Nigel Barker Partners With Edeyo Foundation to Assist Haitian Relief Effort

Nigel Barker, celebrity judge and photographer from the long running America’s Next Top Model, in a recent telephone interview spoke on his commitment to earthquake devastated Haiti and his evolution from smokin’ hot sexy to humanitarian philanthropist.

At the Photo Exhibition held at The Milk Gallery in Soho to raise money for Edeyo.

This is our third interview and each time he exhibits a growing commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. He is a corporation and, with the stratospheric reach of the hit reality TV show America’s Next Top Model running in marathon sessions in the furthest corners of the globe, his name brings instant recognition and sends girls into emotional outbursts similar to those of other, well known, British superstars and he takes his celebrity reach very seriously.

The America's Next Top Model Team.

His hope today and commitments are focused on two challenging social areas: Haiti and the HSUS. His devotion to both is evident. He has been the spokesperson for the HSUS Save the Seals Campaign for over two years and has photographed the hunt unbeknownst to the hunters capturing the murder of countless seal pups. He traveled to Haiti and describes, below, his experiences. Upon return he hosted an photography gallery show at the trendy Milk Gallery in the Soho section of Manhattan. Fashion designer’s Pamella Rowland and Jon Cracco, the Chief Designer from Perry Ellis, were on hand to meet, mingle and lend support to Nigel’s effort to assist this group of people through the foundation Edeyo.

Staining the ice floes with the carcass of a bludgeoned seal.

His commitment to Edeyo, a charitable organization created by his friend, Unik, a native Haitian who has made a solid name for himself through Club Promotions and, according to Nigel, is quite well know in “all hot spots, LA, NY and Miami,” grew progressively through the years.  While the meeting was serendipitous the conversations weren’t and it was the conversations that became the catalyst for Nigel’s commitment to assisting Unik and Edeyo build schools in poverty ravaged Haiti. That was a over a year ago.  The monies raised built a three story school in Bel-Air, an ironically named enclave, in one of the poorest sections of Haiti.

On the red carpet with Unik.*

Hope solidified when Edeyo finished the three story school, with a bright white façade structure, and began assisting the local community through education. It was a milestone, a moment of triumph.

As we all are aware on January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake struck the perilously impoverished country  and leveled its capital, Port-au-Prince. As Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere one can expect that a earthquake of this magnitude would cause more damage than the imagination could grasp. And it did.

Fashion Designer, Pamella Roland and Nigel Barker.*

No building codes inspectors forced builders to adhere to earthquake or even normal structurally sound conditions. The pre-earthquake photographs show a dilapidated, struggling nation, a “Lord of the Flies mentality” as Nigel indicated, “Children leading Children.” And now if one can find a building still standing one can see that the devastation is apocalyptic.

The house that hope built: The Edeyo School with the many children who attended in pre-earthquake Haiti.

Now, the school, with its bright white façade that began in 2007 assisting the local community through education, is gone. According to Nigel, “Over 100 children are still missing and presumed dead as are many of the teachers.”

He is dedicated to leveraging his celebrity, for whatever it is worth, to assist those in Haiti. This commitment was pre-earthquake. The post earthquake scenario has almost a polarized emotional impact: devastation and hope: life and death. The devastation, the loss, the obliteration of all the effort, the work, and yes, the finances that went into realizing the dream of Edeyo and now, Edeyo Foundation, as he describes,  is again, giving hope to many as they serve the community in an immediate needs, first responders, effort.

Nigel’s face and voice are well known, his passion for Haiti is not the cause of the week or simply because it is devastation fashionable. Nigel is committed to Haiti and to its people. His passion was more evident in this conversation that heard in the past. He is a dedicated artist who uses his primary  instrument, the camera, to capture his words. He speaks well, eloquently and with passion; he photographs with mastery. Below is our interview.

Nigel on location.

