Religion & Spirituality:Christianity
Az Hamilton - Escape from Haiti
On Bleeding Daylight, the story that changed the lives of all those involved.
We hear about Az Hamilton’s escape from a very dangerous situation in a country overtaken by rioting. What Az describes is a shared experience. Az and I lived this dangerous escape together. So this is also my story.
Just Motivation: http://www.justmotivation.com.au
Az Speaks Podcast: https://anchor.fm/justmotivation
Compassion Australia: http://compassion.com.au
Compassion International: http://compassion.com
(Transcript is a guide only and may not be 100% correct.)
Emily Olsen: Wherever there are shadows, there are people ready to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. This is Bleeding Daylight with your host Rodney Olsen.
Rodney Olsen: Something very different on Bleeding Daylight today. We’re going to hear the story of Az Hamilton’s escape from a very dangerous situation in a country overtaken by rioting.
The difference is that it’s a shared experience. Together with a handful of others, Az and I lived this dangerous escape together. So this is also my story.
What we share in this episode of Bleeding Daylight is a story that transformed both of our lives. The events we describe are real and set future directions for both of us.
Please listen and then share this very personal edition of Bleeding Daylight.
Rodney Olsen: I've known Az Hamilton since April of 2008. We shared a remarkable experience that we're going to explore together today. He's been reaching out and calling young people to a bigger life since he was still in his teens. These days, he works to inspire and empower young people. It's a pleasure to welcome Az Hamilton to Bleeding Daylight. Welcome Az.
Az Hamilton: Mate. Thanks so much for having me on your show.
Rodney Olsen: At the time we met, we were both working in radio. So tell me about those radio days for you. When did the radio bug bite?
Az Hamilton: You know, it was a funny thing, for me radio actually probably bit in my mid teens, my brother did radio announcing before me on a little community station in a place called Toowoomba in Queensland and he had this little radio show that he did with one of his friends from school. And I think ever since I can remember, I've saved every dollar for, you know, music for the the actual show. So we used to spend all our money on CDs and my brother would play them on his radio show.
So the second, my brother quit radio, cause he couldn't do it anymore, I literally went, can I have a go, I've got the CDs and that's actually how it started for me. So I'll literally rocked up with a box of CDs with no skill. And they said, well, we do need a show. You own all the music. Alright, you can have a go. So that was when I was 18 and I did about 10 years of radio from that point on, on and off. So yeah, it's, it's, it's sort of got launched out of my brother's passion and I used to listen to his show and go, Oh, I want to have a go of that.
Rodney Olsen: It's an interesting passion to have radio does bite fairly hard and as you say, you're involved in radio for a number of years, but alongside that you are spending time speaking to young people, even from that young age. Tell me a bit about that.
Az Hamilton: Well, actually, what was interesting, like I've always been passionate. I'm about the underdog. I don't know. I don't know what it is even when I was in school, like, uh, I went to a very, um, I suppose, a pretty straight Christian school, you know what I mean?
Like, you couldn't really go too far outside the box, or it was sort of very hard for you to fit into the community. And so I always had a heart for those guys and girls in the school community, even when I was in school, that kind of just didn't quite get it, uh, when it comes to faith and things like that.
So, and even the underdog. And so I've always been that way. And so when I got into radio, I did voluntary work, obviously in radio, you gotta to start voluntary. I'm sure you did too. And then when I got my first paid gig, I remember my very first week or so a guy walked in the back door of our radio station and I was star struck. I was like, Oh my gosh, like this guy, I can't believe it's him. It's him. And, um, the guy was, it was actually Sean Hart who played for the Brisbane Lions at the time he rocked in and he was just in the lunch room. And I remember going to my boss and saying, is that showing up? Why is Sean Hart here?
Cause I'm a mad AFL fan. He goes, yeah. And I said, why is he here? And he said, Oh, I forgot to tell you. A part of your job is you're going to be going into schools, with Sean Hart and doing a program on making good life choices, uh, every week. And I must admit there's a couple of things, went through my head at that stage.
And a lot of people don't know this about me, obviously being a speaker and a communicator for a living now, prior to that, I was actually extremely shy through school. I didn't do any public speaking. I didn't do any drama or anything in front of people. Radio was kind of an outlet, you know, no one had to see me.
So when I got into radio, I had no desire to be speaking publicly. I just wanted to talk in the studio, do my own thing. So my boss is now telling me, Oh, you're going to be doing sort of public speaking and doing communication stuff on a stage in front of students. It freaked me out. And it wasn't something that I thought I'd enjoy it all but over literally doing this program with Sean, probably for the next four to five years, like I just found my passion because I was sort of forced into something I'd never done before. So that's sort of where it all started and I've probably become more passionate about that kind of medium of communication then even, you know, obviously the radio sit behind a microphone sort of situation.
Rodney Olsen: So, how did it work for you as an 18 year old, still learning how to make your own life choices, and you're going into schools, telling young people how to make life choices?
Az Hamilton: You know, it's so funny. Cause I, if I had a dollar for every student that I talk to in schools, now they come and go, I want to do what you do and I say exactly the same thing to them. I go, well, you need to have a life story to begin with. I mean, Sean would do the program most days and he would, he would speak for about 45 minutes and it actually happened that. On this one day, I remember it was this primary school and these kids were just being so like, they were painful.
Like if you can imagine, Rodney, like the worst students ever anyway, Sean, takes some time out. He literally comes over to me. I'm just waiting for my five minute spiel at the end, to be honest. And he goes, do you have anything you can add to this story or something that can speak to these kids? And also interesting I just had a life story, like this little story that popped into my mind of when I was younger and something happened with me and my brother. And so I shared it. And the kids were completely enthralled by it. It's something I'd never shared before, completely enthralled and straight out of that show said to me, every time we do the program from now on, I want you to share that story.
