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Tough conditions at ‘Terrain de golf’

29 June 2010 by Sam

relief workers in their temporary office in a school yard

Oxfam staff in Haiti have been working in a building that used to be a school. There isn’t enough space so lots of people sit at desks outside with laptops in what used to be the playground.

Here’s Clare Wolfarth’s last report from Haiti, where she has been working on a sabbatical from her usual job at National Museums Liverpool to help with the earthquake relief operation with her former employers Oxfam.


“It’s the end of my last weekend here in Haiti and then there’s four working days left of my deployment here. The primary reason that Oxfam asked me to do this deployment was to provide cover whilst the longer term staff took some leave and R&R and the senior HR person is now away meaning my workload has really ramped up. Working hours included one sixteen hour day and one fourteen day last week. We’re working so hard to scale the programme up, both in terms of the senior posts whom we recruit globally and in terms of our recruitment of local staff. I am providing the HR support for eleven international recruitments at the moment which means longlisting CVs, developing, sending out and marking written tests, and then scheduling interviews with panel members and candidates from all over the world. In order to save money, most of the interviews are carried out over the telephone; not an easy process with intermittent network coverage and wildly varying time zones. There is a big food security emergency response in Niger at the moment (an estimated 10 million people are currently facing food insecurity), which means that experienced French speaking aid workers are in demand at the moment, and it would appear in short supply.

There are equally significant challenges in recruiting skilled local staff. I have learned that educational institutions here are not regulated which means that standards vary enormously and the qualifications that people have can be worthless in terms of accurately reflecting their level of skills or knowledge. To gain work experience in any formal sense has always been difficult and with nepotism rife, the limited opportunities that are available have rarely been offered on the basis of merit alone. To compound matters, the earthquake struck at the end of the working day at 4.45pm so many of the people who were skilled and experienced were killed when the offices they were working in collapsed. Not surprisingly, many of the survivors who had the means to do so have left the country.

In between interviews I’ve been out this week to look at a camp on a golf course where thousands of people spontaneously settled in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. ‘Terrain de golf’ as the camp is known was home to 60,000 people until 15,000 of them were moved and resettled into another camp in a bid to ease the overcrowding. It is also temporary home to the actor, Sean Penn, who has been living in a tent since January and co-ordinating the activities of the NGO he has set up there – an example of celebrity involvement in a humanitarian disaster that does not appear self serving.

The conditions in the camp are squalid and the pigs are thriving and enormous. I was told that the clean water and sanitation, education programmes, and healthcare that the NGOs and international organisations are providing in the camps are better than the access to services many of the camp residents had before the disaster. This may be the reality but it is a pretty depressing one when you see it – it’s hard to imagine more difficult circumstances. At one point, a little girl with multiple disabilities came and took my hand and wouldn’t let it go and leaving her there with no carer in sight was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

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