Pacifica photographer inspires Haitian street kids

Candid snapshots

By Sasha Vasilyuk

(Jennifer Cheek Pantaleon)

(Jennifer Cheek Pantaleon)

For the past 10 years, Sharp Park-based photographer Jennifer Cheek Pantaleon has been paying regular visits to Haiti. Her goal was neither to capture the chanting mobs and the burning tires nor to tan on the palm-lined beaches. Instead, Pantaleon went to Haiti to teach the multitude of children who inhabit its streets to take another look at their world — through the lens of a camera.

In this small nation ravaged by poverty and political turmoil, children and teens make up 45 percent of the total population and are often the first ones to suffer. Thousands of orphans and children from poor families are driven to the streets to sleep, beg for food, and find petty jobs to survive. Some of them find temporary refuge in group homes, where foreign volunteers like Pantaleon can meet them and try to help.

Pantaleon came to the island in January 1997 to take pictures of daily life, but ended up visiting a well-known group home, "LaFanmi Selavi," set up in Port-au-Prince in 1986 by Haiti’s former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide when he was a priest. There, she gave impromptu photography lessons to a group of children who didn’t know anything about the art form.

"It’s amazing what kind of creativity comes out of kids if they have the resources they never would have had," she says.

Pantaleon enjoyed the experience so much that she knew she had to come back. In the summer, she returned to the home and showed the kids a slide-show of photographs she has taken during her previous trip. She set up a projector in the playground and paid for the generator out of her own pocket.

"The kids went absolutely nuts – they’ve never seen their photos before," remembers Pantaleon. "They became much more interested in photography. The interest was sparked and it just continued."

Since then, she has been coming back to Haiti once or twice a year to lead photography workshops. At the beginning, when there weren’t enough cameras for everyone, Pantaleon made cardboard cutouts to teach her students "to respect the art of photography." She also taught them the history of the art form, the basics of composition as well as how to hold the camera, look at light, and approach people on the street. She also showed examples of photographs in Haitian tourism brochures and newspapers and invited successful local photographers to lead the kids by example.

"We do what we can, so that the kids get an opportunity to learn something they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to learn," explains Pantaleon.

One of her favorite students was the 9-year-old Papouche. "He would get mad at me because with street kids, people go once, make promises and then never come back, so kids don’t get attached," she says. "But I kept coming back and eventually Papouche and I became friends."

By then, Pantaleon already had experience working with at-risk children. In the late 1980s, after working as a photojournalist, she began taking pictures for children’s advocacy agencies in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, which eventually turned into a documentary project and an exhibit. Later on, she also taught photography to homeless teenagers living on San Francisco’s streets.

Yet what she encountered in Haiti was beyond her expectations and often beyond her control. After several years of teaching, Pantaleon grew attached to a group of kids at "LaFanmi Selavi" only to learn that the home was closing.

"We were hoping to build a darkroom there, but the home closed in 2000 and 500 kids were back on the street," she said.

For Pantaleon, that meant that she no longer had a home base from which to teach her core group of photography students. After the closing, she lost track of many of them – when Papouche hit the streets, she didn’t see him for another three years. Then, at a chance meeting in the city, she ran into him again as he was carrying heavy jugs of water, trying to make a living.

Pantaleon knew that besides the useful lessons of photography that kept the kids occupied and gave them a potentially useful skill set, they also needed financial support. But as a volunteer, Pantaleon could only do so much – she spent a lot of her own money on the workshops and brought care bags with vitamin C candy, combs, and shampoo that her friends donated.

"We were going broke and decided we need to start a non-profit because the need was getting greater and we couldn’t not help," she says.

She and her Haitian husband Guy named the non-profit "Zanmi Lakay," which means friend’s home in Haitian Creole.

"Zanmi Lakay sounded like a safe place, a place you could be with your friends – I like the idea of that," explains Pantaleon. "There are so many things that can happen to you there. But they know they can be safe with us."