And so it was kind of a very organic growth in my public speaking space. I from then on every week, I would share that story. And then it, as Sean's career kind of ended in football as the transition of him not being as relevant as a footballer, sort of turned out that I would do about 50% of the presentation and he would do 50% so it was very tag team.
And I did that yeah. For five years and yeah, really loved it. And obviously that sort of led into being a communicator, uh, organizations like Compassion and things like that. If you, if you ask my teachers, do you think he'll end up being a public speaker or communicater that they'd probably laugh at you to be honest.
Rodney Olsen: Our paths collided in 2008 in April. We met in Sydney where we were just about to jump on an airplane. Tell me a little bit about that story from your perspective.
Az Hamilton: Well for me, uh, I mean, that was about the fourth year of being involved with Compassion Australia, uh, sponsoring kids. It was through radio. I sponsored my first child, uh, reluctantly didn't, wasn't huge fan of giving up my money, but it kind of challenged me.
And then I went on a bit of a journey. So it was about four years into that whole, getting to know about Compassion. And then obviously we got invited as radio announces to go on this trip. For me, cause obviously being very young, I think I was 20, 22, 23. Like I'm going to be pretty honest. I was pretty unorganized. and even up until about two weeks beforehand, I hadn't got my injections. I hadn't really, I didn't even know where Haiti was. We were going to travel. I genuinely didn't even know, Rodney. Like I remember. After being to the doctor to get my injections. When he was like saying, don't go, you're going to die.
Like you probably should cancel his trip. I looked up on a map where Haiti was because I hadn't, for me being a young bachelor, it was just like, Oh, I'm getting two weeks off work. This is pretty cool. I get to travel. I haven't done much international travel. So when I rocked up to Sydney and met you guys, to be totally honest, I actually had no expectation for this trip, except that I knew I was getting off of my show for a couple of weeks and I was getting to travel and you know, that was, that was pretty much me. And that's, that is probably as naive as you possibly can get before traveling to somewhere like Haiti. But that's, that's really where I was at.
Rodney Olsen: My most enduring memory was meeting you there. You were a young guy with very long dreadlocks turning up at the airport and we had just been given a couple of packs from the local Compassion representative they had a bit of water in there and some hand sanitizer and things like that and you turning up going through security. And they said, did you pack your bag? Do you know everything that's in your bag? And you said quite innocently and truthfully, no, I don't. I don't know that that was a good look for a young guy with dreads.
Az Hamilton: It's so funny you say that because I don't remember that, but what's great about that story is that we recently, Beck my wife and I recently had to talk to a young guy who traveled to the States who just did exactly the same thing. He got to the airport, they said, did you pack your bag?
He said, no, this, this is your bag. I said, no, it's my mother-in-law's bag. Cause he borrowed it for the trip. You know? Like, is this that young innocence of traveling for the first time? Yeah, I didn't know what they'd given me, Rodney. I don't even remember doing that, but I do remember getting patted down.
That does make sense. I did get taken to the next level of security once again, 22. Oh, I'm on a trip, whatever. No big, fortunately though that I feel like the world wasn't as crazy back then. I don't know. I just feel like maybe it wasn't as crazy as it would be now. Maybe I would have never got to Haiti if I did something like that now, but yeah. Thanks for reminding me of young Az.
Rodney Olsen: So you're talking about being disorganized. I do remember, of course we're going on a trip for a week and a half or whatever it was back then. And, and on that first day, we had slept over in Miami on the way off towards Haiti, and you said, Hey, let's stop at Kmart. I need to buy some shirts.
Az Hamilton: Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. Well, because this is the thing I hadn't, as I told you this before. I didn't even know where I was traveling to. I'm not a very organized person. Like I remember, I remember getting calls from people at Compassion, saying, like, as I said, like two weeks out, like I should have had my, you know, immunizations or whatever.
It was all the different sort of, um, you know, shots and stuff like weeks earlier. Yeah. Now, have you had your shots? I'm like what shots they're like, have you read the email? I'm like what email? You know? And so this is very Az Hamilton in his early twenties, just very, ah, like I mean I had dreadlocks pretty as a real chiller.
And then I remember, I think we got to Miami and everyone was really stressed about the dress code in Haiti. They were like, you need to wear a button up shirt. I'm like, I'm a 22 year old bachelor I don't even own a button up shirt. And I bought some of the daggiest clothes I've ever owned because I needed to make sure that I fit in with the people.
Um, and then when I got there, I went, I could have just kept my old clothes. I'm pretty sure. Um, and I think went on, on, uh, on arrival back in Australia. I think I just went straight to the bin and dumped those clothes. I don't think I've ever worn them again, but thank you for reminding me of that. That that's really nice.
Rodney Olsen: I had my own moment in that store. If you remember, while you were picking out shirts, I headed straight down to the back of the store and found a bicycle that they had on sale and I rode that up and down the aisles so that I could say that I'd cycled in the U S so there you go.
Az Hamilton: See, that's absolute passion.
Rodney Olsen: There's a lot of fun leading into this trip, but once we get to Haiti, things start to change and I remember the very first morning after we had arrived in Haiti and had traveled up towards our hotel and all wide-eyed seeing what was going on. And we got up the next morning and there were these meetings going on. There were discussions happening. Tell me a little about that.
Az Hamilton: It's interesting how you have different people's perspectives of a trip. Let's see, for me, I remember sitting on the outside of them. There's was a lot of whispers, whisper, whisper what's going on, but it was a young guy. Oh yeah. Whatever. We're going, whatever.
