Nerves ran high as cameras rolled. And then, almost without warning, it all unraveled.
The producer, whom I met only moments before, turned to me and said flatly, “So, this is a non-story.”
My heart stopped.
And then what I can only describe as a very stressed out, New York Senior Producer, starts speaking very rapidly at me.
“Where are the tents?” She implored. “You promised me tents!”
(I did not promise tents).
“We want to tell a story about the needs in Haiti.”
She stumbled before blurting out,
“She is not poor.”
I felt all eyes on me. We drove them to a tent camp (the last remaining one at the time) and the anchor interviewed people there. To make it more awkward, without warning, the Senior Producer started throwing up, right there in the middle of the camp because she had been so worked up about the whole situation.
I stood back and tried to look calm. Instead, my head was filling with self-doubt and disappointment. If I was more persuasive or agreeable could I have talked them into seeing it my way, I wondered? Instead of talking about vast problems, maybe they might consider sharing a solution? But I guess if someone is so upset at you that they start barfing, it's probably hard to win them back.
The only bright spot was the camera crew, who tried to offer me some reassurance. They found me at our hotel that evening and shared that they have shot segments around the world and the stove program was actually quite amazing.
I flew home hopeless and rejected.
I went from feeling the high of achieving potential mass significance to the lowest low of insignificance. I felt like I wasted everyone's time.
Before the segment was to air, I sent this email to 20 people:
Emailing just good family and friends on this one. Basically people I trust and admire.
Some of you know I went to Haiti this week, mainly because a TV New Station wanted to film the stove program. Which meant we jumped at the chance to have them introduced to the stove vendors, and so proud to have something positive to say about Haiti on national news.
But when we got to there Saturday morning, with the two van loads full of gear, the producer met the stove vendor, turned to me and said, "She's not poor."
"Where are the tents? I thought we talked about tents?!"
We had never talked about tents. In fact, the vendors have done something remarkable - and are now selling 20 stoves per day - earning a daily commission of $60 - astronomical considering most people struggle on $2.
It's clear this wasn't the story they wanted to tell. We drove them to a tent camp instead, and they interviewed someone poor...they got their shots, and then stopped yelling at us. The "poor" woman was using a stove, so at least they asked her about it, and she spoke of the virtues...
I'm not mad at them - they were just getting shots that get ratings. But it made me realize that we probably have a long road to convince people that the true solutions are not always are sexy. They are not orphans, or vulnerable. They are quite the opposite. They are dignified and dynamic. The women will tell you their marketing strategies and explain their salespitch, but don't try to ask them if they are "so thankful for our support." They will look at you funny. They're appreciative, but as they rightly see it, they are the ones doing all the work.
So anyways. That leaves us with today - the first locally-produced and locally-sold Haitian social enterprise in the country (from what we can find). On the anniversary of the quake...
A glimpse of a stove might be on the news tonight, but you won't see an entrepreneur. Because she's not poor. How awesome.
PS: Since we don't have the national news, the next best thing is family and friends. We set up a campaign encouraging people to try and inspire two friends to donate (our own attempt at spreading the message to "go national")
I would love your help fundraising, tweeting, or sharing online: Join Me In Helping Haiti Today: (link) #StovesForHaiti
And if you want to donate. I realized my own page still doesn't have any friends: :) (link)