Here’s a short video I made of our registration process, currently talking place around the country. Our first stop was the large settlement in Champ de Mars, the public park outside Port-au-Prince’s destroyed presidential palace.
It is an important part of the big picture. The information we get gets plugged into a larger strategy to (as far as we can) beat the rains, which consists of four main approaches – enabling people to go home (debris removal from home areas etc), helping people find host families, to support the ad hoc sites where people have gathered, and to plan and create new sites. (We have a very cool map on cccmhaiti.info which, with Google Earth, you can fly around the city examining all the sites in intricate detail.)
In all of this communications are crucial: and that means talking to Haitians in their own language and culture. As the media and communications officer for the International Organization for Migration, I have four jobs – dealing with international press, coordinating within the UN system, producing my own media (like the video below) and local outreach.
The last part is in many ways the most important; absolutely crucial to the success of the entire operation here.
Traditionally people had a sense of “this is the project” and “this is the communications of the project”. That is changing – albeit not fast enough. The humanitarian aid system is learning that you cannot delink the success of a project from the communications around that project, especially in a country like post-earthquake Haiti which has very limited local communications capacity.
In the first days after the Jan 12 earthquake, radio was central. An organisation called Internews organised a regular slot on 27 local radio stations in creole. There was also a lot of activity around SMS, which is clearly a growth area worldwide – with Thomson Reuters organising messages out, and Ushahidi organising messges in – but it’s effectiveness remains a little unclear.
Then there are more direct forms of communication. The video shows one: the soundtruck, with a DJ, going around playing music, talking to people.
Haitians, as all people, need more than food and shelter. They also need entertainment, and fun. These are basic requirements for a fulfilling life. So we try to address both with the roadshow – we play some nice music, and also talk about what is happening.
The result was heartwarming. Kids and women dancing in the street, smiles, a good mood all round. This was a valuable outcome in itself.
Even more encouraging, people the next day lined up peacefully in their thousands. What could have been a threatening tense affair, was remarkably relaxed. I like to think we had something to do with that, although I am also constantly amazed by the internal discipline of the Haitian people during this crisis. Given the situation and context, there has been remarkably little violence.
We have also created flyers with a local comics artist, Anthony Louis-Jeune. I have a new guy on the team – Bertrand Martin – who set up a marketing agency here before the quake, and who is proving invaluable at taking some of the load.
This is the flyer we are using in our next registration:
In the longer term, I have many ambitions. I would love to create a radio soap opera, starring Haiti’s best comedians, charting the life of a family dealing with displacement.
It’s a winning formula, that has worked in many countries. Again, the mantra is to both entertain and inform. We let the artists do their thing, make it a good laugh, a fun event, but also push one message per show – which could range from wash your hands, to how to form a local community structure.
So much we can do, so much we can do. Interesting times.