I do remember them saying something about, we're not going to some region. Oh, we're going to change the area we're going to, there's been a little bit of unrest in the streets. I remember the word unrest was used a few times, a little bit of unrest. But don't worry a bit of unrest and like, and you've got to set this up for, for those that are listening.
Like when we, the things that stood out to me were, I don't know if you remember these things. The things that stood out to me was that when we rocked up to our hotel, there were people with weapons out the front, there was armed guards. And I thought that was quite unique to go to a hotel and there's guards.
And one of the guys from Compassion said, this is where you'll be staying. If you stay inside the walls, you should be safe. Then that was, for me, that was the stuff that stood out to me going all right, where are we again? Like, why are there people? Why are there guards? It's what, you know, this is a hotel. I don't, I don't really don't really comprehend this, but yeah, obviously the next day there are all these meetings about, there's been a bit of unrest we're going to a different project. Um, and so that was, that was it, you know, I was like, okay, no worries. Didn't even think much more of it. I don't know. What, what were you thinking? Oh, this is serious at that stage or were you just going, yeah. Oh yeah, no worries. Like I was just blasé.
Rodney Olsen: I really didn't know what was going on. I think a bit like you, I was kind of on the outside of those conversations. There was four of us from different radio stations in Australia had traveled to Haiti to see the work that Compassion was doing so that we could head back to Australia and be able to tell those stories. So of course we needed to go and visit the projects as you say, connected with local churches and, and you're right. They did use terms that would suggest that nothing much going on, but we'd better not go there and so we're thinking, okay, if, if that's the case, then, then we'll, we'll just sort of relax a bit and we'll go to a different place with no idea of what was about to unfold and I don't think we still had any idea until it really did begin to unfold. And maybe you've got a perspective on when you first realized that things weren't as they should be.
Az Hamilton: Every, everyone has a life story that changes the trajectory of their life. And I think that morning, that fateful morning where there's been some unrest in the streets, um, impacted me on multiple levels.
Everyone remembers things differently. I remember things like rocking up to the project. There was hundreds of kids jammed into this room. It was very basic, but the kids were so happy to see us and. You know, obviously I had my dreadlocks, the kids wanted to plait them and so that was pretty overwhelming.
I remember I'm feeling deeply personally that I think thinking to myself, man, I'm a rubbish human being. I complain about so much stuff. These kids.are really simple living, very basic, simple lives. And somehow they found joy in this moment. And, um, I remember we hung out at the school or we looked at some of the stuff that Compassion was doing.
That was all very impressive, and I don't know who told you Rodney in this time, but for me, I remember Guilbeau. He was one of the guys from Compassion came up to me, whispered in my ear, Az we need to go, go to the, go to the vehicles. We need to go. There's been some unrest we need to go now. That was the moments like, Oh, okay, sure. And I remember when he was sort of old sort of bye kids and we found ourselves in that vehicle. So I don't know how you were in that pro what were you doing or thinking, how did you even find out we had to leave? Did you have a whisper in the ear or was it sort of like you just followed everyone else? What was going on for you?
Rodney Olsen: I distinctly remember, we were told that we would have opportunity we're there as radio people, we needed to record interviews and so we had our recording devices. We'd interviewed some of them kids through a translator. And we were told that some of the parents were going to turn up and that when they turned up that we could interview them too, to let them tell us what the impact of Compassion on their family was and yet parents were turning up, taking kids straight away, turning up, taking kids straight away. And I remember them saying, ah look, they, they wanting to take their children home. They feel safer there. And we realized that something was not right. And then we spent a fair bit of time just in the office talking over what happens in the program rather than just spending time out there with the kids and, and then they said, yeah, we need to go.
Az Hamilton: Isn't that incredible that you remember that? Because I remember being in the office. But I don't remember anything about the parents rocking up or any of that stuff. Isn't that insane? I was probably so caught up in hanging out with the kids and knowing me being who I was back then, you know, very, whatever, pretty chilled, you were there on mission to make sure you could get as much radio as possible. Whereas I was just, they're probably thinking, I'm just taking this in.
Rodney Olsen: Make no mistake. I thought I was going on an adventure. This is something that, that has radically transformed my life as it has for you. And yet I was thinking here I am, I'm I'm on an adventure and yes, I needed to, to gather the audio and gather the stories and I had that mindset, but I was there for an adventure too and none of us were expecting what then happened.
Az Hamilton: No, and, and once, once again, I remember we got to the point where we had to leave and the two, four wheel drive vehicles. I do remember that I was in the vehicle I'm pretty sure I was in one of the vehicles that was a ute styled tray kind of four wheel drive, and we had another vehicle go ahead of us. It's a bit of a blur this next bit for me, because I think I'm trying to put timelines on what happened when I do remember we were driving down, um, heading towards where we'd come from and I remember people from the local community coming out of their sort of side alleys and out of their homes sort of just pleading with our driver, go back, go back. It's not safe. And you can see, you can see on their faces that, uh, this is not good. This is something's not right. And we didn't really know what was going on. Obviously I think the Compassion staff were trying to protect us from as much as they could, like try to keep us calm.
And they did an amazing job because I remember our drivers turned around at one point and went in a different direction. And then I remember going down that direction and then it happened again. I do remember, uh, the driver and he's like, no worries. We'll find another way. We'll go to the office.
And it was very much like, okay, we're changing all our plans. We're going to take you to the Compassion office in the middle of town. It's going to be safer there. That's when everything just sort of got out of hand and crazy. Is that, how you remember what, what was going on and how do you remember that exact same sort of process of getting from this project into town, in the heart of what we're about to see?
