity work just to feel good about themselves. My thoughts at the end of that evening, "Well, this is going to be an interesting trip!" Here is the story of my adventure with Bruno and Tatoo, an unexpected, unplanned and unpredictable encounter that could only happen on a trip such as this.
That first evening at Pastor Fred’s house, I sat on the porch with Bruno and Tatoo. Two laid back guys, typical Brazilian, shorts, flip flops and no shirt. Bruno the more quiet, introspective and Tatoo a more talkative “zen” hippie artist type. The initial conversations were pretty deep, small talk was brief, “Wow cool dreadlocks! Where are you from?” Mostly we spoke of our passions, mission there in Haiti, spirituality and art. After a while, Tatoo went inside to prepare to do some artwork for an orphanage. Bruno and I remained on the porch for a while enjoying the Haitian breeze on a warm late afternoon .
Bruno, 33 years old is from the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. He is a photographer and building a name for himself. Going against all the regular traditions and expectations of his family he set off to invest his time in honing his skills in photography. He completely discarded any “real job” in pursuit of his passion.
Tatoo, 44 years old is from São Paulo. He considers himself a graffiti artist, yet rarely did he talk about it. I would just call him an artist. Also a very “out of the box” thinker, Tatoo lives his life sharing his gift of art. His mission to Haiti was to help educate using art. Tatoo has been working with a program he developed “Arte Ataque Oficina” which translates to “Art Atack Workshop” since 2008 of which its theme is shared knowledge.
In 2015 they were invited to join a humanitarian group which was going to Haiti to help some orphanages. Bruno went as a photographer to capture the story visually and Tatoo was there to carry out art workshops for the children. They were part of a larger group, but their vision and friendship set them apart. Although from different cities, 260 miles away from the other, they remained in contact. At one point, one of them brought up the idea of continuing the work in Haiti that the group had initiated. It was a no brainer and so they decided on a date to meet up in Port au Prince. Nearly one year and nine days later, I showed up.
Their plan was very simple. They spent their time between their first trip and 2016 raising funds, sharing their vision and gathering an insane amount of donations. A T-shirt company in Brazil donated over 100 plain T shirts for Tatoo’s shirt stencil painting projects. Many individuals donated school supplies and toys which were stuffed into backpacks given by a bilingual school. Aside from those donations, Tatoo and Bruno were able to hire workers to build bathrooms in one of the orphanages, paint the outside walls, hired a metal worker to make the doors for the bathrooms as well as a huge table for the outside area. For another orphanage they supplied mattresses, new clothes and a Haitian style wood burning stove. With every orphanage they worked with, Tatoo conducted his “Art Attack Workshop”. Children chose stencils and painted their own shirts. Bruno continued to get great shots documenting all the work being done and the unforgettable moments and people.
The New Addition
It was my second evening there and I had spent the day at the orphanage in Croix des Bouquets where I am developing a project. The three of us sat at the table to have dinner with our host Pastor Fred. The impromptu debriefing session began as it would most every night after that. It was a relaxed setting, not at all structured like most would think. Simply, it was just a few guys sitting around talking, sharing and laughing. That was when Bruno asked if I’d like to join them the next day. Tatoo emphatically agreed “Yeah, you can be part of the team. Fill in any gaps and get additional footage.” Of course I said yes and the adventure kicked up one more notch.
Finally I was able to see the work for myself. The “Art Attack Workshop”, the orphanages they were helping out and their Haitian team; a translator, a driver and the driver’s assistant. The following three days were as if it was all planned out, as if we had worked together previously. As a matter of fact it worked out too well. When I hear me tell it to others, it almost seems like a lie or at least an exaggeration. The reason we worked well together is that no particular person took sole ownership of the work. Tatoo did his thing, we helped. Bruno did his thing, no one criticized. I did my thing, it was appreciated. We all knew our role, we all knew the objectives. The details were mostly worked out during breakfast and the evening conversations. Mutual respect, understanding the mission and humility are the ingredients for an effective team. That is what worked for us.
Another added bonus was that during my time helping them out, I began developing my 1-2 minute informative videos in English and Portuguese. Social media reaction was great and many said they felt as if they were part of the trip!
During one of our coffee sessions I threw out the idea of recording an interview. After a few attempts to find a quiet location, we were successful. That interview itself was a highlight. It was a fun and unexpected way to document a little of our trip to Haiti.
I asked Bruno what his most memorable moment was. He explained that his first trip in 2015 with the group, he was designated as the photographer. There was an innumerous amount of photographs taken. He practically took a photo of everyone the team worked with and every child of the orphanages. This year, 2016, he had a chance to deliver the photos to their rightful owners. That last day at the orphanage he sat on the back of the truck, held up a picture and the children would call out the name of who was on there. The child would run up through the crowd and get his/her picture! To him it was a work that came full circle at that moment. It is interesting to point out that mission workers always go and take pictures. Almost never do the children get to have with them a picture of that memory or a picture of us.
Tatoo was asked the same question in our interview. He recounted that on the last day at one of the orphanages, something peculiar happened during the T shirt painting workshop. That day, this particular program he specifically targeted the teenagers/adolescents. He said that once the child gets older the cuteness is lost and with that children become more isolated and unwanted. So, the workshop was taking place on the second floor of the building. All of a sudden, chatter from below turned into a few yells which then became chanting “Tatoo! Tatoo!” The younger children remembered Tatoo from the previous year and wanted to participate. As it was getting late and the workshop was only for the older kids, Tatoo couldn’t accommodate the younger ones. Suddenly they invaded the area of the workshop and began stencil painting t shirts. What stuck out for Tatoo was that the children didn’t make a mess or destroy anything, they did the work correctly and way more organized than expected. “They knew exactly what to do…” also as he reflected, “I still don’t understand the significance of that event”.
I went to Haiti with a specific purpose in mind, a specific project to establish. Meeting Bruno and Tatoo was unplanned. Becoming a partner was unexpected. Spending that time building friendships and sharing experiences was completely unpredictable. Taking part in the Art Attack Workshop project was the highlight of my 2016 trip to Haiti.
For a complete playlist of the videos click here for my youtube channel!