Why I do it

World Vision videographer Tom Costanza reflects on his time in Haiti a few months ago.

Haiti earthquake

(Jon Warren/WV)

I don’t even know where to start. So I guess I’ll start at the end.

Haiti was the kind of experience that changes your understanding of how desperate people can be and how unselfishly others can respond. By the time I left, I was sure I was different. I was definitely more tired. I weighed less. But I also felt that, mentally, I’d reached some kind of turning point. Whatever it was, I began to feel, more deeply than I had in some time, that all I’d seen and heard—the cries of injured children, the pleas of helpless mothers, the anger of people who’d lost everything—was weighing on me, more than it had since I first started in television news more than 25 years ago.

It wasn’t a breakdown—just a vague feeling of fatigue and sadness. The culmination, maybe, of the last year’s frantic schedule. Since November 2008 I’ve covered stories in Niger, Mozambique, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, American Samoa, New York, Ecuador, Cambodia, Zambia, Ethiopia, and back again to the DR and Haiti. Hunger, poverty, disease, earthquakes, a tsunami … it’s enough to make your head spin. The sick and the lame. The hopeless and the hungry. The dying and the dead.

World Vision in Cambodia

Tom shooting video in Cambodia (Heidi Isaza/WV)

People often asked me, “How do you do it?” “I don’t know,” I reply. “I just do.” Why do I do it? is what I ask myself. I could be home on the couch, watching HBO. Instead, I’m shooing cockroaches off my pillow, trying to get some sleep before my next cold shower.

Sometimes I think I know why I do it. When I’m feeling noble, I think it’s a calling. At other times, I think it’s just to satisfy my wanderlust—a taste for adventure, a chance to get a few more good stories to tell.

Then I go somewhere like Haiti, where people sleep on the remains of their crumbled houses and children scream in pain. “God help us all,” I think. Then I turn on the camera, and it captures people like Lomene LaGuerre. She was selling things in the marketplace when the quake hit. Now she lives with her three children under a tarp on a basketball court. She cooks what’s left of her food and summons what’s left of her pride. “I was a businesswoman,” she says proudly. “A businesswoman does not go hungry.”  A few days later, World Vision brings her more food. Her pride will have to wait a little longer.

Haiti earthquake

Tom and World Vision communicator Paula Saez interview families in a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Jon Warren/WV)

Outside the city, near the Haiti/Dominican border, Nicole Muse, a World Vision child sponsor, holds a small boy with a large bandage. She left Haiti several years ago and is now a nurse in Chicago. When she saw the news, she says, she just had to come. Her Creole makes her a valuable asset at this makeshift hospital, where a few words in a mother tongue, from a mother’s tongue, can calm a scared, hurting, and parentless child.

I meet people like these, and I’m reminded that they are why I do it, why we do it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I don’t know who said it first, but I like it. It’s why, when I feel tired and sad, I do lay on the couch and watch HBO. And I recharge my batteries and go out there again. And again. And again.

Related: Photographer deployed to Haiti (Jan. 18, 2010)

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4 Comments

Filed under Behind the Scenes, Haiti, Haiti Earthquake, On Assignment

4 responses to “Why I do it

  1. Well said, Tom…well said. You’re amazing, thanks for all you do.

    • Stan

      You put my feelings into the words I could not find … like you, it was the most powerful and exhausting story I have ever covered. My second trip helped. Not because things were better but because at least SOME help was getting through. Aid and medical care was becoming organized. The courtyard at University Hospital was no longer crowded with the injured, moaning, singing hymns for strength knowing there was little hope of immediate care.
      My subsequent trips show me little improvement, just raise more questions about how does Haiti recover … CAN it recover.
      I too had to realize that in satisfying whatever need it is I have to keep recording these images and sounds I am making sure these beautiful, resilient and long suffering people of faith are not forgotten by us with roofs over our heads, our families intact, comfortable on our couches.

  2. Carmen

    This is why I am so proud of my little brother. So are his parents.

  3. Barbara Costanza Riggione

    You make us so proud. The gift that you have been given, to go, help and then share your stories, is so special.

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