Rodney Olsen: I believe we were at trying to head back to the hotel. They had decided that rather than visiting another program, which was originally on the agenda, that it was safer to just go back to the hotel but in the meantime, as you say, we changed direction and, and streets that we'd gone down before now had barricades and, and it was just not safe. And as we turned onto that main street, that would have led us to the hotel. That's when I remember people running down towards where we were, uh, with fear in their faces saying, do not go up there. And that's when we went through the gates of the Compassion office and went inside and then things got real.
Az Hamilton: What I remember is getting to that main point before the people were running at us and we were on that main road in the heart of town. It was like the main street of Port au Prince and there was no one around, it was like, it looked like a bomb had gone off. I don't know if you remember, um, just like the burnt rubbish up the sides of the roads. Cause for me instantly, as soon as we hit that main road, I felt like I was in some kind of movie reel.
It felt like something I'd never seen, it was like, this is not real because there was fires and it felt eerily quiet where we were driving. And I remember Edouardo just slamming on the accelerator, like whiplash in the back, like just takes off. And yeah we landed probably a couple of minutes later, you know, now idling out the front of those big metal gates of Compassion and as you just mentioned, people running at us saying, you can't go further down. And I also remember there was a group of guys that had machetes that ran up behind our vehicle and they stole some stuff out of the back of the tray, I think it was like some drinks or soft drinks or, um, or some water bottles, whatever.
And that is sort of took off and we will all just waiting for these gates to open. I remember it seemed like an eternity. I know that one other guy in the car, one of the other announcers, he was really emotional because he could see what was coming towards us from down this main road and I don't know if you remember it clear as I do, just sort of seeing a mob of people waiting on the other end of the road, coming towards us. Like they were in some kind of march or riot or something, and we're sitting in the car, we can't move because the Compassion staff they'd already shut these gates, cause they knew it was coming and we're kind of calling them and saying, let us in and they're trying to move cars around and it was just one of those very time stands still, but everything's moving at a very rapid pace. Uh, and as the, the gates open, I remember we went in, shut the gates really quickly, and all I remember was, come with us, be very quiet and it was just very much about it like, just move fast and we just follow the staff into these office buildings and that sort of thing. What I remember to that point. What do you remember from that? Like that these are the points that sort of stick to my, my memory that I can play over in the mind. You know, you see it over and over and over again.
And it's sort of seared to the memory bank, but what was, what was the memories in that moment for you?
Rodney Olsen: Well, certainly as I mentioned, those people running down the street towards us with, with fear in their faces and that was because there was that group, as you mentioned, that was further up the street coming down and so they were wanting to get out of their way and they were warning us to be away as well, and that's when we did get through those gates eventually and went upstairs and then we stood at a very high window, which seemed to be untouchable for us, but we were at a very high window and started peering out and seeing some of those people come down the street. Some of them were with bits of wood and other instruments,
Az Hamilton: Metal pipes.
Rodney Olsen: Metal poles and all sorts of things.
Az Hamilton: All sorts of weaponry that they could find, whether it be a machete. Um, I don't think there was a lot of guns. It was more just like, what do I pick up? And I'm just trashing and stuff. And this is at this for me is definitely, let's say that, you know, you're, you're memories are connected to emotions. My emotions were at all time high. I remember peeking through the blinds cause we were, we were peeking through the blinds. We're very high up. In an office building. And I remember feeling exactly the same as you. We're safe now we're in this office. As long as we stay here, we'll be fine. You know, they can't see us. Uh, and it was like clockwork.
It was a very surreal experience like clockwork, few hundred, maybe a thousand people marching through the streets, sort of past our building and they kept on sort of walking past and there was screaming something that were chanting something and if anything was in their way they were breaking it or smashing it.
And for me, the most defining moment is that at one stage, these guys had gone past our building and I must admit, I felt a sense of relief that they've passed. They're gone. We we've, we've dodged this bullet in a sense. And then like for me, the worst possible thing happens. I remember there was a rioter who passed our building, who was just part of this, you know, riot protest and I reckon he was about 19 years of age, 20 years of age, he was only a young Haitian guy. And I remember him stopping in the middle of the road and just looking back at our building, like looking up at him and always standing directly next to a garden.
And Dan. Uh, who is from Sydney. And if you've ever had one of these moments where you lock eyes with someone, you know, you just get eye contact with someone and you're like, Oh my gosh, I can see it like this. But you know what I'm talking about, Rodney, right? You, you see someone, it doesn't matter if you wanted to get eye contact, but if you lock eyes, there's just a moment of, we we've connected.
We now know each other and I remember locking eyes with this guy. And I remember literally like in a sheer moment of panic saying to Dan, and this is the succession of how I remember things. I remember saying to Dan, Dan, they can see us. Which was something that I didn't think was possible how high we were.
And Dan was a very level headed guy and he's like, Az we're pretty high up, I don't think they can see us from down there, but I'm sure I was locking eyes with this guy, unless he's looking past me. He was one of those, you wave to someone and they're actually waving at the person behind you. But I remember feeling like we know he can, they can see us right now.
And Dan kept trying to reassure me that we're pretty high up Az it's not that bad. And then it was within a split second or two. One of the Compassion staff members says it's probably not safe to be near the glass. Let's go to another room. It was this sort of just, maybe we'll move into another room.
And as we turned around, that's when everything just went pear shaped I remember the massive explosion in the room, glass just shattering and we've all hit the deck. Do you remember that?
Rodney Olsen: I do remember where we were reminded. Hey, look, it's probably not safe to be there step back. And it was just as we stepped back that there was this huge sound.