Janet Walker: “What is Edeyo? And How is it pronounced?”
Nigel Barker: “Pronounced uh-day-o. It literally is Creole for ‘Help Them.’ The gentleman who started the organization Edeyo, Unik, he goes by the one name although his real name is Frankie Earnest. This is a guy who has been in the entertainment industry through Club Promotions for a very long time. He is very well known in the city. He’s a Haitian man and he’s done extremely well for himself. Pretty much one of the leading Club Promoters in the United States. He works both sides, practically, in events everywhere from the Hamptons to Miami, to Los Angeles to New York. I got to know him over the years as one does in the entertainment industry and on various occasions I’d chat with him or have a drink and he’d discuss the foundation or actually Haiti would be the subject, Port-au-Prince, and the problems and issues there. It always seemed so strange, because we were always in these fabulous settings, to discuss these sort of issues.” 

“It was about 2007, he decided he was going to create this foundation, build a school, he felt he could at that point, financially, he knew the people, he got himself organized. I’ve always sort of been in the loop.  I became a board member of the foundation/charity this year. In 2008, right after they built the first school, I traveled down to Haiti with him in order to see for myself what was happening in Haiti. This is a friend of mine who spoke very passionately and eloquently on the subject and the issues and it seems almost impossible the place could be as dire as it sounded and only be 45 minutes of the coast of the United States.”

A child's home.

“And I’m afraid, even before the earthquake, it lived up to all those bad rumors I had heard, it was retched and Soleil is the worst slum in Port-au-Prince and Port-au-Prince is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  You really can’t put to fine a point on it. We went to place where the UN hadn’t been in ten years; there was no police presence; we had to negotiate with gang warlords in order to get in and took our cameras to places where no one has reported from and actually even during the earthquake, my friends, colleagues and cameraman who went down with me, one of the things we noted, was that there was no footage of any destruction in Cite Soleil, and heaven knows what happened there, it was already a hell hole prior to the earthquake.” 

Pre-earthquake, Port-au-Prince, Haiti


 
Janet Walker: “I have been to two Edeyo Foundation events; The recent POP Burger Benefit and The Milk Gallery Exhibition Fundraiser where you explained your first trip as almost “front lines” photography. Can you describe the days before you went to Haiti and what you experienced while you were there?”

Nigel Barker: “Every photo assignment we do is different. I loved to be challenged by different scenarios and that being said, I’ve always been acutely aware of the power of photographs and filmmaking in general and the power of the picture to move people. When we decided to go to Haiti it was to report on the school and to see where the money was going so people could get idea who they were helping exactly and put a face on the organization. And, of course, try and leverage whatever celebrity I had from Top Model to help raise awareness for the charity and for the situation down there." 

The One Oak Fundraiser.

"Right before we left, the whole world was suffering food shortages, now this was in 2008, and as a result, Haiti obviously being the poorest country, was one of the countries in the world who had food riots that were particularly bad. An example of how bad; local rioters in Port-au-Prince drove a garbage truck straight through the presidential gates and smashed into the Palace. That’s how angry the people were that they would take such a as risk. Of course, it’s the same famous palace that we all saw smashed in the earthquake and also, the American Embassy thought the situation was so grave that they closed their embassy and sent us a warning as they were aware that we had a flight and itinerary and were planning on leaving to go to Haiti imminently.  They told me I shouldn’t go and here were the 101 reasons and, I mean literally, sent a twenty page email of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be going and if I did I was under my own risk and would not have the protection of the state and the Canadian Embassy was closed due to the fact that it had just been bombed."

Haiti.

"We had to think about why we were going. ‘What are we doing here?’ ‘What’s the point?’ Is this the right time to go? Actually, at the time, we were going down with Vogue Magazine and they understandably pulled out.  In a business like theirs, they just can’t take financial risks like that that and their insurance wouldn’t cover it. I remember talking to everyone on my team and, finally, we decided we should pull out too. We had the tickets and we couldn’t reimburse them; we had all cleared our calendars and literally two days before we were scheduled to leave, I spoke with a nun, believe it or not, who worked for the charity and had just come back from Haiti.”

