PORT AU PRINCE___Radio One listeners in Petion Ville recognize Carel Pedre’s voice from his early morning talk show Chokarella, television appearances and a signature on-air romance service.
Around the world, he’s considered a social media guru who saved lives with Twitter and continually connects Haiti to the international community – when few could – in the hours after an earthquake tore through Haiti on January 2010.
His passion for music radio was always present from days of working as a disc jockey at his friends’ parties and a station in Delmas while in college. But covering news was unfamiliar territory for Pedre until faced with the destruction of the earthquake.
Immediately after the earthquake, Pedre was shocked to find his radio station in the hills of Petion Ville undamaged and with power. He said his next move seemed to be the most natural thing to do.
“I walked into the studio and began broadcasting what I saw,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to connect the diaspora and the world to Haiti. The radio station was the only place.”
Facebook posts and Tweets of news soon become updates of where Pedre heard cries and shouts from under rubble. He sent messages to non-profits and rescue groups and used Skype to help report with international media companies unable to travel to Haiti.
“It took journalists days to come here after the earthquake,” he said. “I was here first and quicker with information because of social media.”
Pedre has travelled to South Africa, the U.S. and France to speak on his experience. The world and many Haitians saw the efficiency and speed of social media through his experience and others, he said.
“Before social media, people had their voice heard on the radio,” he said of the Haitian community. “Now people around the country can share the same information when they want.”
Memories of the earthquake linger, he said, “but now I am a normal guy again.” He returned to his radio broadcast of music, entertainment and news with a new passion- recruiting more Haitians on social media sites to share information.
“Until now, I haven’t felt like I did anything,” he said. “This is how I will help connect the diaspora.”
He used his profiles most recently to cover a country-wide tour with President Michel Martelly to assess the damage caused by torrential storms during the rainy season. He had first hand information, he said, and sent it to more than 40,000 people who follow him on Twitter and 4,000 friends on Facebook.
Pedre also creates a dialogue with his followers who send messages and notes on anything from political events to more comical, light-hearted requests on his show. On Tuesday, one listener asked him to coordinate a date.
Pedre went right into action on-air and called a young woman to inform her of a secret admirer, a fellow student at school. The call became a short game of tit-for-tat where Pedre slowly revealed information and the young woman advanced.
He joked with her. She laughed. He spoke in general terms. She grew curious and asked for his identity. He finally asked the young woman on a date for the caller, and he gave her his name.
“Who is that?” she asked.
Social media has an entertainment element, but it holds the potential for Haitians to communicate more freely and effectively, Pedre said. He will use his resources to host community-wide sessions in Delmas to teach others how to grow a following on Twitter and Facebook.
“Social media gives us a voice and it keeps us connected,” he said. “This technology is what will keep the Haitian diaspora connected.”
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