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Rebati Lavi sou lòt fondasyon

7 July 2010 by Sam

hilltop view of devastion caused by Haiti earthquake, ruined buildingd everywhere

Here are Clare Wolfarth’s thoughts on returning home from her six week sabbatical in Haiti, where she has been helping her former employers Oxfam in their relief operation following the devastating earthquake in January.

“Two missed connections, fourteen hours later than scheduled and I still haven’t been reunited with my luggage but am home. As I sit here in my house in Crosby, it’s difficult to know where to begin to answer the first question asked by friends and family: “How was Haiti?” I usually settle for “amazing” as my response as I struggle to articulate my experience of the place.

‘Rebati Lavi sou lòt fondasyon’ is Haitian Creole for ‘Renewing Life on new foundations’ and is the name given to Oxfam’s strategy for supporting the recovery of the Haitian people affected by the earthquake. Almost $10 billion has now been pledged by the international community to support the recovery of Haiti; an enormous sum and an opportunity that cannot be squandered. The emergency response to the earthquake is a short term intervention to meet acute need but I realised during my time in Haiti that there has been a chronic emergency of overwhelming proportions in this country for a long time. Read more…

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. Read more…

Rainy season in Haiti

22 June 2010 by Sam

rainy street in Haiti full of post-earthquake debris

Here’s Clare Wolfarth’s 4th weekly update from Haiti, where she has been helping out Oxfam on a sabbatical from her usual job at National Museums Liverpool:

“The main thing to report from Haiti this week is the rain. We are now well and truly into the rainy season which means that for three or four hours every day, and occasionally the whole day, it absolutely buckets down, often accompanied by thunder and lightening. For Oxfam and for many of the other agencies operating here, this change in the weather represents the second phase of the emergency response. Even though the tents and the plastic sheeting provide some shelter, the ground is saturated and each time it rains there are floods or landslides to contend with. Port au Prince is built in a valley surrounded by hills and many of the roads become impassable during these storms, even in our four by fours.

Oxfam’s engineers and public health teams are currently working around the clock to ensure that adequate sanitation is maintained and to create drainage in the large camps where people are living. The mosquitoes are thriving but for the 1.2 million people left homeless here after the earthquake, life is pretty grim at the moment and is set to continue this way as hurricane season officially starts in June.

On a brighter note, I have continued to be able to make the most of my time off here. Last Sunday I went to the Oloffson hotel (pictured below) for lunch which is the hotel that Graham Green’s novel, The Comedians, is set. It’s an incredible decaying old colonial building full of character and wonderful art. Each room is named after a famous occupant including Mick Jagger, the Haitian Voudou art collector Virgil Young and Graham Green himself. Read more…

A week of contrasts in Haiti

15 June 2010 by Sam

clothes line on top of rubble

People in Haiti have been living on top of the rubble where their houses once stood.

Here’s an update from Clare Wolfarth’s third week of her sabattical in Haiti, where she has been helping Oxfam‘s earthquake relief operation:

“Today represents the half way point of my six weeks here in Haiti. As someone here has observed, the days seem long but the weeks fly by.

This last week has been one of contrasts. On Sunday I took the day off and a few of us went to a beach that is a couple of hours drive from the capital, Port au Prince, where I’m based. It was my first time getting out of the city and it felt really good to be in the fresh air and have a change of scene. The beach was beautiful – white sand, palm trees and Caribbean turquoise sea – and I had fresh grilled lobster for lunch followed by a coconut cut off the tree above my head for dessert. Read more…

Settling in at Haiti

10 June 2010 by Sam

woman with food packages

Haitian woman given support by the Oxfam Livelihoods project to restock her business after losing everything, including her home, in the earthquake.

Here’s an update from Clare Wolfarth’s second week of her sabbatical helping out Oxfam in Haiti on how she found settling into the new role:

“There is always a lot to get used to in a new job and it’s not too surprising to find that there are significant challenges in working in a developing country whose fragile infrastructure has recently been all but destroyed.

