Anniversary Media Blitz of Haiti


Transparency and accountability from NGOs

Still strong one year later

Port-au-Prince, Haiti— Year 2010 was arguably the longest of Haiti’s 206-year history, reflect some historians on the plurality of unprecedented events taken place in the country starting on January 12. Some recalled with up most clarity and disbelief as global television screens bled horrific images of apocalyptic episodes seared into memory months after months. If the magnitude 7.0 earthquakes did not steal someone’s mom, dad, uncle, limbs, friends or neighbors— at the very least, it stole barrels of tears. As the first anniversary sneaks up on surviving Haitians, buckets more will flood the overwhelming emotions they will feel on that day.

While no stranger to chaos of catastrophic proportions, nothing could prepare Haitians for such a tumultuous year. Historically, Haitians have survived their colonial overlords, imperial invaders and occupiers, several violent revolutions, authoritarian dictators, political mediocrity and international dismissal; nevertheless, the succession of ill-fated events of 2010 was inconceivable even by wildest Hollywood accounts.

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With an estimated population of 9.8 million people, 3 million of whom lived in the epicenter of the earthquake, the loss of life was colossal. Novices to earthquakes, Haitians—young or old– had nowhere to run, no one to turn to, no emergency response system in place or any infrastructure to provide shelter as more than 230,000 lives succumbed to 20 million cubic meters of cement blocks.

Consequently, the immediacy with which the world responded to the devastation captured hearts and mind of Haitians everywhere. Global pledges did not lack empathy, monies, non-governmental organizations (NGO), UN peacekeepers, philanthropists, and regular humanitarians to help the victims, nor did they lack unscrupulous child traffickers and other type of criminals seeking to prey on the vulnerable. Worldwide media migrated to Haiti and, according to their coverage, were in culture shock seeing inhumane condition humans lived in.

News organizations told tales of a prehistoric people living on less than two dollars a day, led by a government deeply rooted in corruption. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, they emphasized, lacked fundamental necessities, infrastructure, and leadership and would be lost absent a strong international humanitarian presence. It was the story of a population, nearly 50 percent of which was illiterate, caught in the pre-industrial era, and then there were survivor stories, amazing rescue images.

For Haitians however, confusion, gargantuan losses and chaos highlighted their side of the story. It was about finding moms, teachers, husbands, sons and daughters muted by the debris or among burning corpses on the roadsides. Their story featured another routine foreign invasion with more than 12,000 uncontrollable NGOs carrying a $1-billion purse donated on behalf of the affected and 24,000 foreign troops sometimes bearing contemptuous residual sentiments from a lengthy history of crippling international policies. It was a race against time and the gripping suspense of unpredictability.

The Haitian saga evolved in sporadic leaps and bounces over the last 12 months with hundreds of aftershocks, ineffective governance, temporary shelters turned into permanent housing, rapes, floods and Tropical Storm Thomas. Furthermore, imported cholera snatched more than 3,500 extra lives, including 45 voodoo lynching prompted by ignorance and fear. Post-election violence soon stole the headlines prompting Edmund Mulet, UN’s top man in Haiti, to threaten to disown them unless government officials changed existing discourse.

Largely under the media’s radar, encouraging signs of progress offered glimpses of hope to many Haitians, including the emergence of an ambitious 20-year plan promising the reinvention of Haiti’s education system with a projected $4.3 billion expenditure over a two-year period. In addition, this plan would provide free or nearly free education from kindergarten through the 12 grades and a new $15 million 320-bed teaching hospital would be constructed in Mirebalais, a town in central Haiti.  The government would also build 625 new primary schools tripling the number of publicly financed schools. It would also retrain 90 percent of the country’s teaching force — 50,000 people — to teach the new curriculum, and it would train 2,500 new teachers a year, many through a program patterned on Teach for America.

Among many other significant programs were the Haiti Hope Project (HHP) that brought together a coalition of businesses, government, and civil society partners to invest about $8 million to develop a sustainable mango industry in the country. Coca Cola, Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (DBHF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Multilateral Investment Funds (MIF) led HHP initiatives. TheWorld Food Program provided work and food for many Haitian families and coördinated efforts of the four major medical organizations (the Red Cross, MSF, Doctors of the World and FRIEND) have made medical care available to them. However, the introduction of the cholera strand to the Western world did no justice to remarkable and sometimes exhausting efforts of the medical community. Many other significant and positive contributions, immersed in the agony of the victims and fraudulent election fracas, went unnoticed.

On Jan. 12, 2011, Haiti will experience a media blitz similar to the six-month anniversary spotlight. Media corporations, big and small, will raid the capital and small towns to report on reconstruction processes. After all, Haiti’s trauma fit well with the media’s framing mechanisms: drama, villains, victims and heroes.

We urge foreign Journalists — with the support of the Haitian press community – to engage in robust community relation efforts and capture the Haitian experience contextually and objectively. This would guarantee news coverage that works ‘for’ Haitians as opposed to a repetitive story ‘about’ a prehistoric people with awkward cultural norms. In addition, this comprehensive approach would also help Haiti take advantage of a constellation of factors holding potential for success.

We also encourage journalists to resist usual episodic framing devices by trying to understand the conundrum that is the Haitian actuality and refrain from using reporting styles requiring them to detach their values from the stories and actors. These practices would only project an illusion of objectivity and fairness in their coverage.

Evidently, the Haitian people have a story to tell, a human tragedy told from their perspective. Without a profound understanding of their way of life, tangible solutions could be as elusive as they were in 2010, a sure way to build resentment for the foreigners and possibly derail recovery efforts. The role of Haitians in pulling their country from under the rubble is pivotal and the media has a responsibility to voice the voiceless, demand transparency from all the actors and expose unethical practices. As many observers have alleged, the most deceptive humanitarian heist may be taking place in Haiti while the level of squalor and desperation lingers unabated.

It is not the actions of individuals the make them heroes, rather the values and meanings attached to those actions. On the anniversary of its darkest day, Haiti is undoubtedly full of Heroes on the heels of disruptive year 2010 and the first thousand of them would probably not be foreign internationals.


via Rapadoo Observateur

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