PBMF’s Haitian Storytelling Fellowship

The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation has named five alumni of its Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop and a professional mentor as 2013 Haitian Storytelling Fellows.  The fellows, who are named below, visited Haiti to report stories about recovery and stabilization efforts in the country Sept. 22 to 29, 2013.

The fellowships included print, multimedia and other storytelling platforms aimed to showcase how Haiti had responded to rebuilding since an earthquake devastated the island nation in January 2010.

The fellowships were offered as part of Heinz Endowments funding support to the Bolden workshop, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. As an extension of the workshop, the program supported educational efforts that train journalists to report in-depth on African diaspora issues.

The fellowship covered airfare, lodging, some meals, and some transportation. 

Read the fellows’ reports from Haiti below.


Tech school director empowers students with access to information
By Deborah M. Todd

Sept. 27, 2013

Approaching the Polytech Center of Haiti in Tomassin 25, I wasn’t sure I had the right place. I was looking for a school with a computer lab but was thrown off by the simplistic structure’s unfinished concrete walls and floors, glassless windows and unlit classrooms. The sight was confusing enough to give even Raymond, my Tomassin-born translator, pause.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” he questioned.

All doubts were assuaged the moment we came into contact with school director Louis Baptiste Nadege, the 33-year-old school director who made it her mission two years ago to single-handedly turn the traditional school into a high tech center.

In what I’m finding to be a manner typical of the Haitian people, Madame Nadege said she supplied the school’s nine computers, retailing at $500 a pop, on her own dime because she saw a need and knew she could make it happen.

So far, the investment has paid off by allowing the school to download a single book to print for dozens of children and to quickly research vocabulary words or the equations needed to crack a math problem. However, the exposure to knowledge that is out of reach for many Haitians is, perhaps, Madame Nadege’s greatest gift to her students.

5 Haitian cultural bites
By Lisa Kay Davis

H.A.S provides clinical care for the community. In lieu of health insurance services are offered a la carte. Photo by Lisa Kay Davis.

H.A.S provides clinical care for the community. In lieu of health insurance services are offered a la carte. Photo by Lisa Kay Davis.

Sept. 27, 2013

1.  iPod technology was used to relocate families to new earthquake-safe homes by providing vital GPS location tracking, collecting personal data and money transfers.

2.  Admitted to a hospital? In Haiti, your family accompanies you to provide personal care and food. Admission does not typically include hospitality services (meals, linen or toiletries).

3.  “Playing chicken” is common place during rush hour. Good reflexes, reliable breaks and a shared understanding make it work.

4.  Planning a move? You’ll need a tap tap, the local mode of transportation. In lieu of moving trucks or vans, families pay $40 to “rent” a taxi-like vehicle.

5.  Friday, or Venderdi in French, is the official market day in Port-au-Prince. The root  of the word means “to sale.”  


Haiti Woman + Recovery + Empowerment = Hope 

Dr. Dieudonne Catulle’s Story
By Richena Brockinson

Sept. 27, 2013

Dr. Dieudonne Catulle oversees the House of David Community Health Center, a vital part of services provided by the Functional Literacy Ministry-Haiti. Every day, she makes sure the pharmacy shelves at the Thomassin, Haiti-based health center are stocked and the laboratory technician has the proper equipment.  She also takes care of patients, who ask for her help when there seems to be no one else to ask.

Dr. Dieudonne Catulle, who oversees the House of David Community Health Center in Thomassin, Haiti, treats high blood pressure, wounds, fevers, and other conditions.

Dr. Dieudonne Catulle, who oversees the House of David Community Health Center in Thomassin, Haiti, treats high blood pressure, wounds, fevers, and other conditions. Photo by Richena Brockinson.

Since she was a young girl growing up in Port-au-Prince, she dreamed she would be a doctor, often sharing her thoughts with her mother. The fact that Catulle had asthma gave her compassion for the suffering of others and caused her to be even more determined to be a physician so that she could help others with the disease and provide for other medical needs.

When graduated from high school, her parents worked hard to find a way to support her in private college. When she got to medical school, where she met her husband, she had already begun to take care of her elderly parents. Catulle graduated medical school in 2008.

In 2010, she was at home with her children. While sleeping, she dreamed that she was trying to wake and was shaking. When she did wake, the bed and house were being tossed about and she knew she had to get herself and the children outside. Her husband was not home but did survive the quake.

That afternoon, and the next day, she did not go back into the house with her children because she feared the shaking would begin again. Almost immediately after the earthquake, Catulle went about helping others who were hurt. Soon after that experience, she began to work as a mobile doctor, traveling throughout Haiti to serve those in need of medical attention.

