Behind the Scenes in Haiti: Allison Shelley, Getty Images for Reader’s Digest
How good things happen: a story of dedicated people working behind the scenes in Haiti
On October 19, 2010, I received an unusual inquiry from photo editor Kerry McCarthy with Global Assignments by Getty Images to find a missing Haitian boy. The child, eight-year-old Kiki Joachin, was the subject of the now-well-known photo (by photographer Matthew McDermott) taken as he was rescued, arms outstretched, from the rubble of his home, seven days– without food or water—after the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The client, Reader’s Digest, was eager to do a follow up story on him and his twelve-year-old sister Sabrina, who was also found in the rubble, alive that day. But the magazine had no idea how to reach the family, who had moved to a rural area, a three-hour drive from Port-au-Prince. All connections seemed to lead to dead ends.
I turned to my trusty “fixer,” Richard Miguel. A Haitian-American with twenty years in New York under his belt, Richard is the paradigm of resourcefulness and drive. He immediately took on the job with fervor. Armed simply with the names of Kiki’s tiny rural school and his family members, he set off for the region, making inquiries until he found someone who knew of the school and happened to have the cell number of the principal. He arrived that same morning as classes were underway and was immediately introduced to Kiki.
Days later I met Kiki and his family myself. I often marvel at the willingness of complete strangers to allow me into the sacred space of their personal lives. But moments after shaking hands with Kiki’s parents Gracia and Odinel, we were invited into their home, a thirty minute walk on a dirt track winding up a lush river valley.
During the two-day assignment, Kerry and Readers Digest photo editor Bill Black were in constant contact, text messaging real time replies to my updates: “have made contact with family… sleeping ten in a small shack.” Kerry: “we would love to help!”
Far beyond the call of duty, the duo worked together with Save the Children, a nonprofit organization heavily involved in Haiti, to create a special fund for interested readers to be able to donate to children’s programs in Kiki’s region. They then turned to their own organizations and raised enough cash internally to cover school fees for Kiki and his siblings for the entire school year and to subsidize the family’s modest income.
The other day I met with Kiki’s father, Odinel, to give him the funds as well as a bag full of toys for the kids, courtesy of Kerry McCarthy. I showed him the photos and video that we had done during our visit and he eagerly studied, for the first time, Matthew’s photo of his son emerging from the rubble, pointing out neighbors and friends who had helped to locate the children.
He received the gifts and looked me straight in the eyes: “We were contacted by many journalists in the days after the earthquake. But this is the first time that someone has come back. It means everything to me that you and the readers remembered our family. Thank you.”
Note: Save the Children is one of many private organizations that Readers Digest feels is doing excellent work in Haiti. Reader’s Digest is partnering with them to help provide health, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, hygiene, education and child protection services to children like Kiki Joachin and his family.
To donate, go to savethechildren.org/readersdigest, or mail your check to Save the Children, 54 Wilton Road, Westport, Connecticut, 06880. Write “Reader’s Digest/Getty Images” in the memo line on your check, and we’ll report back on the good your donations do.
You can watch a video of Allison’s time with Kiki and his family in Haiti here. The full story with more of Allison’s photos is on newsstands now in the February 2011 edition of Reader’s Digest.