Priorities in Port-au-Prince

I feel surprisingly settled in, even though it is only week number two now. Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming and I’ve met some truly wonderful people, Haitians and foreigners alike. There are definitely more ex-pats here than I originally anticipated, and although this makes me feel a bit more comfortable in a foreign country than I may have been otherwise, it seems to be a controversial phenomenon. I’ve been told that the number has increased drastically following the earthquake and that there are varying levels of untrustworthiness between poor Haitians and the many American and European volunteers, missionaries, UN officers, NGO developers, etc. But discussions of international charity and interventions will be saved for another day.

Despite the fact I have many formal interviews already set up, I still try to ask anyone I can off-the-record about media and technology in Haiti and what their general opinions are. Throughout my first week, I have been amazed at the amount of people that own cell phones despite the overwhelming levels of poverty here. I was even able to walk around a tent camp with a friend from Artists for Peace and Justice and observed that while many residents live in one-room shacks with no running water, simple mobile phones still abound. Some even include SMS-based social media platforms.

I’ve learned that much of this can be attributed to Digicel’s business model in Haiti, where they strive to make communication affordable and available to all, regardless of social class. Last Friday, I was able to spend an afternoon at their offices in Turgeau where I spoke to several executives about Digicel’s history and services in the country and the company’s huge commitment to social responsibility and job creation.

This week, I will also be meeting with various people from TechnoServe, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing technological business solutions to Haiti and other impoverished nations; Soul of Haiti, an NGO aiming to cultivate a national entrepreneurial community; and Port-au-Prince’s Red Cross unit, where I will speak with their communications team. In addition, I look forward to spending Wednesday afternoon at Quisqueya University, touring the facilities and learning more about their educational programs. The university especially focuses on preparing their students for careers in socioeconomic development and the new technological age. I certainly have a busy week ahead!

Other noteworthy things I’ve done here thus far:

-Visited the famed Iron Market where hundreds of Haitians gather to sell their artwork. It is said that Haiti has more artists per capita than any country in the world!

-Enjoyed a traditional dinner with two professional Haitian women with ties to Marymount College of Fordham University. My favorite foods: fried pork and spicy fried conch!

-Spent my Sunday at the beautiful Indigo Beach (about an hour outside of Port-au-Prince) with a few new friends for some much-needed R&R.

Until next time,

Annie

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Hello from Haiti!

Today was my second day in Port-au-Prince, and already it has been quite a culture shock. The city itself is very busy (not to mention scorching hot) and people and cars travel every which way as soon as the sun rises. I’ve noticed that the vast majority of Haitians work informal jobs in the streets selling food, products, art, or services. The media researcher in me wonders if and how this economic setup would change if there was more access to digital technologies here.

After settling in yesterday, I went about scheduling my interviews and meetings for this week. Within the next few days I will be speaking with people from Inveneo, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to bringing technology to developing countries; Digicel, Haiti’s number one cell phone company; and Artists for Peace and Justice, an NGO which has built the only free high school for the city’s poor.

Today I actually visited this school on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, called the Academy for Peace and Justice. They have just built a brand new computer lab! I found it interesting that teachers and students alike both have to learn how to use the devices and the Internet itself. Many of them have never touched a mouse or keyboard before. During computer classes, they will use the Microsoft eLearning software which teaches them computer basics, programs and security and also educates them on potential uses and careers associated with the technology.

Educating Haiti’s next generation of working adults in these areas is a huge step towards closing the country’s digital gap. That said, I still have a lot to learn about the nation’s developing media industry. Looking forward to sharing my findings with you all!

-Annie

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