Soon after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, New York-based documentary and adventure photographer Simon Russell and two of his friends, Eddie Gavagan and Stan Tankursley, organized a fund raiser in New York. With the money they raised, they travelled to Haiti with as many medical supplies, water purification systems, mosquito nets and as much food as they could carry and helped out wherever a local NGO was in need.
Along with the miscellaneous supplies and a desire to help wherever they could, they also had a dozen or so soccer balls. Wherever Russell and his partners went, whether it is a small village, community soccer field or just a patch of dirt where kids were playing with a rolled up bunch of rags, they would stop to play a quick game of soccer and give them the ball when they left. It was just 30 minutes for a simple game of soccer but it was time well spent, as it brought smiles and laughter where ever they went.
The memories of his pick-up soccer games with kids kept coming to mind, and it finally dawned on Russell that soccer was the perfect way for him to do something positive and constructive in Haiti.
Out of his trip to Haiti in 2010, Russell created a self-assigned soccer project with the idea of shooting video along with stills. The project would have a two-fold purpose: The kids of Haiti would get a soccer program and Russell would have a reason to learn to use Final Cut Pro and other video editing software and ultimately be able to include more video in his photography. After several more fund raisers, Russell started slowly connecting with a group of like-minded- people and creating an arena for his soccer project.
He started with Haitian Peoples Support Project (HPSP), an NGO founded by Pierre Leroy and his wife Terry. HPSP was founded in 1990 as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the poorest segments of Haiti's population, and, in particular, the children. They provide assistance to grass-root community-based projects such as schools, orphanages, peasant/farmers cooperatives, health clinics. HPSP is involved with healthcare, nutrition, agriculture, fisheries management, sanitation and education, and they actively promote inter-cultural educational programs for Haitian and Dominican youth with the intention of fostering better cultural, political and economic relations between the two neighboring countries
Russell helped out and photographed some of HPSP’s benefit events to support orphanages and schools shattered from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. This was the perfect scenario for Russell with kids all over Haiti who could benefit from a soccer program. Leroy and HPSP were very receptive to the idea and they knew many people in Haiti who would also be able to help. One of those friends that Russell was connected with was Jean Patrick Lucien, a Haitian living in Boston, whose company, Ile-a-Vache Development Group, promotes business development, education, environmental awareness and tourism.
Russell next connected with Linda Ford at Soccer Recycle in New York City. “This program is Linda's ‘baby.’ Through her program she's collected and shipped soccer gear to South America and Africa. She really is amazing,” says Russell. Ford put together 200 pounds of gear. She had full uniforms for four teams of 12 kids, with cleats, balls and pumps and any other equipment she could get. Soccer Recycle is basically herself and her own two "soccer" kids collecting gear for this project.
Russell’s ultimate goal for this project and the short documentary he plans to produce is to raise awareness of the soccer program and garner some financial support for future trips to Haiti. “It's still early going in the logistics and programming of this project, but the most likely scenario is that we will continue to expand the program on Ile-a-Vache, where I photographed this past May,” adds Russell. Ile-a-Vache is a small island community near the city of Les Cayes on the Southwest coast of Haiti with about 22 schools, and Russell plans to start programs with HPSP for schools and orphanages all over Haiti.
For Russell, the biggest challenges to this shoot were trusting his instincts about people and making the best of each opportunity that presented itself. Things will work out one way or another or they may not work out because this is Haiti after all. His final goal for early August will be to make a short documentary of about 16 minutes and two-minute teaser that will focus on the soccer program and the tournaments now attracting numerous spectators in these small communities.
Russell will promote the finished documentary with a link on his Web site, as well as on Photoserve.com, Facebook and YouTube. He will also reach out to various NGOs who have funding programs for Haiti and who would be receptive to supporting or partnering with him and his existing team. There will also be an opening-night premier party in New York City and on Ile-a-Vache.
When Russell, who is Brooklyn-based is not doing photography, he spends most of his time-either chasing his eight-year-old daughter as she careens madly down the streets on her new bicycle or playing baseball with his 14-year-old son. The world intrigues Russell and stirs his passions. His photography gives him a reason to be in the right place at the right time to tell the story and to become an active part of it as well. You can see more of Simon Russell’s passion for Haiti and other projects at www.simonrussellphotography.net