Every day, three Haitian high-school students -- Alex-Louis, Jean-Pierre and Steevens -- interview their fellow residents in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Initially armed with nothing but a hairbrush standing in for a microphone and an empty can of oil for a camera, they made it their mission to paint a vivid picture of life in the Haitian capital after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Their modest start earned them the nickname “TeleGhetto”, and the three teenagers have come a long way since.
"We translate our documentaries from Creole into English, so that more people will watch them"
Jean-Pierre is 17 years old. Like his two friends, he studies at the College of Modern Technology in Port-au-Prince.
The ‘TeleGhetto’ adventure started at the end of 2009, when we were taking part in Haïti’s first ‘Ghetto Biennale’, a cultural event organised by artists from the working-class neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince. There were lots of foreign journalists there and we wanted to imitate the white people with their cameras. Using an oil can as the camcorder and a hairbrush as the microphone, we pretended to be journalists and interviewed the people who were at the event. At the end of each interview, the people would ask us which media organisation we worked for. They played along with us and laughed when we replied ‘TeleGhetto’.
The three teenagers present the TeleGhetto project.
"After the earthquake, interviewing people from the ghetto with an oil can and a hairbrush became a sort of therapy"
I met Alex and Steevens in 2003. Outside of school, we got involved with the artistic movement of André Eugène, a Haitian artist who works with recycled objects. It’s the art of re-using discarded objects in a creative way, and TeleGhetto was born out of this concept. Our camcorder and our microphone are fake but this project is the real thing, it’s unique. Jè wè bouch palé [translated from Creole, "The eyes see, the mouth speaks"] has become our slogan.
TeleGhetto's latest TV report: the street children ("Fokorat" in Creole) of Port-au-Prince.
The earthquake on January 12, 2010, raised the stakes. Alex, Steevens and I all said that we should do something to help the disaster victims. Just after the catastrophe, we started interviewing people in the ghetto. The oil can and the hairbrush made them laugh. People gathered around us and jokingly replied to our questions, knowing that they weren’t being filmed. It was a sort of therapy for them, an outlet for them to express their suffering.
"A British artist donated some reporters' equipment for us"
Two months later, André Eugène went to England to raise money for young Haitians. He came back with a camera, a tripod and a microphone. He had spoken about us to John Cussans, an artist from the University of Chelsea, who decided to donate a small reporter's kit for us. We learned how to use the camera but the results were not the same: the people we interviewed were intimidated by this equipment. So we went back to the oil can and the hairbrush and asked people to ignore the real camera.
TeleGhetto getting a Port-au-Prince resident's reactions on former president Jean-Claude Duvallier's return to Haiti, in January 2011.
"Our life has changed a lot over the past year: we can’t walk around with dirty T-shirts or messy hair anymore"
Our first videos were too long. They lasted for more than thirty minutes! As we hadn’t had any training, we imitated television documentaries but the images were really shaky. Arnaud Robert, the special correspondent for the Swiss newspaper ‘Le Temps’ in Haiti, advised us to shorten our films and to create a Facebook account to publish them. Little by little, we learnt how to use video software and TeleGhetto began to take the shape it has today. We try to publish two videos per month and we translate them from Creole into English so that more people will watch them.
Our life has changed a lot over the past year. People recognise us in the street: we can’t walk around with dirty T-shirts or messy hair anymore. For a lot of young people in Haiti we’ve become role models, but our popularity has made some people jealous of us. Some people think that we are making money by doing TeleGhetto, but this isn’t the case. An American NGO offered us a grant to pay our school fees for a year. But otherwise, we make do with what we’ve got and the Haitian media don’t offer us any help. As we say here, "Nobody is a prophet in his own country!”
A TeleGhetto report before the presidential elections in Haiti.
All videos posted on Facebook.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.