Pantaleon continued her photography workshops – sometimes at other group homes and sometimes right on the street. Tall and blond, she stood out on the Haitian streets and many locals knew her as "Jen the photographer."

Back in the Bay Area, she organized donation drives at schools and held sales of art made by Haitian street kids. Through the years, she also kept up with many of her original students – although some kids have since died or disappeared.

Papouche is now 19. Pantaleon says that he is generous and kind, a little shy, and a really good photographer. Recently, he was put up in a rental room to be a good influence on his roommate, a drug addict. In September, Papouche is supposed to go back to school. Although Haitians often go to school until their early 20s, most street children older than 16 are kicked out of group homes to make room for younger charges. During that critical age, they receive almost no support. As a result, many of them have children, starting the cycle all over again.

Before her next trip back to Haiti, Pantaleon is trying to help Papouche and 11 others pay for rent and stay in school. The total sum for 12 of them amounts to $3,000.

"We want to set them up right, so they wouldn’t have to worry about anything and just study," explains Pantaleon. "We’re trying to keep momentum up so they wouldn’t fall back into street life again."

Back in 1997, Pantaleon wasn’t expecting her trip to turn into a mission. Many things have happened since then and she has documented her experience in a multitude of shots that are on her website.

"You don’t see many positive pictures of Haiti – my thing was to show positive pictures an
d reflect their lives, tell their stories," says Pantaleon. "That’s not how people live everyday – it’s not all violence and burned tires. It’s their life."

To contribute to Zanmi Lakay, go to or contact Jennifer Pantaleon at 359-6225 or


Update on Haitian Streetkids Inc.

Dear Friends and Supporters of HSKI,

Hi….. Since we haven’t heard from many of you in quite a while, we have made a slide show presentation to show you some of what we are encountering on the streets here in Port au Prince regarding the street kids. Things have gotten better for them but there is a long way to go. Our advocacy efforts have made some good changes and have addressed a lot of critical issues previously ignored and unknown by the public or the international community.  Please take a minute to view the slide show presentation by clicking on the link below.

There are 35 boys in the home now, some of which are going to trade school. The others are hopeful of returning to school in September if funding allows or if sponsors can be obtained for them. At the moment we are in immediate desperate need of donations in any amount to help with the daily needs of the boys and to provide food for them each day.

After you see the slide show, please write to let us know your thoughts and any questions you may have.  We have been able to pay for 7 boys to enter trade school this year starting 7 April.  We were only able to pay the monthly fee for the first two months for each of them, so will now need a sponsor for each of them that is willing to help them with the monthly fee for the remainder of the school, or for however long they are willing to be with the boy. Personal letters from them will be sent to keep you up-to-date on their success.  There are five boys left that are desperately waiting and hoping to obtain a sponsor that can help them enter trade school also.  Most of the schools last from 1 to 2 years, after which the boy will obtain a state license in trade allowing him to be independant and self-supporting.  This is very important for them, especially due to the fact that none of them have family other than us. 

If anyone is willing to help sponsor one or more of the boys, please write me and I will send you a list of names and information about them.  If anyone is interested in helping us with a one-time donation to assist in food and subsistence for the boys at the home, please either click on the link below to make a donation, or write to the address given.  You can also donate through the website at  Even if you are unable to help with a donation right now or sponsor one of the boys, we would sincerely appreciate it if you could forward this message to as many friends and acquaintances as possible.

Thanks for being there and thank you for caring.

God bless you all for your compassion and concern.

Michael Brewer, RN, Pres/Founder

Haitian Street Kids, Inc.   or

WARNING: This slide show contains some photos depicting graphic violence and death.

Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti

Knox churches, individuals offer a hand to Haitian communities

Faith guides them.

That is about as rational an answer as Luke Wilkerson, Jordan Pyda or Marsha Fisher can give as to why they feel called to a place as destitute as Haiti.