"I told her of our plans that we had just cancelled them and she looked at me and said, ‘Please go, the people there really need you. Now more than ever. The story needs to be told. Yes, they drove the trucks through the Presidential Palace because they’re are angry with the President. They are not angry with you. They are generous hospitable and loving people.’ Anyway whatever it was, the tone of her voice, the encouragement, the fact that she had just gone and done this was enough for me to say, ‘Okay,’ and reconsider and actually make an effort and try to do it.”

The slums of Cite Soilel, Port-au-Prince, in pre-earthquake, Haiti.

Janet Walker: “And when you got there?”
Nigel Barker: “When you get to Haiti, it’s bizarre, you arrive and  It’s like landing nowhere else. The control tower is perched on three containers; shipping storage containers and on top of that is a crow’s nest, and that’s where they do air traffic control. It’s sort of in the field and when you get out there is this riot scenario from the moment you arrived just because there is such mayhem in security. And this is all before the earthquake  when things were relatively normal. That’s your first impression, your first feeling of it.  I took my camera crew and I was taking photographs and we were filming and the idea was not to paint a pretty picture because that’s not the case nor is that going to drive people to consider Haiti in the right light or want to donate money but they also need to know the full picture. The picture tells the story itself. This is the situation and then this is what this foundation is doing, this is what’s being done and the idea was not to go down there as a big multi-national charity and give food away the whole idea of Edeyo is to start by building the infrastructure by basically educating the people. In the 1970’s there was this huge exodus of professional and educated people; it’s rare to see any professionals, healthcare professionals, accountants or just professionals. The average age of a Haitian is below the age of eighteen.  There’s sort of  Lord of the Flies mentality  in that I saw children leading children. I saw kids 16 years old with three kids and bullet holes and have lived lives that we’ll never live and we’re in our forties.  It’s just extraordinary and an a real eye opener for all of us.”

Nigel photographing children in pre-earthquake Haiti.

Janet Walker: “Presently fast forward to the current devastation. It’s been called apocalyptic. In fact earthquakes of this magnitude are rare with only seven to fifteen worldwide a year. What are the initial damages estimates from a ground floor perspective?”

Nigel Barker: “I mean as bad as any one of us could imagine. I mean really, really, extremely bad. There’s over a hundred children from the school still missing and at this point presumed dead. The teachers, we thought we had accounted for all of them but we haven’t, there a still teachers missing.”

An Edeyo's school child, now presumed dead.

Nigel Barker: I just got this email from Unik: Shall I read it to you?
Janet Walker: Yes.

Nigel Barker: "’I hope this email finds you well. After we marked the one month anniversary of the earthquake in my homeland we thought you should be aware and spread the message of our initiatives within this small organization like Edeyo. My company is in tatters and the school that Edeyo opened in 2007 is destroyed. Hundreds of our students are still missing and many teachers are feared dead. Edeyo was the first and only organization that visited the people of Bel-Air [the ironically named poverty stricken neighborhood near the presidential palace*], which you know was located a short distance from the National Palace. We are planning on opening a medical clinic in our old school.  *Nigel’s comments are bracketed.

The classrooms of the Edeyo Scool in pre-earthquake Haiti.

[Their moving back to the old school. They had just moved out of the old school and into the new school and now the new school is completely destroyed. The old school is fine.*] Luckily the old school is fine. We’ve moved back into that. Thanks to mum. [His mom is actually the head of the school. She’s a fantastic women. Unbelievable. She’s taken in twelve orphans in and of herself. She is really a remarkable lady.*]

Edeyo has over fifteen tents and she has managed to have a water storage set up in the slums of Bel-Air and every day and every other day a truck from Viva Rio, a Brazilian organization delivers water to the people of Bel-Air. She also got a group of doctors to administer post medical care to the children and the people in the community.  US Aid inspectors in Haiti sent an email to a friend and I quote, 'Edyeo crew in Haiti serves 1500 people per day for medical care; 200 people slept under their tents last night during the rain; we have already started the process two weeks ago by sending our New York based member Pat Burbay along with doctors and nurses. We are able to accomplish all this for less than $3000.00 and a strong commitment from our volunteers. We couldn’t have accomplished any of this work without your generosity and trust. We ask you to continue your support through upcoming fund raising events.’”

