Koze Ayiti weaves web of cooperation
Local volunteers use the Internet to tell Haiti story
The first horrific images showed collapsed buildings and dust-caked rescuers pulling the trapped from the rubble.
Tod Landess knew he had to do something; this was, after all, his wife Yanick’s beloved homeland of Haiti, now devastated from a Jan. 12 earthquake.
“I was very concerned for my in-laws, and you can see the devastation and the hopelessness on TV. I was wondering if there was something I can do.”
That something turned out to be Koze Ayiti, a networking website that would help Haiti start to recover.
“When UM held a meeting for Haiti at the Knight Center, it just made sense to me, being that prior to the Haiti earthquake I was already involved with the Haitian community,” Landess said.
Landess, the co-founder of Koze Ayiti’s website, is a University of Miami alumnus and works at the University of Miami as the equipment manager of the university’s School of Communication.
“I often find myself talking about the website. Just recently at a party my wife and I attended, my wife had to tell me to relax because I was talking about the website too much,” said Landess, who has spent the past 16 years working in South Florida’s Haitian community.
“One of the things I found to keep essential was actually keeping the story of Haiti alive in the minds of the international audience – not just appearing in the news when there’s a disaster,” added co-founder Moses Shumow, who is finishing his doctorate in the UM School of Communication.
Both remain passionate about the website helping Haiti rebuild. Landess even passes out flyers to strangers to encourage them to volunteer.
“Tod Landess . . . first approached our club looking for volunteers for Koze Ayiti, so some of us actually decided to volunteer,” said UM’s Gustavo Lang, Jr., who now volunteers for the website
The website lists, for example, a roundup of conferences and talks about Haiti’s future.
A volunteer recently interviewed Karl Jean-Louis, the project director for Haiti Aid Watchdog, about his efforts to make sure ordinary Haitians know where the money from non-government organizations is going to rebuild the devastated country.
The website uses both English and Creole. Much is on video to ensure that all Haitians – no matter if they are illiterate – will understand.
The website wants to make sure no story goes uncovered – and the articles get worldwide attention.
Kemy Joseph, a former president of UM’s Random Acts of Kindness, is helping make sure the website gets stories to publicize.
Joseph bought 11 Flip cameras from his own fundraisers and distributed eight in Port-au-Prince and three in Jacmel to help people report local stories that major broadcasts would not cover. The stories were then posted on the Koze Ayiti website.
“I raised the money by setting up a tent outside the (Otto G.) Richter Library at the University of Miami and sold personal belongings that I felt could help raise money for the Flip cameras which in total raised about $1, 500,” Joseph said.
The website wants to show how ordinary Haitians are rebuilding.
A video, using one of his Flip cameras, captures the frustration of Estervil Lérilus, who speaks in his native Creole. He complains how relief efforts have overlooked many Haitians.
“Nobody came to visit us here; this area was not visited at all,” Lérilus said on the video.
Koze Ayiti volunteers such as Lang, a UM junior and president of RAK, a registered student organization at the University of Miami, want to keep expanding their work.
“This goes far beyond the campus,” Lang said. “We are always trying to get more volunteers.”