There, Wilkerson has found trust among forsaken street kids. Pyda found a 63-year-old Haitian woman who could be his grandmother under different circumstances. Fisher found a school headmaster who is determined to change the world one child at a time.

How else but through divine intervention could the Knoxville residents have been flung to a far land and yet have found a familiar feeling of belonging?

In separate missions, Wilkerson, Pyda and Fisher – and countless others from East Tennessee – have given many in the small Caribbean country a reason to believe again.

But these three say they have received much more.

"You can’t out-give God," Fisher said.

  • Luke Wilkerson, 28, intended to create a documentary about orphans, and he can’t really explain how it’s come to this.

    In March, he will embark on a fourth trip – for which he has no definite return date – to Haiti, where countless street kids eagerly await his arrival.

    Wilkerson has found a place in the hearts of these children and young adults who say they feel dismissed by society.

    His mission in the country is twofold.

    First, he will create a documentary about a ragtag group of street kids who have banded to form a family of sorts – sharing shanties, food and protection. Ultimately, he hopes to raise enough awareness – and funding – to build a boarding school for street children.

    The second project Wilkerson will undertake relates to The Good Samaritan orphanage, which is an operation run by a 57-year-old Haitian woman, Madam Paul, in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of Port au Prince.

    Wilkerson hopes to help the orphanage gain funding as well as certification for adoptions to the United States, which would create another funding stream.

    With no formal church or organization backing, Wilkerson has spent a lot of time in prayer "to make sure it’s an investment He’s condoning." A great deal of his time is also spent on planning how to live on $150 per month of his personal savings.

    But he finds strength in Isaiah Chapter 58: "Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not."

  • E-mail Luke Wilkerson at
  • Prayer was only the beginning for members of Sacred Heart Cathedral and their missions since 1999 in Haiti.

    "You are not going to get very far if you don’t have clean water or electricity for miles," said Jordan Pyda, who is with the Knoxville church.

    Pyda, 22, left Friday for Boucan Carre, Haiti, with a group of eight Catholic teenagers to, among other duties, build a home for a 63-year-old Haitian woman. In previous years, the church has built a medical center, constructed a clean-water system and paid for a grain-mill machine.

    Pyda said the reason his group will build a home for the woman, who lives in a crumbling stick-and-mud structure, is that "She is the embodiment of the disparity and violence perpetrated on Haiti. How can you forget this person?"

    Pyda’s other goals for the community include creating a chicken farm, bakery and gristmill.

    Ultimately, he plans to attend medical school. In the meantime, he said: "I’m taking time off to focus my activities and pursue what I think is good medicine. It’s a human right.

    "You pray in church, ‘Oh, for the poor, Oh, for the hungry.’ I think we should pray for ourselves to have the strength to change the circumstances of others."

  • Follow Jordan Pyda’s team at as it builds a home for the 63-year-old Haitian woman.
  • Read about the Haiti Committee at
  • Read more on Partners In Health at
  • This story begins about 10 years ago with Marsha Fisher and her husband, Paul, when they agreed to sponsor a Haitian child. Today, eight area churches, most of which are Presbyterian, sponsor more than 80 children.

    The faith groups have also sent the School of New Vision in La Jeune, Haiti, trucks, school uniforms and a generator. The groups have organized numerous trips to help with construction and health care.

    But Fisher takes no credit for how East Tennessee churches have transformed the school and propelled its mission forward.

    Fisher points to the school’s headmaster, Ludner St. Amour. He is the one, after all, who sold his sugar crop and donated 60 percent of his personal profits back into the school.

    "I have given a lot to this ministry, but I don’t give 60 percent," Fisher said.

    She calls her chance meeting with St. Amour several years ago a God-incidence, not a coincidence.

    In March, she will accompany a group of youth to Haiti to conduct a Bible school. Last year, she accompanied a group on a medical mission.

    "A corrupt government can’t exist if people are educated," Fisher said.

    "Every time I go down there, I just come back so full. The more we give away, the more He gives us."

