Radio Soleil d'Haiti is a community radio station that has been broadcasting from a storefront in the heart of Brooklyn's teeming Haitian American community for 16 years. Normally, Radio Soleil has broadcast Haitian and Haitian-American news, public affairs, music and religious programming, mostly in Creole French.
But moments after the earthquake struck in Haiti on January 12, the station became a local community center as well as a vital communications link to the homeland through its hookup with Signal FM, the Haitian mega-station that was miraculously undamaged by the quake.
"The phone has been ringing non stop since then. They are trying to locate loved ones! And understand, they cannot all Haiti," said Ricot DuPuy of Radio Soleil. "They call Haiti the communication system ahs broken down entirely. They hear a devastating 7.0 quake, they are asking Radio Soleil 'yes we cannot get through, but can you get through? Do you have means to get through? Can you help us?' So they are calling us with the names of the people they are trying to locate. And we go on the air, we air those names, hoping that the loved ones they are trying to reach will somehow find a way to tell them 'I am still alive,'" he explained.
Many relatives, both living and dead, have been located in this way. Meanwhile, Radio Soleil broadcasts other information, such as places throughout the city where Haiti bound donations of food, clothing and medicine can be dropped off. There have been talks by clergy offering spiritual guidance and comfort at this time, and interviews with U.S. immigration officials to clarify President Obama's order offering temporary protected status to Haitian nationals who were in the U.S. prior to January 12.
"As much documentation as someone has to be able to show that they were in the country as of January 12, that would serve as proof... the stronger your case becomes," said one expert.
DuPuy also notes that Radio Soleil has been one highly visible public face of the Haitian-American community to mainstream news organizations.
"CNN. Fox News. ABC, CBS. The Voice of America! This is where they come - Radio Soleil. The New York Times called us 'the heartbeat of the Haitian community,'" he said.
Does he feel gratified to realize he can be so useful?
"Of course it is gratifying in that sense," said DuPuy. "And certainly out listeners will tell you that when they see me all over the media trying to articulate the urgency and encourage the world to give. There is no way this country could recover from this without the total dedication and support of the rest of the world."
Radio Soleil is not alone.. Radio Panou also serves the Haitian American community, as do at least four well respected newspapers. Leo Joseph, the editor and publisher of the Haiti Observateur weekly newspaper, has also been striving to offer news and information from abroad to Haitians themselves.
"The Haitians at home need to know that they are not forgotten," he said. "And the United States government has said that they are not going to forget them. We run stories about how people are organizing in churches, how they are organizing in schools, how stores are organizing, banks are organized. I went to my bank to make a transaction, they asked me to make a contribution. Wherever you go! And this is the kind of stories we want to tell them."
Joseph continues to take his journalistic role as gadfly seriously. In its January 20 Haiti Observateur banner headline read "U.S. Marines install themselves in the [Presidential] Palace". It's an ambiguous message in a land that has been forcefully occupied by more than once by American troops. Joseph acknowledges the U.S. says it's there to help.
"But we don't know what this help consists of because… the government of Haiti does not operate in total transparency," he said. "And you don't know really what they did sign with the American government… They could have signed anything."
What is his position?
"Well, my position is that the government should come out and say what they did or didn't do," said Joseph. "The newspaper is a port and the community is a ship. Every ship needs a port. Whatever is happening in the community, we mirror it, and people depend on us for that. Good news, bad news, we are here!"
It's a role concerned people everywhere will continue to rely on in the coming weeks and months as Haiti begin to recover and attempts to rebuild.