At the One Oak Charity Fundraiser.

Nigel Barker: “Now the last thing I did was about two weeks ago when we raised $54,000.00 in one evening. When you realize that people in Haiti live on $1.00 per day. You can buy a liter a water for $0.25. So when people say they don’t have anything to give; they need to know just how far their dollar, a single dollar, will go in Haiti

Janet Walker: “What is your benefit schedule for Edeyo?”
Nigel Barker: “Rebuild Haiti, We held that January 21, 2010 at One Oak when we raised $54,000.  Actually, we were the number one fundraising benefit held in New York City that week. It was mostly donations at the door; There was an impressive group of people and then later on that week we went the NASDAQ and rang the opening bell and talked about Haiti and basically, spread the message. And as you can see on my blog there are photographs of the children across Times Square.”

“So as much as possible we are trying to keep the issue in the public eye and we need to continue to do that and that’s the very reason why I intend to go back in a month or six weeks from now when this is no longer in the limelight and continue the effort to keep Haiti in the public eye.” 

Raising awareness and money for Edeyo.

Janet Walker: “What are the immediate needs in Haiti from a ground floor perspective?”
Nigel Barker: “Immediate needs; right now it is still search and rescue. I mean they are still trying to clear the streets. At this point, the immediate need is really money. I have friends, the DeVos family of Amway International whom I’m close personal friends, and they sent down hundreds, literally, three or four hundred survival kits in freight containers and have supplied thousands and thousands of bottles of water and all that is, obviously, very important.  Survival kits are everything from flashlights, batteries, blankets, water purification tablets, unfortunately the raining season is upon them. Another item people really need are tents. And it’s not so much that people don’t have the money to buy the tents there just aren’t that many tents available in the world. It’s like calling the store and saying, ‘May I have 50,000 tents?’ No one has that it’s a question of building them, making and shipping them to Haiti and once you get them there, there’s very little fuel in Haiti. They get there, they arrive and then here’s all the stuff and that can’t be moved from the airport to the actual place.”

“There are a lot of infrastructure problems. It’s such a complex issue.  Trying to work it out it really does take the military. It’s a military operation. There’s really no other way of looking at it. Of course, it is really difficult for another country to move in, militarily,  like the US has without that country feeling invaded. Of course, one understands and is very appreciative of the US Army and it’s still a sensitive and diplomatic issue.”

Capturing the murder of the seals.

Janet Walker: “Switching  gears, without losing sight of the devastation and frustration in Haiti, let’s talk about the Humane Society and your efforts in the Save The Seals Campaign.  Are you going to the Ice floes?”

Nigel Barker: “I’m still very active with the HSUS and I’m still the spokesperson for the Protect the Seal Campaign. Basically, the last year has been financially difficult for the Humane Society and there have been a lot of budget cutbacks. I’ve been to the ice seven times now. It’s not necessarily that things changed, what we’ve decided is to fly in some of the big donors and other people other than myself and my crew.”

Nigel Barker at the Ice Floes for the HSUS.

“Another unfortunate problem is that this year, and the same thing happened a few years back, the ice is melting earlier than usual. What that means is that many of the seals are drowning.  The seals give birth at the same time of the year, every year, and they need this little bit of ice to be sturdy for the right amount of time. The seals pretty much learn to swim in the three week period and that three week period is the time it takes for them to be born to the point where the ice actually melts and breaks up. That’s just the normal course of things. When the ice melts and breaks up early the seals drown.”

A seal pup less then three weeks old destined for death.

