This press release from CitizenHaiti.org describes a most worthwhile project.
Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, with 1.5 million people still huddled in shelters and tents, someone had the idea of asking these people to express themselves in letters.
In the vast tented cities around the capital Port au Prince, people hunted down pens and pieces of paper and poured their hearts out. It started with a trickle, but soon letters were arriving by the bagful. Elegantly written, the letters often begin formally, like this one written from Croix des Bouquets on the outskirts of Port au Prince:
Croix des bouquets (Corailles cesselesse) le 24/10/ 10
To the members of all concerned organizations
Thank you for understanding our suffering. I see that you are trying to address many of our problems and some of our greatest needs.
I have only two lines to write: Among us are people who have lost a parent, a friend, neighbors, people who were close and even our jobs. When the terrible catastrophe befell us, it affected so many aspects of our lives, we are stressed, we are starving we desperately need work. I, for example, lost my husband on 5 May 2010. He had a stomach ulcer and died from lack of food after we lost our business in the earthquake.
Now, I have three children to feed and send to school. I’m not so old, but I have to work to get the money I need to get my business going and to look after my children. Please do something for me…..
We do not want to die of hunger, and furthermore I need to send my children to school. In
any event I give homage to the Glory of God that I’m still alive. Thank you for taking the time to listen to us. May God bless you, Greetings to all of you.
Some 1 million earthquake victims are still living in leaking, uncomfortable shelters that often seem on the verge of blowing away in a hurricane. The sense of insecurity is increased by well‐grounded fears of gender based violence. Rape and robbery are commonplace. The letters reveal that many Haitians feel helpless, tossed aside and abandoned in their daily struggle with the elements.
Over the past four months more than 3,000 letters have been posted into “suggestion boxes” placed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at wooden information kiosks in over 140 camps. The letters are read and responded to by IOM and inform official policy towards the camps.
More importantly, they have become a window into the lives of the displaced, a rolling narrative, missed in the volumes of official reports and surveys that every great humanitarian crisis generates.
Many of these letters will soon be available to a wider audience as they are published online in the form of a “people’s blog”. Written for the most part in Haitian Creole, they will be translated into as many languages as possible by a crowd‐sourced team of volunteers.
Twelve months after the quake which devastated the country’s most tightly packed urban areas, the statistics were numbing (225,000 were killed according to the Government, 1.5 million made homeless and living in 1,500 large and small tent cities). But the letters reveal the humanity behind the figures.
The Voice of the Voiceless multimedia project, involving a book, exhibition and online presentation, comprises a selection of letters and portraits of the letter writers in the camps. Beautifully shot by the French‐Canadian photographer Daniel Desmarais, their every fold and crease visible, the individual letters seem to jump off the page. The stories they tell draw the reader into an ongoing tragedy in ways no official report can match. Even in the pit of despair, the letter writers reveal a grim determination to survive, as they cry out to us for help.
The social media site http://www.citizenhaiti.org has more details on the project, including a slideshow and videos of some of the letter writers. A book Voice of the Voiceless is being published by IOM at the end of January. For more information please contact email@example.com