Tuning into youth

Haiti, June 5, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps staff  </span>
    Haiti's Youth Program Manager Kyle Dietrich directs an episode of Timoun Alez, our new educational television program — the only one of its kind produced in Haiti. Photo: Mercy Corps staff
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We may not be the Sesame Street Workshop, but here in Haiti, the Mercy Corps team has been busy producing a locally-made educational television program for kids. Timoun Alez (“Comfort for Kids”) is the only show of its kind in Haiti — filmed in Creole, with youth hosting each episode — and began airing in May on the government-owned national TV network.

The program grew out of our Comfort for Kids program, which helped kids cope with trauma after the 2010 earthquake through creative expression, games and supportive outlets to talk. We also trained over 7,500 caregivers, community leaders and youth workers to continue offering these resources.

Now, Timoun Alez adapts many of the same positive educational messages and packages them for a wider audience. The show will run for eight weeks and be rebroadcast throughout the summer, reaching tens of thousands of viewers each weekend morning. We’ll also distribute DVDs to schools and community organizations, and post episodes on Youtube. Check out a clip from our Culture & Creativity episode:

The show fills an important gap in educational programming in Haiti. My past experience designing curricula for youth development and media literacy made it clear to me that too often the images and stories that direct our lives and influence our ideas are constructed by outsiders, elites and older people.

We decided to put young people in positions of leadership and storytelling now — not just when they become adults — by recruiting them to help create and host these episodes. The youngsters (aged 13-24) come from hard backgrounds but speak with clarity and conviction. They have fun and laugh, learning from each other while they take their responsibility seriously.

Each half-hour episode focuses on a different social theme: Gender, Peace & Unity, Culture & Creativity, Education, History & Tradition, Health, Community & Leadership and the Environment. Through rich imagery, engaging trivia and games, and interviews with adult and youth role models, kids learn the value of helping their family, going to school, planting trees, avoiding violence, cleaning up their communities and much more.

Kids need to be lifted up and inspired. They need healthy outlets and positive role models. And their fellow young people can often inspire even more action than adults telling them what to do.

As I was directing this show, I realized that most young people are just waiting for someone to ask them what they think. I saw how quickly confidence can be awakened in young people and how they hunger for opportunities to learn and engage.

Working with partners Rizon Media and Peace in Focus, I hope we can continue producing Timoun Alez in Haiti — and even replicate the show in other countries around the world. We’re also working on new ways for kids to explore their historical legacy and better understand how emerging technology trends can help their country.

Investing in youth will move Haiti forward. These young people have so much to say, and as this show has taught me, we have so much to learn from them.