“So, that’s a whole other issue this sort of combination of global warming and other factors. We try to encourage the Canadian government not to increase the quotas. The Canadian government has said, and I paraphrase, they kill the seals because they need to because they seals are a menace and they are eating all the fish and this sort of stuff and they say we have a quota and we’re culling them.  But then whatever they cull, let’s say the kill a quarter of a million, 250,000, then they kill an additional quarter of a million regardless of whether a quarter million die from drowning that year due to early melting of the ice.”

Culling the Seals: Death and destruction.

“So obviously, scientifically, you can’t really call that a cull. When that happens you’re not killing a quarter million because a quarter million have already died due to drowning. It ends up being a half a million, 500,000, seals being killed. This sort of hunting and abuse of power is the reason why there aren’t enough fish in the oceans in the first place because of overfishing, long lining and dragging and netting and all the other things we’ve done to the oceans. I’m afraid It’s an out of sight out of mind issue.”

“The seals suffer from it also, even though they aren’t not underwater, they’re miles and miles away from anybody.  They’re thirty-five miles off the coast of the eastern seaboard and in very, very, frigid conditions. When we were there it was minus 30 degrees F with the wind chill. It is very difficult to do anything, including take pictures. It’s very tough. We are going to do everything we can to stick to the message and get the word out and stop the hunt once and for all.”

Nigel Barker with his wife and two children.

Janet Walker: “You’re involved in multiple philanthropic work and how did you’re evolution from America’s Next Top Model celebrity photographer judge to international philanthropist take place.”

Nigel Barker: “I think the two are connected but not connected. I’ve always been interested in helping out anyway. I grew up in a family where that was common practice. Growing up my parents were very charitable in many ways and also taught forgiveness and understanding and having two children of my own I wanted them to grow up in the similar environment. For me, the bottom line is that you have to act you can’t just talk. It’s so easy to say the right thing and to attach your name to a host committee and be a celebrity that does that and then doesn’t even turn up at an event they say their hosting.”

“Instead of pointing fingers and saying this or that, I said “listen why don’t I just go do something. I’m a photographer and before I became a celebrity, I am a photographer and a filmmaker and hopefully, I like to think, a creative person and an artist who can use that ability and talent to send a message and paint the picture and to let people make their own minds up, whether they like it or not, whether they appreciate it or not or whether they understand it or not. A picture can say a 1000 words and that’s really where it stemmed from and having the platform that I have and the fact that people are actually interested in listening to what I have to say and viewing what I photograph and sitting through half-hour documentaries of things I shoot I try to use that not only to make money for myself but to send a bigger message a more powerful one. Something that will have, hopefully, a lasting legacy and versus immediate rewards.”

A Sealed Fate a documentary by Nigel Barker.


Janet Walker: One last question, of course, the future for America’s Next Top Model, any inside information, changes; any tidbits you want to share?
Nigel Barker: “You know, I struck by confidentiality clauses, but that being said, you may already know that Andre Leon Tally is the new judge on Top Model. You may already know he is the Editor-at-Large for American Vogue and he replaces Miss Jay (Jay Alexander) and so its big news for us. It’s season fourteen and whatever you may think, the shows is on its last legs who knows, things really change, he is a very formidable force in the fashion industry and a walking encyclopedia on very thing fashion. We thoroughly enjoyed having him with us for the last season and he signed on for two more.  We all got our pick up orders, this week actually, for the next two seasons of Top Model and so you’ll see us on TV for the next eighteen months doing the same old same old. We feel very lucky to do it and it’s an easy job.

Bludgeoning the seals with a hakapik.


 
With that our interview was completed. Nigel is dedicated and passionate about life and that all living things should have an opportunity to live to their potential.

For more information on the Edeyo Foundation: www.edeyo.org
For more information on the Humane Society United States:  http://www.hsus.org/
For more information on Nigel Barker: http://www.nigelbarker.tv/ or http://www.studionb.com/
For more information on America’s Next Top Model: www.cwtv.com/shows/americas-next-top-model

All photos by Nigel Barker. Courtesy of Nigel Barker LLC
Pictures where noted (*) by Janet Walker courtesy of Pulse Point Productions, Inc.

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