The HR team here has spent the past four months responding to the enormous demands that an emergency scale up generates. In a country where the official unemployment rate is between 70 to 80 %, the chance to work for an international NGO (non governmental organisation) such as Oxfam represents a potentially life changing opportunity for many Haitians. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the office was inundated with people dropping off their CVs for consideration to a point where full crowd control measures needed to be taken to ensure public safety. The team received over 3,000 CVs in the first few days after the office reopened and stopped counting at 20,000 at the end of the first week, although the total received is estimated to be double to triple that. Read more…

Clare Wolfarth, our woman in Haiti

8 June 2010 by Sam

two Haitian children in a tarpaulin shelter

Two of Oxfam’s beneficiaries near one of the canteens.

Our thoughts have been with the people of Haiti since the earthquake earlier this year shattered so many lives there. As you will know from Richard Benjamin’s previous blog posts, the International Slavery Museum in particular has close links with the country.

Wanting to do her part to help, Clare Wolfarth, our Human Resources and Organisational Development Manager, has taken a six week sabbatical to go to Haiti and provide on the ground support for Oxfam, her former employers. Here’s her first report back giving her first impressions on arrival back in May:

“On arrival in Haiti I went to see some of the work that Oxfam is doing here and to meet some of the beneficiaries of the livelihoods and food security programme. Even by comparison to some of the other disaster areas I have worked, the situation here is mind blowing. 1.5 million people lost their homes and the UN has estimated that 3 million were directly affected by the earthquake and need assistance in one form or another. Even when you’re here and you can see the extent of the devastation with your own eyes it is still a humanitarian crisis on an incomprehensible scale. I met a woman today who lost her husband and all 7 of her children. Two of Oxfam’s staff died in the earthquake when one of the office buildings collapsed. Everyone you meet has lost someone. It’s just staggering and most of the local people are sleeping in cars or tents at night as they’re too scared to sleep in their homes at night, even if they were left standing. I went to some of the parts of the city that have been the most affected by the earthquake where up to two thirds of home have been destroyed and another sizeable proportion are no longer fit for habitation because of structural damage caused by the quake. There were schools, hospitals, universities, blocks of flats all reduced to nothing more than rubble.  But Oxfam is doing some amazing work here. I met several women who’d been given a cash grant to restart the business they lost. When I say business, it’s basically a barrow by the side of the road but the idea is that it helps to regenerate the local market again and therefore makes the recovery more sustainable than just doling out food. I also saw canteens (areas under sheets of tarpaulin) where local women have been employed by Oxfam to cook food for the most vulnerable in the community. One meal costs 20p to make and thousands are being fed every week in this way.

I was absolutely blown away by the resilience of the people here after what they’ve been through. They get on with their lives because they have to but with so much strength and dignity, it’s so humbling. I feel so privileged to be here in a capacity where I can do somethingin a very small way to contribute to supporting the people here.
Anyway, I need to sign off and go to bed now. We get collected for work at 6.45am every morning which you will all appreciate is a bit of a shock to the system for me, especially after a long journey and a day in the field today.” Read more…

News from the Grand Rue

10 February 2010 by Richard

Man holding a bracelet

International Slavery Museum collections development officer Stephen Carl-Lokko with ankle bracelet from Niger


I am sure most people like myself and the staff at International Slavery Museum have been keeping up-to-date with the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Haiti, a result of the catastrophic earthquake on 12 January. Out of this disaster we received some welcome good news recently that one of the Haitian artists involved with the Freedom! sculpture on display in the museum, Guyodo (Frantz Jacques), along with his family, are fine, as well as several colleagues from the Grand Rue artists collective, but sadly his home was destroyed. We are currently looking to develop a long-term sustainable partnership with Haiti, possibly with an artists collective. Due to the imagination and creativity of Haitian artists this is a real possibility. Interestingly the Ghetto Biennale was held in Grand Rue in December which is a fascinating project and a good starting point for any future collaboration. Read more…

Haitian artist lost in the earthquake

18 January 2010 by Richard

artists standing next to sculpture

Atis Rezistans artists at the unveiling of the Freedom! sculpture in 2007


Well it is with great shock and sadness that I write this blog in light of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Nobody could not have been shocked at the images shown in the media this past week but it was particularly difficult for those of us associated with the museum as Haiti is central to the museum’s history and ethos for several reasons.

On 23 August 2007 the International Slavery Museum was opened. This is a significant date as it commemorates an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Domingue (modern Haiti) in 1791. The date has been designated by UNESCO as Slavery Remembrance Day, a reminder that enslaved Africans were the main agents of their own liberation. Resistance to injustices and discrimination is a central theme of the International Slavery Museum. Read more…

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