Celebrity Interview: Nigel Barker is Devoted to Resurrecting Devastated Haiti

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Nigel Barker, celebrity judge and photographer from the long running America's Next Top Model and now The Face, and I spoke recently in a telephone interview on his commitment to earthquake devastated  Haiti and his evolution from smoking hot sexy to humanitarian philanthropist.

This is our third interview and each time he exhibits a growing commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.  He is generous with his time, dedicated in his passions and eloquent in presentation.

His hope today and commitment 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 a photography gallery show at the trendy Milk Gallery in the Soho section of Manhattan.

Attended by fashion designer's Pamella Rowland and Jon Cracco, the Chief Designer from Perry Ellis, who were on hand to meet, mingle and lend support to the effort to assist this group of people through the foundation Edeyo.

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 an over four years ago.  The monies raised built a three story school in Bel-Air, an ironically named enclave, in one of the poorest sections of Haiti.

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 an earthquake of this magnitude would cause more damage than the imagination could grasp. And it did.

 No building code 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."

The devastation is apocalyptic.

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 push 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 powerfully and with passion; he photographs with mastery. Below is our interview.

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. He is 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 sorts 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.

And I'm afraid, even before the earthquake, it lived up to all those bad rumors I had heard, it was wretched 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.


Photographing Haiti

JW: 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?

NB: 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. 

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.

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 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.

In the second part of a three part interview,  Nigel talks on his first impressions of Haiti, the earthquake devastation and rebuilding and finally in the third installment, we speaks on the Seal Hunt and his work with the HSUS.                                                                     

For more information on the Edeyo Foundation: www.edeyo.org

For more information on Nigel Barker: http://www.nigelbarker.tv/ or http://www.studionb.com/

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