Now I don't know what you thought it was in the moment because I still can't be sure what I thought of in the moment what it was, but I know that certainly some in the room thought it was a gunshot, but we didn't know, but everyone dropped to the ground as glass started to shatter around the room, we later found out it wasn't a gunshot, but it was still pretty frightening.
Az Hamilton: Actually. I wish I had it, but I had an old camera. And I remember going back into that room just before he left. And we'll get to that later to take photos, all the glass all over the floor. Um, and yeah, it'd been rocks had come smashing through the windows and they just completely obliterated, um, one of the entire front windows, unfortunately, that camera in transit disappeared.
So I had no, no proof of that, but I remember thinking this, I think, did we get shot at what was going on since that glass here? And we were on the ground, it was, it was panic stations. I mean, the staff were like, get up, go. And we were running through the back of these, um this office block. And we found ourselves, bolt locking a door into a small office where the staff were now telling us the people have seen us and we're not sure if they'll turn on our building. We've got I remember one computer in that room. Do you remember one? I can only remember seeing one computer. You can write an email to someone you love, and that was that it was just such a terrifying but definitive moment of this is real like you, gotta write something to someone you love. This might be the last thing that you write but the people have definitely seen us and we don't know what that mob is going to do outside. Whether they're going to try and take down a gate, come into our building, but now we're just locked in a room and, um, we're going to do our thing.
Rodney Olsen: It was a very scary moment, as you say, and we're, we're in a back room. And for part of that, we had some local Compassion people that were with us, but most of them were off in another room room trying to sort out what it was that they thought that we should do. What was that that maybe needed to be done to, to secure our safety for not just for us, but for everyone there. Maybe at this point, because we've, we've talked about there being, rioting people and all the rest, maybe you can give us a bit of an understanding of, of why there were riots in the street.
Az Hamilton: It's so interesting. Obviously we got out and that's a whole, that's a whole ‘nother story. Um, but I do remember we were being evacuated. We're waiting the airport asking questions. Cause like you Rodney, it like that was, they were chanting in their own language.
Like they were saying something over and over and they were yelling and screaming. I remember watching on the news, seeing the president pleading with the people, please calm down. What had happened was we got explained to us, what had happened was the food prices have gone through the roof on this little Island called Haiti and it's only a couple of hours away from Miami on a flight. So it's not far at all because the food price has gone through the roof. And the cost of living had gone up and they were earning the equivalent of what two American dollars a day. There was a massive food shortage and the people were, rioting was literally chanting somebody help us. Our children are dying as stomachs feel like, I remember this statement when they told us what they were saying, one of the statements was as stomachs feel like they're being eaten by acid. Our stomachs, feel like they're being eaten by acid. Please help us. It was only after we got out of Haiti I went and did a lot more research on what they meant by that and throughout so many of the rural communities, kids were known to eat these mud pies, which were literally just soil mixed with sugar and oil dried in the sun and you can still look this stuff up it's just full on and they were like mud pies and the kids would eat them. The parents would say, eat this at least your stomach will feel full. And I think the stat back then was something like one in six children on the island wouldn't even make it to their fifth birthday, and I think the nightmare of Haiti for these people became extremely real for me in that sort of 24 hour evacuation process. And it changed me.
Rodney Olsen: This is in the setting of 2008. It's the time of the global financial crisis, which as you say, raises the price of even the most basics of food. So it was the global food crisis at that time. And this is what the people were rioting about. They couldn't feed their children and having to eat mud because they wanted to put something in their kid's stomach, but they had nothing to give them and I guess, you know, like you, it was one of those things that was a defining moment where I decided I've got to do something about this. Now you mentioned that we've got to the airport and this is some of the discussion that we're having, but that trip to the airport, this is the following morning we'd been in the Compassion office. The rock had come through the window. Finally, the streets were calm. We made our way back to the hotel. And as we're going with seeing all these buildings that had been absolutely destroyed and looted by people, just looking for food for their families, spent a night at the hotel and then there was the trip to the airport.
Az Hamilton: This is the thing about this trip. Even little memories. I just got, it reminds me we would get back to the hotel, which was crazy in itself. I remember the radio station from Brisbane, my boss calling me getting through, calling me and saying, can we send in helicopters?
How do we get you out? And like, you don't understand. Cause on the news that night, they were canceling all flights in and out of Haiti. There was all this sort of discussion. We don't even know if we can get a flight tomorrow. So it was really interesting. And I do remember them saying we're going to leave super early in the morning because when it comes to a community like this, often throughout the day, the riots and the protests get larger and larger.
Like that's what happens as the people kind of keep on coming together. So if we can get away early, we should be able to avoid the mob, get you to the airport. There was one point out that they were, you know, trying to get us on. And that was the plan. And I remember leaving early and actually seeing the other was very positive, same peaceful and quiet in the streets.
It just seemed like, yeah, we're going to be, we'll be able to get to the airport. And then in a matter of minutes, it happens again, we are confronted by a bunch of people running it at car, and they're saying, you can't go through there. Uh, the roads being blocked off, further down the road. It's not safe. Our driver, Eduardo is once again, trying to keep spirits up. No worries. Well, no, we'll go back to the hotel. And I remember we turned around and we were headed it. Must've been half an hour period of time. We're heading back towards the hotel. Cause I think they sort of went let's just abandon getting to the airport at this time.
But the problem was at the other end of this main period of road they had barricaded that end as well. So we we'd found ourselves caught between two of these riots or two of these barricaded protests, which were just highly dangerous. Cause I don't know if you remember in the news, I mean, people were being killed in the streets as well.
The day before, as you said, everything was being obliterated. And then, you know, I remember Eduardo saying, no worries. We'll find another way. Like he was so, it's amazing how some people just have the ability to go. I know my reality, but I'm just going to stay positive. Cause these people just need to get out and I'm going to find a way.