  • JUMP to Change the World

    JUMP to Change the World
    Did you know that there are over 300,000 child slaves in Haiti? I met one boy who wanted to tell me his story. JUMP (Juveniles Use Media Power) empowers global youth by giving them a voice and the skills to make media that makes a difference. Visit the J.U.M.P. website to find out more about how you can participate: and see more JUMP videos on their YouTube channel

    Forgotten Angels – Street Children in Haiti

    Forgotten Angels – Street Children in Haiti
    This is the first part of the documentary, “Forgotten Angels,” about the street children of Haiti and the work of Michael Brewer, founder of Haitian Street Kids, Inc. Street kids everywhere in the world have hard lives but the situation of street children in Haiti beggars the imagination. This video is a little dated (2001) and the situation in Haiti has changed for the worse. Michael Brewer’s project is in desperate need of assistance. Please visit his website to find out more about modern slavery on the doorstep of America and its tragic outcomes. Make a donation. Make a difference.

    Haitian Street Kids: Street Life Gallery



    Haitian Street Kids: Street Life Gallery


    Pedro Toussant, age 12, cries after he was beaten and robbed by older street children,
    in Port au Prince, Haiti, June 25, 2006. Toussant had worked all day to earn enough money to buy
    a plate of food when he was attacked. Younger street children are always at risk of being beaten,
    robbed and worse. Pedro also was shot twice by the police in the Chan dur Mars area of
    Port au Prince earlier this year. He received wounds to the left leg and left shoulder but survived.

    Social worker Mike Brewer attends to 12-year-old Pedro Toussant, who was beaten by older street kids over his dinner in Port au Prince, Haiti, June 22, 2006. Brewer is a registered nurse and is called upon on a daily basis to provide the most basic of medical care to the kids on the street.

    Street children gather to inspect 12 year-old Onor’s wounded arm, where the bone has pierced the skin, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Onor is suffering from a rare manifestation of osteomialitis, a severe inernal infection that has splintered the bone and forced it through the skin.

    Onor is again turned away from the second hospital he goes to trying to seek help. Street kids are routinely refused treatment at hospitals regardless of their condition due to their social class and obvious inability to pay.

    Onor, waits to be seen, then dresses himself while a doctor from the Brazilian United Nations peacekeeping force inspects x rays of Onor’s injured arm, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Onor gave up the search on his own, and even with help it has taken weeks to find a hospital and doctor willing to see and treat him. Doctors estimate it will take roughly 4 to 6 months to properly treat Onor and it is still unclear if the UN has the capability to do so.

    Ricardo, 11 years old, sleeps on the sidewalk where he now lives in front of the notorious Haiti General Hospital. He was forced to run away to the streets when the alcoholic man who took him in after his father died, began to beat him regularly with an extension cord. There are no enforced child abuse laws currently in Haiti. When found, Ricardo was very slugglish and barely conscious, suffered numerous boils, abrasions and lacerations to his body. He was unable to walk due to a large infected laceration to the bottom of his right foot.

    Jordanian United Nations troops stand over Danni, an orpahned street child, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. He is unable to answer questions asked him by the troops. Danni appears to have severe developmental problems and does not speak in the local Kreyol, but rather a sing-songish gibberish. Humanitarian and international charities estimate as many as 7,000 children living on the streets of Port au Prince.

    Max, left, and Emanuel, right, pick through garbage looking for scrap metal to sell Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. The children can generally earn enough money to buy one meal a day.

    Young girls on their way to school pass a sleeping street child who has worked all night, Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Human rights groups and international aid agencies say there are an estimated 7,000 children living on the streets of Port au Prince.

    Young boys sleep in an alcove near Pidgeon Park June 25, 2006 in Port au Prince Haiti. For safety reasons children living on the sreets often seek out dark or hidden places in Port au Prince.

