A journey through the unheard voices of Haiti’s reconstruction

Giordano Cossu from Italy and Benoit Cassegrain from France are two web-reporters managing Solidar'IT in Haiti, a web project created in the footsteps of the Paris Crisis Camp aimed at using the Internet and other technologies to help Haitians affected by last January's earthquake.

As an independent, multimedia non-profit project, Solidar'IT in Haiti is a journey through the unheard voices of Haiti’s reconstruction, documenting the current post-earthquake situation by giving exposure to local citizens mostly excluded from the reconstruction process and still living in an emergency state.

In an interview via Skype, Giordano Cossu explains that he and Cassegrain lived in Haiti for about two months last summer, talking with people and shooting videos for their documentary:

“There is a lot of frustration on the ground, not only by those still living in tents (often filled with holes) in camps, but also on the part of volunteers and organizations trying to offer help and provide solutions. Our plan is to give visibility to these voices, to avoid that information from and about Haiti [which] is being provided only by the NGOs on the ground with their own agendas to pursue, as is the case today 95% of the time.”

Refugee camp in Haiti (photo by SolidarIT in Haiti, under CC

Refugee camp in Haiti (photo by SolidarIT in Haiti, under CC)

While the material gathered in Haiti will be finalized in a full web-documentary by year end, the current multimedia website hosts a variety of content in English and French:

Our multimedia blog is a way to expose our work-in-progress and enable people to directly access the most important testimonies we collected so far.

We decided to provide only short summaries online, leaving unfiltered and strong content directly in video and audio footage. Only by listening and watching these images can people actually understand the reality in Haiti — at least much deeper than just by reading the news!

As for the web-documentary format, it has only been around for about two years and provides very creative opportunities for viewers to arrange – in their own way – the various videos available.

The current living conditions in most tent camps still have few humane aspects, and the situation is especially challenging for the more vulnerable, such as women, children, and sick people.

Even before the earthquake, violence against women was already a problem, but after the earthquake it just blew up, despite local institutions trying to minimize it: in most camps at night there is no electricity and often there are only shared bathrooms for both men and women, thus creating a dangerous situation and heightening the feeling of frustration and insecurity.

With images and voices, Solidar'IT in Haiti explains how local women's organizations are dealing with these problems:

In the so-called “box of grief“, women put anonymous, handwritten letters telling their stories of violence and abuse: from being denied food to being raped by their relatives. Once a week that box is opened and those letters read in a public ceremony, thus creating hard but necessary moments of revelation and acting as communal therapy — and also increasing women's awareness about their own rights.

Box of grief (photo by Solidar'IT in Haiti, under CC)

Box of grief (photo by Solidar'IT in Haiti, under CC)

Marie Sofonie is 25 years old and determined to break the silence about these abuses. She got involved in the AYITI SMS SOS project, which allows victims or witnesses of abuses to send an SMS text-message to a free number (3803 0303). Messages are then mapped geographically and classified based on the type of crime or help request, location and so on – by using the crowd-sourcing platform Ushahidi and the Frontline SMS service. The AYITI SMS SOS initiative is being supported by Survivors Connect, an organization closely related to Fondation Espoir, as well as by other groups of local women.

Marie Sofonie is in charge of reading and indexing those text-messages (already well over a thousand) and also contributes to the Solidar'IT blog: that's how her voice is becoming global.

Ralph is a young Haitian journalist hosting “A camp per day”, a 20-minute feature within a radio program called ENDK (“Enfomasyon nou dwe konnen”, meaning “Useful News”), produced by the NGO news organization Internews. He visits a different camp each day, and talks to the people to understand where the major problems are. His reports represent a direct line for the displaced people living in the camps to express their feelings and needs, and receive news about the other camps. ENDK is then broadcast daily by a network of 35 radio stations in Haiti. Ralph's story is another voice gathered and relaunched worldwide by the Solidar'IT in Haiti documentary.

The project website includes many other stories, including one about Radio Boukman, the community radio of Citè Soleil, a dangerous neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, which also manages a hurricane prevention program without any international support. And there is also the The Koute Ayiti (Listen to Haiti) caravan, created to travel to the different provinces affected by the earthquake and to spread health and other vital information information to support reconstruction.

Radio Boukman, the voice of the voiceless in Cité Soleil, Haiti
from Web-Reporter on Vimeo.

Today more than 1,5 million people still live in tents, the reconstruction process has barely started, and almost nobody covers Haiti anymore. In the streets and refugee camps there are already many malnourished children, easily identified by their orange hair. The United States promised more than a billion dollars in help, but that money has never been released, nor has it reached Haiti thus far.

Until last August, the only help that actually materialized were goods from Norway, Estonia, Australia and Brazil. Today, many people can live in a tent only because they could afford to buy one.

Most Haitians feel excluded by the same NGOs that are managing the refugee camps, with scarce information provided to them; an 18-24 month waiting period for a final home transfer is a long time in a hurricane-infested area. And while the government remains largely absent, civil society is trying to step in. One example is the 50 refugee camps (from a total of about 460 camps in the Port-au-Prince area alone) that are entirely managed by the independent youth organization FNJD, by sharing the little resources available.

The second part of the web-documentary is scheduled for this November, when Giordano Cossu and Benoit Cassegrain will again travel to Haiti to delve deeper into the reconstruction process, producing interviews and footage with and about local citizens.

To find out more about the Solidar'IT in Haiti project, you can visit their website/blog, follow their Facebook page or Twitter account. For direct donations, people can use Ulule, a crowd-funding platform.

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