“Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” Haitian Heroes is a project by Dominik Prinz, a German born photographer residing in New York City.
Haiti is often referred to as the Dominican Republic’s ugly little sister. When I first set foot onto the dirt streets of Port-au Prince in 2011 I did not find ugliness, but beauty: in Haiti’s children and the incredible potential that rests within them. Since my first visit to the Caribbean Island I spent many days in the most impoverished areas of the city still devastated by the earthquake that hit it years ago, and left it in shambles. This is where I met twelve remarkable kids between the ages of 4 and 16; listened to their dreams, hopes, fears and captured their stories.
I met kids that have experienced more pain, heartache and horror than I thought possible. Girls who were violently raped, boys that have lost their parents and now need to provide for themselves, and kids whose very own mother threatened to murder them.
Yet none of these kids were desperate. They wanted, more than anyone, to embrace life, follow their dreams and realise their potential. The sheer strength and optimism radiating from these kids has probably humbled me more than anything before in life, and I wanted to pay tribute and capture them as what they truly are: Haitian Heroes.
Reactions to my stories as an activist in 3rd world countries over the past years were often similar – and deeply bothering . “Oh my God, these poor children” or “I can’t believe how hopeless the circumstances are these kids live in” were common remarks I’d hear people say frequently. The Haitian Heroes project is my way of challenging these misconceptions. These children are nothing short of being heroes. Not typical heroes, not the glorious ones we know or the ones in shining armour, but kids that have turned into everyday heroes, who fight against all odds imaginable to follow a dream – or to just make it through the day.
There is the story of Olivier, a six year-old boy who – in the wake of the earthquake – had been buried for days beneath the concrete blocks and wooden beams of what used to be his home. Alone, scared, prepared to die. Despite 10 surgeries, with many more to come, Oliver’s charisma and zest for life is ever present. In his eyes, his scars and his experiences are proof that he is a survivor.
There is Johnny, who wakes up at 4am and walks for three hours until he reaches his community school. Then, in the evenings, he walks back the same distance to his modest home. He does it with a smile and a sense of gratitude because the little community school allows him to attend classes for free – so that he can get the education he so desperately wants to change his life for the better.
Another story is that of Serdjinia, who lives with her mother and her younger sister in a small hut with a roof made of yellow corrugated board. The house might be tiny, but her dreams are big: she wants to become the next president of Haiti. It’s more than a silly idea, it’s who she is determined to become. She elaborates on nepotism, the government’s lack of political concepts, foreign policy and Haiti’s infrastructural problems. Serdjinia is 11 years old.
There are countless more stories just like these. One thing they all share is captured in a quote that inspired the “Haitian Heroes” project: “Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” This says it all, and all I want my pictures to do is capture this spirit – and help people see, even from a distance, that courage and mind-blowing potential often rests within those we least expect it from. It is a truth I have come to embrace and want my work to reflect.
You can see more of Dominik’s photography on his website