Wall quickly followed her own advice. After BBC World Service Trust’s launch party for the paper, she and group of colleagues were sitting around in a bar (“in true journalistic fashion,” she says) and decided that a policy paper was not enough. By the time the earthquake struck in Haiti, CDAC had formed its steering committee and forty other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had signed on as active participants supporting the group’s mission statement. Wall says that the group wouldn’t have been able to deploy to Haiti if it weren’t for the progressive work that many of the organizations had already done.
“The opportunity was there,” she says. “The NGOs – Internews and others – had been working very hard in the interim to build a system that could actually deliver. So, it wasn’t just a question of deciding to support new communications efforts. The system had to be there for us to support.”
Indeed, prior to the quake, Internews had helped to develop a network of forty-one community radio stations (covering approximately 85 percent of the territory outside Port-au-Prince), which raised awareness about issues such gender-based violence, children’s rights, and civic education. The rural network, called RAMAK, was not Internews’s first priority following the temblor in January, however. As soon as its team arrived, it made contact with Radio One, a station in Port-au-Prince, which was still broadcasting and had national reach, and Signal FM, one of the most popular stations in the city. Within a week, twenty-one FM stations in the capital – in addition to Voice of America and Radio France Internationale – were broadcasting News You Can Use.
Now that a little more than three months have passed since the earthquake, the team is beginning to assess the technical and infrastructure needs of stations inside and outside Port-au-Prince. It is also providing humanitarian reporting training to local journalists.
The daily New You Can Use program continues, with twenty-seven stations typically airing it four to six times a day. Originally distributed by hand via CD, the program is now available for downloading off Internews’s Web site and an FTP server. Internews has hired about a dozen Haitian journalists (whose own offices were destroyed or disabled by the quake). One of their first tasks was to conduct street surveys asking locals where they were getting their information and what information they needed, and they continue to report on the evolving recovery and relief effort.
With the start of the rainy season last month, OCHA, the Haitian government, and other relief organizations began the arduous process of registering 700,000 people now living in tent camps all over Port-au-Prince. The goal is to relocate (or at least warn) those at risk from flooding, waterborne disease, and other threats. Internews and other CDAC partners have played in integral role in that process. Radio, television, and text messages have stressed the importance of registering and Haitians could, in turn, text or call members of the humanitarian community with questions and complaints (when Internews set up a text- and call-based feedback system for its radio program soon after arrival it received 800 responses within the first twenty-four hours).
“We’ve been able to see that we’re having an impact,” said Mark Frohardt, Internews’s vice president for health and humanitarian media. “One of our reporters was passing through one of the camps once evening and saw a man living in a shelter outside of some destroyed homes. The man was taking down his tarpaulin, so our reporter asked him if he was moving. The man said, no, he’d heard that morning on the radio how he needed to retie his tarpaulin so that it wouldn’t cave in during the rains.”