***UPDATE AT BOTTOM, ADDED 2/1/2010***
I hope you’ve taken some time to look at the photos coming out of Haiti. Look into the eyes of angry and lost people. Not to be dramatic, but I think its important to acknowledge the hurting people of Haiti, mainly those in Port-au-Prince. This kind of hurt demands an international response of compassion, patience, and support.
The US has a proud history of helping during international disasters. We always respond as a nation, as we should, by raising money, sending crews, supplies, and even placing down a military presence if needed. I’m proud of the way we responded. Billions of dollars are pouring into Haiti. The response from people has been immense. I read a story in USA Today of a barber shop that donated a whole week’s worth of money from haircuts: the total was around $2,000. Most of us can’t go to Haiti. We can’t hop on a boat or board a plane and go. We couldn’t do any good right now anyway. We could (maybe) go in a few months when things calm down, and the cities start the arduous rebuilding process. So what do we do until then? We keep raising money with bake sales. We keep calling in five and ten dollar donations on TV. And when the time calls for it, we go to Haiti with our youth groups, non-profit organizations, and ministries.
I was almost sent to Haiti after the earthquake. I thought for sure that I would be. I work alongside 12 other remote photographers, all of whom do the same thing I do: travel and shoot stories domestically and abroad. When the earthquake hit we sent in a team, good friends of mine. A few days after the quake we already had six people there, shooting and producing stories. I was told to make sure my vaccinations were up to date, as me going seemed inevitable. Instead though, I was given more of a domestic role, shooting stories that connected the earthquake to those here in the US, which is what this post is all about: a touching story I had to opportunity to help shoot about the adoption of three Haitian girls.
John and Gina Kulikowski had been trying to adopt three Haitian girls after Gina and one of their daughters went to Haiti in February of 09 for a church mission trip. Since then John and Gina have visited Haiti twice. Before the earthquake, Haiti was a very difficult place to adopt from. The Haiti government places all sorts of red tape over the adoption process, making it long and drawn out. The Kulikowskis live in Glassboro, New Jersey, and were there when the earthquake struck. The orphanage was in an area effected by the earthquake, and John and Gina had no way of knowing whether their future daughters were alive. “Did the buildings collapse, where were the girls? I start running through all those things in my mind, because at that point of time we knew they were coming home from school,” John told us in an interview.
Out of desperation they contacted the group I occasionally shoot for, Operation Blessing, as OB normally heads into third world countries to provide relief and aid. They had randomly met a producer who worked for Operation Blessing a few years ago (Russ Martin), and on a whim emailed him. Turns out that same producer was heading to Haiti the very next day. The couple gave him the address for the orphanage, and our team set out for Haiti. Contact was eventually made and the Kulikowski’s found out their girls were all alive. The actual structure had not done well–one of the five buildings had collapsed, trapping three girls who eventually escaped. The orphanage had a new problem however: no food or water. So our team, which was comprised of three producers and three photographers, headed to the orphanage to help deliver water and food. While our team was at the orphanage they shot a video message with the three Haitian girls: Daana, 11, Claudia, 9, and Samentha, 7. The footage was sent back to our main studios here in Virginia over the internet. And here on this side I helped deliver the video to the family in New Jersey. The Kulikowski family anxiously crowded around the TV to watch the video of their soon-to-be daughters.
The Kulikowski’s fought back tears as they watched their little girls waving and smiling. All the worry and stress the family had been under seemed to be lifted for a moment. They were able to see the sweet faces belonging to their future daughters.
Sadly, the fight to adopt them takes on a difficult new face. One of our producers, Dan Reany, took it upon himself to get the girls visas so they can travel to the US, which would be a huge step of progress toward adoption. All the process made before the earthquake is gone, back to square one. As of this writing ***SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM*** the girls are still there in Haiti, anxious to be with their new family in the US. And the Kulikowski’s are excited too. As we were wrapping up our shoot with the New Jersey family a UPS driver showed up at the door with huge boxes, each one marked with a big Pottery Barn logo. I asked Gina what they were, curious. She told me that they were “cork boards. So the kids have a place to put up things that remind them of Haiti.” I smiled. They may be okay with forgetting what happened, at least for awhile. And the Kulikowski’s home may be just the perfect place.
UPDATE: I received an email from Jon Kulikowski on Sunday, 1/31/10.
He says, “We received word last night that the girls files were signed by the Prime Minister and they should be on their way home tomorrow/Tuesday.”
To view our finished story click here!