And so we are now finding ourselves, uh, driving down a part of the city or through an area in the city that probably, you know, you normally wouldn't go. And in this sort of slum sort of area and I remember we're weaving through these little roads and it was just getting more and more congested with people.
And those people sort of peer into our vehicles getting closer up to the vehicles until it got to a point where, we're in the heart of the slum. And they're saying, I just remember the, the words are sort of broken English, it was like, no way out. No way out. And that was that's the moment probably for me in this trip at the age of 23, 24 or whatever I was, can't remember somewhere around that, that I'm genuinely thinking to myself, This is the day that I die. Like this is it and that's where I was at at that point.
Rodney Olsen: It's interesting those times and the memories that they bring back. I do recall sitting in the car thinking that if this all goes as wrong, as it's likely to go, if the doors of the car happened to it to open, and I was looking around for places that we could run to and then slam ourselves behind these metal gates in, in these different places and trying to find a way, how can we stay safe? And I remember, and you probably remember this too, where we were in a place where the cars just had to stop, because there were so many people around us and there was a guy with a metal bar and he was trying to incite the crowd to actually attack us until someone, and we only have this translated to us afterwards, but someone in the crowd, looked at the vehicle pointed to the Compassion logo on the side and said, wait, they're from Compassion,
Az Hamilton: They help the children. .
Rodney Olsen: They help out, they help our kids let them go. And that's the only reason we're still alive.
Az Hamilton: It's actually crazy. I do remember that guy. I remember being terrified by the fact that there was a real sense of let's overthrow these vehicles and the good reason for it. So I think we had two vehicles full of, you know, these, these Aussies that had money, uh, had equipment that was worth money. Uh, and you've got an absolute desperate situation.
So we were, we were an option to maybe be a solution for a few families to survive a little bit longer by maybe removing us from the picture and the first vehicle we got to this barricade. And there was, yeah, there was all these sort of like militant sort of guys that were arguing about letting us through.
And you must've been in the second vehicle, I reckon because the second vehicle got stopped and it was at that point. They let a second vehicle through because they help the children. I remember the first this vehicle got through somehow and they were waiting for us to come through and that's when there was the sort of overthrow of the people saying, no, don't let them through the other vehicle can go and whether it was, I don't know what was the reasoning for it. And then there was some, has someone in the crowd identified that work with Compassion. They help the children let them through and it was like the doors opened again, for us to get through and get out. And I just remember waiting for our vehicle to go through.
I think I thought we were going to get out of this. We're going to, we're going to see, um, you know, some opportunity to get through this crowd. Cause it was such a thick crowd surrounding our vehicles. And it was just because of this one person, this one guy who somehow convinced the crowd, let them through, let them through.
And I remember the picture of the people just opening up, like, like the road, just opening up and having a vivid feeling and a vivid thought process. It's like seeing the Red Sea part, but with people so that we could drive through and we drove through this crowd of people and got to the other side side of the sort of embankment.
Um, and it sort of opened up from that point. I remember clearly having an image of this small child on the other side of the scene back then looking out because everything actually, everything is just in slow-mo it's it kinda doesn't it doesn't add up. It's it's kind of, this is this really happening and I think, cause it's happening in real time and it's all happening so quickly.
You're trying to process, how is this happening and why is this happening? And it's such an interesting experience, but I just remember, like, it was almost like my whole life pause on the other side of this embankment, as that cars were getting ready to move forward again. And I remember looking to the right of the vehicle and seeing this little girl at the top of, of rubbish.
Like she must've been three or four. And it was this huge pile of rubbish, like bigger than houses. It was just, this mound of rubbish is a rubbish tip and she had a stick that was attached to a piece of plastic bag and she'd made her own kind of self-made kite and she's just waving in the air and she's just giggling, like she's just giggling and just full of joy.
She's watching this piece of plastic, just sort of taking off in the wind on the top of a rubbish pile, this memory of this kid, it just seered into my memory that here we are, this crazy situation's going on all around us. And there's this little kid somehow in the mess. And in most manic situations has found her own place of play.
And has found her own place of escape with something that she's created out of rubbish. And I know that's just a bit of a weird tangent to take but I remember so clearly, because it kind of just hit me to the core of my being about what am I complaining about? Like, who am I to be this guy from Australia?
Like, even though in my mess, in that time of like survival, I was still like, oh my gosh. This is daily life.
Rodney Olsen: One of the people that we had traveling with us was the Vice President of Compassion for that area and he originally was from Haiti and I remember him getting out of the vehicle and trying to find a way ahead and that was going to be difficult because there were people everywhere. As you say that the roads or tracks really, they were, uh, were getting narrower and he actually found someone who was prepared to show us a way. And of course at that stage, we didn't know whether that was taking us to some of his friends around the corner who were then going to attack and rob, or whether he actually was leading us out of there.
But we were told we had no choice. We had to move because staying where we were was dangerous. So we didn't know whether we were going to another danger. Or whether this was something that is going to see us to safety and I remember we kept going slowly and till we finally turned a corner and there was a crew cab ute and there were people on the back of that crew cab ute with weapons, but they were police. And this gentleman who, uh, worked for Compassion, who was originally from Haiti the image that is seared into my mind is him putting his hands up. He was a very big gentleman and there he is with his arms outstretched, way up in the air, walking towards these police very slowly so that they could see had no ill intent. Uh, he explained the situation to them of, of what was going on and it was then that they agreed to give us an armed escort to the airport. Again, it was one of those defining moments. Like I said before of, of where we were told they help our kids let them go and this was another one of those ones that kept us alive is that the police agreed that they would escort us out of that dangerous situation and get us to the airport.