Today, Catulle is still helping those in need. As a doctor with the health center, she sees patients who need more than just Tylenol or a Band-Aid. She treats high blood pressure, wounds, fevers, and other conditions. To better serve the community, Catulle noted, the clinic would like the support of an eye doctor, a pediatrician and a wider variety of medication.

She’d also like to increase outreach through her work as a mobile doctor. She thinks service to Haitians could be improved if more Haitian doctors could work alongside her in the clinic, but acknowledged that funding is needed to pay their salaries.

Catulle’s determination and work ethic are strong and know no boundaries.  Through her service, she has learned that it can be difficult not to be able to give to the community what she knows it needs.

“I would like to be more perfect and permanent [as a doctor] . . . to learn more about health. And, as a Haitian, I hope to see Haiti move forward [in medicine],” she said.


No new complaints
By Anthony Cave

Sept. 26, 2013

I do not think I will ever complain again. Or at the very least, I will try not to.

We often take for granted sayings like “I’m starving” or “I need new clothes,” interjecting these “concerns” without any degree of

The coast in Leogane, Haiti. Photo by Anthony Cave.

The coast in Leogane, Haiti, on Sept. 26, 2013. Photo by Anthony Cave.

sensitivity. Those phrases were reality when I reported throughout Leogane on Thursday, one of the hardest hit areas in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake.

As I was driven to the coast in search of sources, Haitians, many without undergarments, stared as the Toyota truck bumped and skidded past them. Their bones were visible, too, almost like a skeleton in a science classroom. Tent cities contrasted the flurry of sugarcane and other crops adjacent to the road. One represented growth. The other, well, was still tent cities.

I can only imagine how the clean the water was, too. Between the dirt-covered jugs and the legitimacy of the water well, one could only wonder.

I did not take any pictures (or video) of this either. Journalism requires a level of discretion, like those same sayings above.

I will probably complain about something again without thinking. A first-world problem. A bad driver. A source who won’t answer my calls.

But, I will think twice before the words come out of my mouth.

Quake bolstered Haiti’s faith
By Sonya M. Toler

Sept. 25, 2013

Their voices, like a waterfall, pour out from the mountaintop church, washing the steep slopes beneath them.

Mornings in Thomassin are filled sounds of prayer and praise.  Photo by Kenneth Neely.

A morning in Thomassin is filled with the sounds of prayer and praise Sept. 25, 2013. Photo by Kenneth Neely.

Some songs ring familiar though sung in Creole. One often repeated word translates the same in any language, “Hallelujah!”

Daily, before sunrise, a group of 10 to 15 people gathers at Eglise De Dieu En Christ in the city of Thomassin 32 for morning worship. Other congregations do the same throughout Haiti.

This particular week, the morning service at Eglise De Dieu En Christ is coupled with an evening youth revival that nearly fills the building. The youth service includes the kind of fiery preaching customary in black churches in the United States and the name of the Lord is lifted in song.    

The unshakable faith that God’s favor envelops the people of Haiti has been bolstered since a 7.0 earthquake crumbled countless buildings, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Destroyed were the presidential palace, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

Rebuilt was the deep pride of Haitians steeped in a history of overcoming that began in the hard-fought1804 military victory that brought independence from France.      

But in the rubble that remains throughout the nation, many Haitians see opportunity and are actively involved in the nation’s recovery efforts.

5 Haitian cultural bites
By Lisa Kay Davis

Photo by Lisa Kay Davis

Pro-Islam message spray painted in Creole: “Islam is the only absolute religion, chosen by God alone.” Photo by Lisa Kay Davis.

Sept. 25, 2013

1.  A shared taxi van is called a “tap tap.” Riders each pay 30 Haitian gourdes ($1 USD) for a ride in the passenger van. As many as 20 people crowd into one van for the rush-hour ride.

2.  Paper money is not kept in the wallet. To protect it from thieves, cash is stowed away in pockets and ID is kept in the wallet.

3.  Life expectancy in Haiti is 62.

4.  The country’s population is 10.26 million.

5.  Islam is a rapidly growing faith in Haiti.

Church outreach steps out on faith in rebuilding efforts
By Deborah M. Todd

Sept. 24, 2013

The woman, who shared a tent with two adolescent daughters and two young sons, was pregnant with a third son conceived as the result of a brutal rape that occurred in the temporary shelter.

For the woman, who was unmarried and had already relinquished custody of another son to his father, the incident was another challenge in a seemingly consistent series of life-changing misfortunes; her eldest daughter was also a product of rape.