    Colombe, a 14-year male prostitute, right, works the streets of the Petionville neighborhood of Port au Prince, Haiti , June 25, 2006. Children sometimes turn to prostitution as a way to survive while living on the streets.

    Lipiwo, 15 years old, cautiously peers into a car window to hear someone that has stopped to solicit him. Exploitation of these children is common. Their hunger and misery make them easy targets for those willing to abuse them.

    Pictured are two street children who have both suffered attacks to their faces with broken bottles, Monday, Nov.6, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Children living on the streets of Port au Prince are always at risk of violence at the hands of adults, other street children and even the police.

    Haitian National Police targeting a fleeing young street kid during a "street cleaning" operation.

    Genel Valbroun, 12 years old. Said that he had been shot in the back by black uniformed police wearing masks at noon on Rue Tiremasse. The exit wound can be seen on his right hip. Ginel stated that he had no parents and that he slept in the street.

    Haitian Street Kids social worker Mike Brewer prepares an antibiotic for Bebetto, Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 at a brothel in Port au Prince, Haiti. Bebetto was attacked with a broken bottle and his wound was sutured but has since begun to bleed again and will require antibiotics. Like many street children, Bebetto earns enough money to feed himself through prostitution.

    Bebetto receiving antibiotic injections at a brothel in the Petionville section of Port au Prince, Haiti.

    Mike Brewer, left, hands destroyed syringes to a pimp, right, as street child Bebetto, center, looks on , Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 at a brothel in Port au Prince, Haiti.

    Bebetto applies a bandaid to his face where he was attacked with a broken bottle, Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 at a street side cafe in Port au Prince, Haiti. Bebetto’s wound was sutured but has since begun to bleed again and will require antibiotics. Like many street children, Bebetto earns enough money to feed himself through prostitution.

    Two street children fight over a can of food, Thursday, Nov 2, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Children living on the streets are generally able to scrape together enough money to buy a small meal every day or so.

    A street orphan displays a knife Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Children living on the streets of Port au Prince are always at risk of violence at the hands of adults, other street children and even the police.

    Richard holds his only possesion, a toy truck, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006, in Port au Prince, Haiti. According to human rights groups and international aid agencies there an estimated 7,000 children living on the streets of Porta au Prince

    Street children enjoy a meal provided by Haitian Street Kids (HSKI), an independently run organization that meets the most basic medical and nutritional needs of children living on the streets, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti.

    Street child Don Canal, left, is wary while Max, right, is playful after eating a meal Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti.

    Don Canal slams shut a car door after an altercation with a woman Friday Oct. 3, 2006 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Street children are on the lowest rung of the social classes and are often scorned or worse.

    Two street kids sit in the Haitian Street Kids safe-house in Port au Prince Haiti, June 22, 2006. With funding dried up, the HSK safe-house has been without food or water for 4 days and is near collapse.

    Haiti’s children still struggling for survival

    Haiti’s children still struggling for survival

    UNICEF Image
    © UNICEF/ HQ05-1907/LeMoyne
    A boy fishes for shrimp in polluted water near the northern port city of Gonaives, Haiti.

    By Jane O’Brien

    NEW YORK, USA, 21 March 2006 – Haiti’s children are facing a continuing struggle for survival, with one in eight likely to die before the age of five. A lack of basic services such as water, health care and education is compounded by poverty and violence, locking children into a cycle of deprivation and abuse.

    A new UNICEF report, ‘Child Alert: Haiti’, highlights the plight of the country’s 3.8 million children and calls on the government to act. “The violence that pervades every level of society hampers any sustainable development,” says UNICEF Haiti Representative Alberto Gonzalez-Regueral.

    Many communities have been devastated by fighting across the Caribbean nation. They have no water or electricity, and food is often hard to find. An estimated 2,000 children are living on the streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince alone. Many have been orphaned by AIDS while others have fled abuse at home. They turn to prostitution, beg for food or join armed gangs for survival.

    UNICEF Image
    © UNICEF/ HQ05-1949/LeMoyne
    Land degradation has left Haiti bare.

