Sony Esteus is squeezed into an elementary school chair, the kind with the curved piece of wood in front, in a courtyard. Around him are chickens, a fly-swarmed pile of compost, a truck and a tent. Sony runs his laptop off of an extension cord running out a window. The cord and the courtyard are on loan from a nonprofit, and they have formed Sony’s work station since the earthquake’s destruction of his own organization’s building. Sony is director of the Society for Social Mobilization and Communication – SAKS by its Creole acronym – which provides training, technical support, equipment and production to help popular radio stations educate and inform the community.
Along with SAKS’ building went all its equipment, some of which had been bound for small community radio stations throughout rural Haiti. Many other Haitian popular and community radio networks and stations also lost their offices and equipment. They include: SOS Journalists, the Women’s Community Radio Network, the Star Radio of the Peasants of Fondwa, Groupe Médialternatif, AlterPresse, Accès-Médias, Telecenter of Youth, one office of the Haitian Journalists’ Association and its Internet center, and others.
According to journalist Guy Delva, at least 11 journalists were killed in the earthquake.
I ask Sony to tell me about the importance of community radio in Haiti, the first priorities for rebuilding it, and the role it can play in reconstructing a just Haiti. First, he clarifies my terminology. SAKS works with community radio, but views itself as part of the network of popular radio, which he defines as radio in the struggle to transform society.
“First, we need to reestablish our own office and see how we can help community and popular radios reestablish themselves. We have to get new materials for ourselves and other radio stations and networks.
“And then, little by little, we need to resume producing alternative information to give the communities, to help them understand what’s going on in the country. Now they’re mainly just hearing the elite and political leaders who are on the radio all day. But from the progressive sector, we have our own analysis of this political moment.
“Even in the areas that weren’t affected, community and popular radio is playing a big role in isolated areas that have no information, or only information from the same political class and bourgeois civil society. Alternative information is being emitted especially from youth these days. Many of them can’t go to school [since their schools were destroyed] and so they’re going out to the countryside, participating in community radio and doing consciousness-raising. We’re also addressing issues that [mainstream] radio isn’t dealing with: environmental protection, human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights.
“For us, community and popular radio isn’t an end in itself. It’s part of a global plan of social change, of transformation of the society. We’re going to continue to do popular education to change the mentality and behavior of people, as well as to denounce what’s being done against the people today. As we move forward, we want to help people understand how to organize themselves and also how to fight the projects now underway, which are going to reinforce their poverty.”
I ask Sony if he has anything else he’d like to say. “I want to thank all the grassroots people and organizations everywhere that are standing with us. We see the U.S. government taking advantage of a humanitarian crisis to send in 20,000 soldiers, reinforce our dependence, and pursue its own policies. But we know that there are people in the U.S. and elsewhere who are helping us get out of this situation.”
Sony excuses himself for a meeting. He starts up a conversation on his cell phone as a chicken picks bugs from the dirt by his right foot.