Az Hamilton: I remember exactly the same thing. I remember, um, seeing the Compassion staff member, having his hands in the air and we're just like, what are you doing?
Cause he just left us in the car. I'm going to go and do this. And yeah. Being escorted to the airport with people, with their weapons out. Are, do you remember? Well, one of the females on the trip, um, wanted to get video footage or take photos in this moment. Cause she was just like, Oh, we need to get proof of this.
You know? And the rest of the guys in our car were like, put the camera down. This is not the time. Like we're, we just need to somehow get to the airport. Like let's not try and cause any more issues, and that's, it's quite interesting arriving at the airport. I remember getting dropped off and we went into the airport and watching on the news, how the United Nations base next door to the airport was deploying all their heavy artillery.
They were rolling out tanks and. All sorts of heavy artillery vehicles just to try and keep the peace. Um, you know, the president was on the TV trying to, to calm people down. And we, I suppose for the next few hours just had to, uh, navigate this idea of what's going on outside and are the mobs going to around the airport?
Are we actually going to be safe? Is there going to be a flight coming in? And, uh, yeah, that's for me, you know, over those next few hours, just waiting for this flight that was going to somehow get us out of this country. Uh, super bizarre time. waiting.
Rodney Olsen: It was a strange time and eventually we did get out. So in the midst of this turmoil of people who are rioting, not because they want to bring violence on anyone, but just because they could not feed their families, because they did not have enough to put food in the stomach of their children and they're, they're saying someone, listen, please, someone listen and help us. And we finally flew out of there. And, and I guess the memory for me is going down that runway, looking out the window, seeing fires burning all the way around Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, where there been barricades and riots and fire everywhere.
And then in a surreal moment, looking down in the grass, along the side of the runway, seeing kids playing soccer, and taking off, and this sense in which I felt finally we're safe, and at the same moment thinking, but there are 8 million people living in Haiti who are never going to afford a ticket to get out of this place.
They are trapped here, they're trapped into poverty and I think for me Az, that was the moment I said, I've got to do more to, to tell the story of these people so that they don't have to continue to live this way.
Az Hamilton: I had the same moment I had exactly the same moment. I remember flying out and then looking out the window of this plane.
I remember running on the tarmac just to get on the plane. I remember getting on the plane and we didn't do any of the safety checks. It was just like in and out so quick. It was like, we've got to get you out. I had this crazy overwhelming sense that when I go home, I need to be a voice for those kids who do not have a voice.
That was it. It was like, you need to do this. It was quite a fascinating thing when we got to Miami, I remember on, on landing, uh, my phone beeped and it was from my mom and my dad who actually in the States at the time, they finally got my email about how. I was locked in a room at the Compassion office and we might not get out alive but I just want to, you know, let you know what's going on outside there's rioting and so they were writing like freaking out, not sure what was going on and I remember writing back to mom and mom and saying, hi mom, we're safe we're back in Miami. Um, and I remember saying to her. Um, I don't think I'll be, I think I need to go and speak for these kids. Um, and I, I think I need to quit radio.
I think I need a, I'm just so convicted by this. I don't know if I can go back to just interviewing like musos and celebrities, whatever that is. I think maybe I just, I just need to be a voice for these kids. And my mom was like, you know, very motherly. Like she's like, just don't do anything stupid.
You're just emotional because I've been building a radio show. I was doing something that I loved and I was doing, I think, quite well at it. And it was, it was just for my mom being a mom, probably thinking, okay, you're just emotional and not knowing the full extent of what was going on. I think I had good reasons.
It'd be like, just relax. And that was it for me. It completely changed me. I came back. I do want to say that I remember being back, we'd been back for a week or so. And one of, one of the girls from Compassion Newcastle actually came up to the radio station to debrief and she wanted to put on a morning tea and say, thank you.
And I want to maybe share a bit and she wanted to share. And she shared on that day about the moment that we were caught in the, in the backstreets of the slum where they were saying there's no way out and she said, when we're in Compassion in Newcastle, we got a text from a DJ who was sort of the head of the team that took us over there.
And he had messaged and said, you need to pray. You need to pray for us now. We may not get out of this one and, you know, DJ's been to on, on like dozens of trips all over the globe. And he. Um, had personally felt that this, this one we may not get out of. And so she's sharing this experience, um, from there and like, just on the Compassion in the office kind of experience of this team and she starts sharing and she said, you know, we started praying for your protection and we started praying for you instantly.
Like we're talking while we're still in the slum. Like in that moment where we can't get out, they're praying. And she said, that a lady in the office stood up on a chair and prayed God part, the people like the Red Sea and everything in me just went, that's exactly what happened. That's what I saw. That's the revelation I had when the people parted.
And we went through, I just was like, what, what did you just say? And it was for me, just a moment of our living, God answering a prayer. In real time on the other side of the world. And for me, because of that revelation and that clarity of God working and moving in that moment, it just struck home as a core to my own heart again, that no, no, this is not me being crazy.
I need to go and be a voice for these kids. Like this is not just me being emotional, experiencing something that, you know, it's it's you experiencing some posttraumatic. Um, stuff know this, this is, this is a conviction that there there's some kids starving to death on an Island, and no one knows about them and no one seems to care and I need to be a voice for that.
So it wasn't long after I over the next three or four weeks, I tried to fit that call into my radio career. I tried to use that experience and go, I can do it through radio, but I knew my time was up. And so I think it must've been about four weeks after I went into my boss and said, here's my resignation.
I need to go and share with teenagers about the world they live in and how they can actually change things for the better for kids that are in need. And my boss was like, do you have a job lined up? I'm like, Nope. I just have to do it. So I quit with no, you know what that would look like. It was pretty amazing.