For Rose Ketcia Rene Pierre, administrator assistant for Eglise de la Bonne Nouvelle (Church of Good News) in Port Au Prince, Haiti, finding the mother among the scores of displaced now living in the Pax Villa tent city was a natural extension of her organization’s redevelopment goals.

Founded in 2009 in a local home, Bonne Nouvelle, in the Delmas 33 neighborhood, had grown within a year to a congregation of 500 that conducted youth outreach, orphan and kinship services, community interventions and education for both young people and adults.

Haiti church

A worker mixes concrete at the Eglise de la Bonne Nouvelle (Church of Good News) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sept. 23, 2013. Located in the Delmas 33 neighborhood, the church conducts youth outreach, orphan and kinship services and community interventions and education. Photo by Kenneth Neely.

When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck in 2010, the organization expanded its efforts by providing counseling and intervention services to hundreds of at-risk youth and their families and by helping approximately 50 orphans find shelter with relatives or willing church members.

When Pierre informed the congregation of the Pax Villa’s woman struggles, the church immediately volunteered to pay one year’s rent so the family could relocate out of the tent city.

Today, two of the woman’s children are in school with a third planning to enroll in classes and others living with relatives.

After the catastrophic earthquake that felled the presidential palace and killed more than 300,000, the church’s efforts went on unabated. The only difference was members are helping others find shelter when their own church home has been reduced to rubble.

The new facility will be part community center, part school, part medical clinic, part temporary housing for families in need and all church. Pastor Vijonet Nemero said the project is coming together through members volunteering both manual labor and weeks of salary toward the cause.

But those who volunteer their time for causes such as the orphan or family outreach ministry could be carrying the heaviest load by helping people who have been rejected by the church.
“Sometimes when somebody does bad things in the church people talk bad about them and look down on them. The volunteers make an [intervention] to help them come back,” Nemero said.

The notion of seeing pass an individual’s flaws is mirrored in the church’s approach toward rebuilding. With no government or non-profit support and built on a budget based on sporadic donations, the idea is to allow recovery to unfold at its own pace. As long as members see its partially constructed shell in the same light as the broken spirits they work to rebuild every day, visualizing the beauty of the final product will come naturally.

“Sometimes people ask why we don’t have a budget and I just say we have faith,” Pierre said.

Kite Yo Ale (Let’s Go)
By Anthony Cave

Sept. 24, 2013

It was not my first time on a motorcycle. Without a helmet either. My only “safety harness” was the somewhat slightly bigger waist of the Moto-Taxi driver I pressed up against.

The public market in Kenscoff sells everything from sugarcane to sandals. Despite the market’s bustling scene, women are given priority as men often show chivalry.  Photo by Anthony Cave.

The public market in Kenscoff sells everything from sugarcane to sandals. Despite the market’s bustling scene, women are given priority as men often show chivalry. Photo by Anthony Cave.

My first day in Haiti went off without a hitch, literally. On a tip from a colleague and in search of the owner of a “little” guesthouse/restaurant, I weaved through the mountainside, bumpy roads and all, to a city called Kenscoff.

The area, like most of the countryside, is full of green space. Haitians picking fresh fruits and vegetables line the narrow roadways.

My translator, Watson, followed steadily behind on another Moto-Taxi. We stopped at two guesthouses. But, there was no “Carole.”

The third location had to work out. The restlessness of the taxi-drivers signaled a self-imposed “meter.” And it was running as Watson and I entered the house, which had an unfinished, in-need-of-paint entrance.

A man gingerly separated himself from the couch and subsequent soccer match on his television set as my translator inquired about “Carole” and the guesthouse. Again, there was no Carole, but the man told Watson that he came out of retirement to convert his residence into a guesthouse.

And just like that, I had my first feature story. 

But, beyond the reporting, I noticed a few sights (perhaps more than I wanted to) on the 90-minute round-trip ride to Kenscoff. Chivalry and “Che” Guevara. (The two are unrelated.)  

Guevara, an Argentine “revolutionary,” has been misrepresented for decades as a voice for the oppressed worldwide. Since his death in 1967, one particular picture of Che has gone viral, spawning marketing campaigns and his face plastered on everyday items like socks. And Haiti was no exception. On the front wheel of many Moto-Taxi’s in the crowded city streets was his motorcycle tag-sized picture.

You see, Guevara carried out guerrilla-style missions for none other than Cuba’s Fidel Castro. And many of the end consequences for those against the Castro regime resulted in execution-style killings.

The irony is unfortunate considering Haiti’s own history with rebellion and bloodshed.

