Two years ago, journalists from all over the world took the first flight to Haiti to report the facts and details of the devastating earthquake. Included in this herd was the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which decided to take on a different approach. They put a face behind the words to tell the story of a heart-breaking catastrophe through poems and music.
Kwame Dawes, a native of Ghana and Emmy award-winning poet, began writing articles for the Pulitzer Center in Jamaica, focusing on the individuals who were HIV and AIDS positive. He then traveled to Haiti to report on the quake, where he was prompted to take an artistic approach to what he witnessed.
“Instead of a straightforward journalistic approach, I tried to create a multi-faceted approach that would involve articles, essays, interviews and poetry,” Dawes said. “I was responding to what I’ve seen, what I’ve felt.”
Dawes traveled to Haiti on several occasions to continue getting to know the people who suffered from the disaster and were willing to tell their stories. Through this journey, his poems flourished and Voices of Haiti came to be.
Voices of Haiti is a multimedia exploration of the events after the 2010 earthquake. It documents the suffering caused by the quake through the voices and stories of the Haitians most affected. Dawes’ poetry goes hand in hand with the stories, in response to what he heard.
“The devastation was obvious and heartbreaking, but these people took me in, trusted me and told me their stories,” Dawes said. “I didn’t feel like just a reporter dipping in and doing my thing; I kept going back, seeing the same people and enjoying their hospitality, their friendship and their generosity.”
The project took a full year to complete and premiered at the National Black Theater Festival in 2011. Jon Sawyer, the executive director of the Pulitzer Center and former journalist, found out about Dawes through a mutual friend. They began working together on coverage in Jamaica and have continued their partnership.
“With Voices of Haiti and Kwame’s part of it, it was to get as close as you can and bring their stories to life,” Sawyer said. “His long written interviews and prose pieces turned into short, tightly-written poems about these individuals, aspects of HIV, AIDS and the earthquake experience.”
Voices of Haiti will be screened in Haiti for the first time on Sunday, and will make its way to the University of Miami on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Victor E. Clarke Recital Hall. Students, faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to attend the public event. Sawyer and Dawes will both be present for the showing.
“People, after encountering this, come to me and say these are living, breathing people who I recognize as part of who I am, and they are prompted to want to help; not out of pity but out of solidarity,” Dawes said. “Art turns the cold story into a very human moment and reminds us of our shared humanity, which is what I hope will happen at the performance.”