I ended up being able to step into another job within 24 hours in a different ministry space was able to volunteer with Compassion and over that next nine months, Compassion opened up a role actually created a role for me to be a youth communicator for them, for the country and sort of build some youth product.
And so I just look at that and I just go, yup, life defining moments and some people say do you want to go back to Haiti? Would you go back and I would. There's something about Haiti. It has my heart. I would go back and even though it's crazy, there's something about that place. That has captivated me the last 12 years.
And, uh, I just went on mission for that next, I dunno, three to five years with three years with Compassion, to be a voice for those kids. And then post Compassion when I started my own thing in schools, working with teenagers, and just challenging young people to have a heart of thankfulness, a heart to be generous and in the right time, to reach the needs of those around them, with their generosity, with their love, with their kindness, uh, with the empathy and, and that's what I'm still doing today. And I suppose the, the foundation of it was that trip with you.
Rodney Olsen: It certainly was, was an interesting trip and I did come back and worked in radio for another five years, but used that opportunity to, to speak out on behalf of Compassion and behalf of children, wherever possible until six and a half years ago, I actually started working for Compassion and that's where I am these days due to that, that absolutely life changing experience that we had. You've touched on there, the work that you're now doing with the, the organization that you founded and that you run called Just Motivation. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Az Hamilton: Yeah. So as I said, I mentioned, uh, worked with Compassion for three years in their youth department. And unfortunately with the global financial crisis has actually caught up to Compassion back then and had to lay off a bunch of staff, those, um, redundancies that happened, and we were about to launch a national product for youth and I'd worked very hard on it.
Um, and just in a short period of time, that just obviously that, that door shut for me. And so I actually found myself in 2011 having to finish up work and I sat down for, in any cafe for about six weeks. Um, just asking, God, God, what do you want me to do with my life? Like, what is it that you want me to do?
Because I don't think it's radio. I do believe that social justice is heart of helping the needy and the poor. That's your heart. Educating young people on the world that we live in is important. I love working with teenagers. And so over this period, I sat down, it was, it was just a combination of going with social justice, a passion of mine and motivating.
So Just Motivation kind of came out of this. This is my heart. And I started sort of running programs mainly just on those sorts of topics and obviously that story was one of those things. Uh, and speaking schools, I started off with a program that was just like a 45 minute session. Just sharing that story and, and giving some really practical outworkings of how we can actually change our world as young people.
And then that sort of developed into full day leadership and faith sessions. So this year is my ninth year I spend my time with, working with teenagers challenging their hearts towards the things that I believe God's heart is. And we have a lot of fun. I use a lot of humor and we do big group activities, and on an average day work with anywhere between 102 hundred students.
And I'll just work with that group by myself running this program. Yeah, for me, I just want to challenge young people to use the giftings and the passions that they have in their lives to impact others in a positive way. And, uh, absolutely love it. Absolutely love it. So yeah. Obviously started a podcast as well the Az Speaks Podcast for teenagers as well on a weekly basis. Yeah, absolutely love it.
Rodney Olsen: Do you ever cast your mind to where life would be if you hadn't had that, that trip to Haiti?
Az Hamilton: Yeah. I look back at a lot of things in my life that I, just go God's so kind to me, uh, I feel like it's interesting, you know how some people, so they just have a natural ability just to go on life's journey and they don't need like shock moments they don' t need, like really like a punch in the face to get your attention. Unfortunately, with me, I kind of find that God has to get my attention by doing the slap to the face, wake up. Hi, this is where I need to take you. And I've just been really fortunate that there's been these core moments in my life that have led me to where I am.
I think about moments like sponsoring my first child like that. It was a definitive moment. I think about trips like that to Haiti. There's how many of those sort of stories that have lead me to, where I am? And I do, I do sometimes think if anything, with the Haiti trip, I do think this, and I don't know if you ever thought this, imagine if we went to Haiti and it was just a very stock standard, uh, you know, we got to see the good work that Compassion does, which is incredible. And if you don't sponsor a child with Compassion, go and do it today. If you're just listening to this, just go and sponsor child, like is the greatest thing you can do.
Um, if we just got on a normal trip and yeah, we've met some great kids and we've met some great staff and we saw the great things that they were doing, helping those kids and then we got on a plane and came home. I wonder if the gravity of what Compassion is doing would have really hit like, and I'm so thankful for the trip that we got.
And it was a once in a lifetime trip and even for those leading the trip. They wouldn't have expected it. I don't think a trip has happened like it since. Um, so I am thankful I was on that trip. I get students ask me all the time. Like if you, if you had your chance again, to go on that trip again, would you do it?
And obviously you go, well, it'd be a bit crazy to put yourself in a dangerous position like that. But if I knew that the outcome was the same, absolutely. Like you would do it. Absolutely. Because. These things change you for the better. I think I'm a much better person, nicer person, kinder person, more empathetic person because of it.
And, um, yeah, I'm thankful for the experiences that I've had, even in my younger, like young years, the life stuff that's happened to me because it does, it develops you and your character and the way you see the world. And I'm, I'm constantly, you know, growing. In those areas, but yet definitely do think back to those sort of things like a trip like that and go, yeah, um, I'm so fortunate that I was on that trip.
Rodney Olsen: Az I do look forward to seeing what are some of the other defining moments that God uses in your life from this point on and where that leads you because it sounds like it's been an incredible journey so far. So I'm gonna sort of keep that in mind as I continue to watch your life and what happens in it, but I want to say a deep thank you for spending time with us today and sharing with us just a piece of your story. Thank you.
Az Hamilton: Thanks, Rodney. Really appreciate it.
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