Digital strategy and communications


At 16.53 local time on Tuesday 12 January, 2010 an earthquake with a Moment magnitude of 7.0 struck Haiti, with an epicentre approximately 16 miles from the country’s capital Port au Prince.

Almost immediately the country hit the headlines and was rarely out of the news for a few weeks. NGOs and the media came flying in to help and report. Yet, often the voices heard in the media were not those of the locals, but of crisis professionals, analysts and politicians.

This didn’t mean that locals weren’t involved in picking up the pieces, simply that we rarely heard from them. Some of this could be put down to a matter of language translation – a fairly predictable scenario when going into a foreign country, and whilst the first language of Haiti is the less spoken Creole the second language of the country is French. But there are many other possible reasons.

Two projects have attempted to rectify this situation:

The Kenyan Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for crowdsourced information collection, visualization and interactive mapping, was founded to re-balance these very situations, as this video explains:

When the earthquake in Haiti struck, Ushahidi and mapping volunteers quickly got into action. Both enabling the reporting of incidents and information on the ground (via mobile SMS, emails and online) and mapping the dramatically changed landscape, infrastructure and cities from satellite pictures above. The result was a constantly updated interactive map.

The following presentation given by Juliana Roitch at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia shows what was involved and just some of the challenges and processes that they had to learn on the job. Processes and reports that are still ongoing.

The web and film documentary Goudou Goudou, the ignored voices of reconstruction is another project that aims to re-address the balance of voices telling the story of Haiti.

Filmed and produced by Benoit Cassegrain and Giodarno Cossu – who together run Solidar’IT – it tells the stories of several characters and their lives since the earthquake. The film was recorded in Creole and French during 2010, and has yet to be fully translated into English (I’m sure the film makers would be up for discussions if you are interested in changing that), but the following trailer is available, and gives a glimpse into the day to day lives of those that the earthquake effected.

Both projects highlight in their different ways that we need to change how report crisis’. That we consider who can report as well as what and how language should be considered right from the start.

2 Responses to “Behind the headlines: raising local voices in Haiti”

  1. Antony Mayfield

    This is a fantastically useful recap of Ushahidi plus the latest videos and slides – thanks a lot for sharing, Katie.

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