    “In most cases those children don’t have any choice,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Njanja Sassu. “They are either coerced into joining armed groups or they join armed groups because they are completely outside the family structure.”

    Children at the centre

    The UNICEF report on Haiti asserts that violence is one of the biggest threats to the country’s future. Without a protective environment, children are less able to learn, they are more prone to illnesses and malnutrition, and they begin to devalue themselves – stunting their development as productive citizens and potential leaders.

    Only half of Haiti’s children attend primary school and the drop-out rate is increasing – particularly among girls. Getting children back to school is a UNICEF priority because it helps to protect them from violence, exploitation and abuse. But most families can’t afford the school fees.

    ‘Child Alert Haiti’ concludes with a call for children to be put at the centre of the country’s political agenda. Expressing UNICEF’s hopes that the recent elections will provide the necessary stability for positive change, the report welcomes the comments of Haiti’s new President, René Préval.

    “Children must be taken off the streets,” President Préval said in a recent Agence France-Presse interview. “Weapons must be taken from the hands of children and replaced with pens and books.”

    Haiti: Grim reality for street children

    Haiti: Grim reality for street children

    UNICEF Image
    © UNICEF video
    A homeless boy begging on the street of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

    By Kun Li

    PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 27 December 2005 – Homeless children stand in the middle of a busy street in order to stop passing cars and beg passengers for money. This scene has become far too common in many neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

    In this city alone there are thousands of street children. Extreme poverty and political instability have left them no other choice but to fend for themselves. To stay alive, many of them wash cars, load buses, or beg, while others become involved with armed gangs in the hope of protection and a better chance of survival.

    “These children are deprived of affection and protection. They do not have access to food and education, and are constantly under the threat of all kinds of violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation,” said Sylvana Nzirorera, UNICEF Haiti Communication Officer.

    The health and hygiene conditions for street children are precarious. Many of them suffer from a range of skin and respiratory diseases, as well as sexually transmitted infections. HIV/AIDS infection rate is as high as 20 per cent among street children, with most cases being among girls.

    UNICEF Image
    © UNICEF video
    Homeless children play in the courtyard of the Lakou Centre, a foster care facility supported by UNICEF.

    Lakou – a ray of light for many street children

    Amid the grim reality, a number of foster care centres have served as a ray of light for many children. The Lakou Centre is one of them. Headed by Father Attilio Stra, an Italian native who has been working with Haiti’s children for 30 years, the centre provides the children with a safe place to play, laugh and learn useful skills.

    Every day about two hundred children and young people pass through the large courtyard of the centre (‘Lakou’ means ‘courtyard’ in Creole). Whether riding around on unicycles or gliding on wobbly roller blades, within the Lakou compound these children are free to be children again.

    “Almost all the children who come to the centre are traumatized by bad experiences. They were treated badly,” said Father Attilio, who is the director of the centre. “You can hardly find a child who doesn’t have a scar on his body. We invite them to the centre and teach them vocational skills to prepare them for a better future,” he continued.

    UNICEF Image
    © UNICEF video
    Young mother Nana Pierre, 18, (centre) rests at the Lakou Centre with her baby and other homeless mothers.

    Here the children are given a chance to learn mechanics, metal work, hair dressing and tailoring. The centre also runs a nursery for the children of street children, who became mothers at a very early age.

    “I had my first child at 14, and I gave birth on the streets,” said Nana Pierre, 18.

    “I have three children, the first was born when I was 16. This is my son, and he is 4 years old. I gave birth to them on the street,” said Marienette Azor, 20.

    Young women like Nana and Marienette are the most vulnerable. Poor living condition and the dangerous nature of a street life have made them easy targets for sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

    Although the Lakou centre has been a safe haven for many homeless boys, girls and babies, it can only shelter them for so long. Each day, after of a few hours of peace and comfort, the need to make a living will once again drive the children back onto the streets.