However, the chivalry was a nice surprise. Beyond the motorcycle rides, were shorter trips in vehicles called tap taps. They operate as unofficial carpools, picking up and dropping off people at any roadside stop or break in traffic. These vehicles hold 20 people, and I say that literally, because it is a packed, yet efficient and cheap mode of transportation.

Still, beyond the sliding doors and hurried hand movements of tap tap workers, women were always given first priority.

The Haitian drivers and helpers in charge of handling money and showing passengers to their seats made sure women reached their seat carefully, with care of subsequent children and older relatives as well.

I found this to be a small, but positive stop-gap in a bustling city-center with street vendors and well-dressed business people.

And that was my day one.

Like most instances in life, perception and reality did not match up. The perception of Haiti, perhaps, is that of a malaria-filled, crime-ridden country.

But, Haiti is not that at all. The reality is an infrastructure building, hopeful place ripe with stories to tell after a devastating earthquake. And tell I will.

Like Watson said the moment we left the guesthouse, “Kite Yo Ale” (Let’s Go).



Biographies of the 2013 Haitian Storytelling Fellows

Anthony Cave


Anthony Cave

Anthony Cave, 20, is a junior majoring in journalism at Florida International University in Miami.

Since graduating from the Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop in 2011, he has written for The New York Times, Miami Herald and USA Today College.

The Miami resident has reported on everything from journalists affected by the April 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to education benefits for veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11.

During the fellowship in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Cave plans to report on the country’s tourism industry through multiple platforms, including print, photography and radio.


Sonya M. Toler

Sonya Toler photo


Sonya M. Toler has spent more than 20 years telling other people’s stories. The 1987 graduate of the Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop formerly worked as a news editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier, staff writer at the Pittsburgh Business Times and managing editor of the Pittsburgh International Airport Magazine.

She also has held positions as the communications director of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and executive director of the Commission on African American Affairs under then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Currently, Toler, 43, is communications director of Pittsburgh Councilman and Democratic nominee Bill Peduto’s campaign for mayor.

A Hill District resident, Toler has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from Point Park University.  It is her hope to use her storytelling abilities to remind people that the efforts to rebuild Haiti are still under way and shed light on how Haitians are creating opportunities for renewal after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.


Lisa Kay Davis

Lisa Kay Davis, 34, is a social media strategist at a global public relations firm who has several years of experience in developing comprehensive social strategy, content publishing and community management. 

Lisa Kay Davis


The New York resident also is a freelance journalist who has covered policy as well as business trends.  Her work has taken her on media tours of South Africa and Haiti, with a focus on entrepreneurship and education in developing nations. 

Davis’ work has appear
ed in several publications, including Fast Company, Carnegie Mellon Today and Pitt Magazine.

She was a student in the Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop in 1996 and 1997; she served as an instructor in 2009.  Davis holds a Bachelor of Arts from Ohio University with a specialization in media management and a Master of Arts from Carnegie Mellon University with a focus on technical writing and information design.


Deborah M. Todd

Deborah Todd photo


Deborah M. Todd is an award-winning journalist who has covered everything from urban affairs to technology and innovation over her nine-year career.

She graduated from the Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop in 1996.  Todd graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and communications in 2003. 

She began her professional career in news as an editorial assistant with Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV and transitioned to print through the New Pittsburgh Courier, where she was employed until 2007. Today, the 33-year-old North Side resident is a technology and small business reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Richena Brockinson


Richena Brockinson, 31, is the founder of Lioness Photography.  She became the first recipient of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s six-month photography fellowship in 2013. She also has worked with New Horizon Theater Inc. as its media photographer and social media manager.

Brockinson was commissioned by lighting designer Stevie Agnew to photograph lighting for the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of “Rinaldo” in 2011.  Her solo photo exhibit, “Superhero Within Me,” was featured in conjunction with ToonSeum’s Downtown Heroes Block Party in 2011. 

For 12 years, Brockinson has been an instructor with the Frank Bolden Urban Journalism Workshop, from which she graduated in 2000.  The Highland Park resident earned a Bachelor of Science in photography from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2012.

In Haiti, she will use video and still photography to chronicle the recovery efforts of Haitian women. She plans to exhibit her multimedia documentary in Pittsburgh.


Kenneth Neely

Kenneth Neely


Kenneth Neely is an artist based in Pittsburgh. He is self-taught and works primarily in the medium of photography. His works have been exhibited in galleries and published in The New Pittsburgh Courier, where he worked for many years. 

Neely, 42, continues to create images as a freelancer, and he teaches many young artists.

As part of the Haitian fellowship, Neely will serve as a professional photography mentor.  He plans to document the many struggles Haitians face as they attempt to rebuild their nation.