EJN Grantee Creates First-of-its-Kind Creole Resource for Haitian Journalists on Coastal Resilience

A photo of a coastal community flooding with water.
EJN Grantee Creates First-of-its-Kind Creole Resource for Haitian Journalists on Coastal Resilience

Haiti’s 11 million people—most of whom live no further than 100 kilometers from the ocean—are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise, especially as its coast has been stripped of protective mangrove forests and coral reefs.

To boost journalists’ knowledge of coastal resilience issues, EJN supported local news organization HaitiClimat and Canadian media production company Studio Canek with a grant to produce an online course for Haitian journalists on these critical topics. 

The grant was given as part of EJN’s Covering Coastal Resilience project, which aims to increase the availability and accessibility of locally produced, high-quality journalism and information related to the impacts of climate change on coastal geographies.

The eight-module course was launched in April 2023. Thus far, 34 journalists have completed the course, which is now publicly available on their website. Through this resource, they’ve learned more about threats to coastlines, ecological and human resilience, marine protected areas, specific impacts relevant to Haiti and other Small Island Developing States, responsible fisheries management, the impact of disasters and techniques to improve their reporting of environmental issues.

“As a small, highly vulnerable developing island state, Haiti requires a strong environmental press dedicated to environmental awareness and education of the population,” said HaitiClimat co-founder Patrick St. Pre. 

St. Pre was one of EJN’s Climate Change Media Partnership fellows in 2015, and had the opportunity to witness the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21. Inspired by that opportunity, he founded HaitiClimat in 2018 with journalists Jean Phares Jerome and Valery Fils-Aime.

“This course allows participating journalists to familiarize themselves with concepts related to coastal resilience [to climate impacts]. We hope this course, in the medium- and long-term, will lead to an improvement in media coverage of topics on coastal resilience,” he said.

Conrad Fox of Studio Canek highlighted the importance of making this information available in Haitian Creole for the country’s journalists.

“I believe we have the most extensive summary of coastal resilience science in Haitian Creole on the internet,” he said. “It’s like a mini-Wikipedia, but with animations, audio interviews and interactivity. I’m really proud of this. I’m also really proud that 30+ journalists from around the country, not just Port-au-Prince, were able to complete the course.”

A screenshot of a website.
A screenshot of the course’s first module, called “Changing Coasts” / Credit: Conrad Fox.

Participants echoed his sentiments: “The course is really pertinent to journalism... I’m happy to have had a chance to participate,” one journalist wrote in the feedback survey. “It’s very well put together. I found the methodology very academic, and one of the best things about it were the data, especially data about Haiti.”

After completing the course, three journalists were selected to produce stories on coastal issues using their new knowledge. All three published longform radio pieces for their local stations, which were also aired by a Port-au-Prince radio station and broadcast on HaitiClimat’s website:

A photo of a man working on a desktop computer.
Fox working on a mangrove animation for the course / Credit: Conrad Fox.

Studio Canek and HaitiClimat proposed the project as a joint venture, with Fox providing the technical and scientific support while HaitiClimat brought the participants and in-country networks. 

“Haiti Climat has an extensive network of reporters and sources on the ground ... they were able to distribute the course to journalists all around the country and they got a really enthusiastic response,” Fox said. “What we brought to the project was experience with science-based reporting."

Despite the successful collaboration, there were numerous challenges. “In addition to technical obstacles, such as the scarcity of electricity or recurring problems connecting to a good internet signal, the course took place in a context of widespread insecurity and chronic political instability,” St. Pre explained. “Our main concern at the time was how to keep journalists interested in the course while still being absorbed in everyday news."

Language accessibility can be an issue in Haiti, both Fox and St. Pre emphasized. The majority of the population speaks Haitian Creole, and many speak French, but English is not widely spoken. Yet scientific information about coastal issues, climate change and other data is almost entirely in English: the IPCC climate reports, journal articles, even Wikipedia.

This presents a major challenge for journalists wanting to remain up to date on the latest science, both about global issues like climate change and how they’re affecting specific countries like Haiti. Fox gave an example: “The World Bank has reams of climate data specifically about Haiti, but it’s all in English.”

“Obviously, we can’t translate the whole internet, but we wanted at least a taster of this information to be available in Creole, with links to help people research further,” Fox added. “The idea was to make the information available and promote the idea that journalists can and should do research.”

Still, implementing a course in Haitian Creole had its own stumbling blocks. Fox said it was often hard to find the precise translation from English or French to Creole, especially with scientific terminology. So, halfway through the project, they wrote entirely new code to make the course bilingual.

“At a click of a button, the text would switch from one language to the other. So, you could read in Creole if you felt more comfortable, then if something sounded weird, click to get the scientific French,” Fox explained.

This was a hit with participants: “We appreciate the fact that the course was in Haitian Creole, and we wish it was always like this,” one journalist wrote in the feedback survey.

“The modules were very rich, which allowed the acquiring of new knowledge,” another participant wrote. “This helped us to deconstruct certain preconceived ideas about environmental phenomena.”

Looking ahead, Fox is producing a course on marine endangered species for community reporters in Honduras. For his part, St. Pre plans to make all of HaitiClimat’s content available in French and Haitian Creole and develop their own production studio to increase their multimedia work. 

“The teams at Studio Canek and HaitiClimat have produced a one-of-a-kind resource that has advanced the accessibility of climate information in Haiti and will continue to open up doors for journalists looking to cover coastal climate resilience issues in the country long after this project closes,” said Hannah Bernstein, Covering Coastal Resilience project manager. “What they were able to accomplish in a relatively short time has been incredible to see and we look forward to more groundbreaking work from both organizations in the future.”

Banner image: Coastal areas of Haiti experience severe flooding during heavy rains and hurricanes / Credit: United Nations Photo via Flickr.

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