Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Youth Document the Earthquake & Aftermath

Photo by Andrew Bigosinski, for AOL News.

Via Unicef's MAGIC Network, news today about an amazing and humbling initiative being undertaken by students of Haiti's only film school, the Ciné Institute, who are tirelessly documenting and producing an eye witness account of this week's devastating earthquake and its aftermath. Located in Jacmel, a small town south of Port-au-Prince, the film school's classrooms and most of its equipment were reduced to rubble during the earthquake. But that hasn't stopped its students -- all but one of which is currently accounted for, but all of whom have lost their homes and/or loved ones -- from banding together to produce on the ground news footage, which they have been uploading to the internet since Thursday. So far, they've been able to salvage six cameras, a few editing stations and an uploading station from the site of their former school. Working with a team in New York, they've been able to generate an impressive multi-media news stream, complete with (in some cases) english subtitles and growing attention from mainstream media outlets (some of whom are using their footage, e.g. CNN).

You can watch the videos on the school's Vimeo channel, through the school website, and on Facebook. You can also follow them on Twitter, and view some of the first images taken in Jacmal through Flickr. Their work not only provides a crucial firsthand account of the disaster's impact and aftermath in Jacmel, but also raises awareness about smaller communities and towns that are also in need of global aid, but that might not be getting as much attention as Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. As Dana Chivvis, who did a feature on the students' efforts in a recent article for Aol News, writes:
With their lives in chaos and their buildings in ruins, the students set up a makeshift base at a radio station. With the equipment they salvaged, they have four editing stations and one uploading station. Working with a team at the school's office in New York, they uploaded Keziah's video to their Web site only two days after the earthquake.

At noon on Friday, a second video was up, and six more are waiting for volunteers to edit and produce. Fritzner Simeus's footage shows buildings stacked like pancakes on top of themselves, people freeing a man pinned under the rubble, and thousands at night lying in the grass at the airport with nothing but blankets to cover themselves.

"The idea really now is that we make the world know that Jacmel has been equally hit as Port-au-Prince and need as much support," Bigosinski said. The students have had food and fresh water, but supplies are running low. Already fuel for generators and medical supplies in the town are nearly spent.

Clearly, along with the need for support in these vital areas, the students will also need support to continue their work of covering the aftermath. They are already encountering problems with internet access, which could seriously delay their efforts to provide a key public and humanitarian service of keeping the rest of the world informed of what's going on in Jacmel. They're currently in search of a temporary donation of an Inmarsat BGAN, a lightweight, easily transportable broadband global area network (BGAN) that would enable them to upload large video files without having to rely on the limited local services currently available to them. Just one of many things that we can do to help, but one that media professionals might be in a particularly unique position to make happen.

My heart goes out to the students and teachers of the Ciné Institute, to Jacmel and to Haiti, to all those impacted or whose loved ones have been impacted by the earthquake, and to all those involved in the relief efforts.

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