What happens when the events of a single day threaten the cultural heritage of an entire nation? Haiti was faced with this predicament after a devastating earthquake struck in January 2010. Besides the devastation suffered by its people, the disaster also destroyed a great deal of Haiti’s cultural heritage in the form of important documents, printed material and books. It revealed the need for greater standards of document treatment and conservation in Haiti.
IFLA responded to this need, and together with International Council on Archives (ICA) and the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS), initiated the Ark project. Led by Danielle Mincio, Chair of the IFLA Preservation and Conservation Section, it aims to build a professional centre for the immediate treatment of documents while doubling-up as a training centre for local students to acquire conservation skills and eventually take up reins, ensuring the Ark’s long-term survival.
The Ark project, being the first of its kind, encountered various challenges particularly in the aspects of fundraising and execution. Danielle remarked, “I had to change my job – I was used to being a librarian, but now I had to become an entrepreneur.’ Danielle quickly had to educate herself on matters of tax law and intercontinental transportation, as well as learn how to communicate effectively with local authorities in order to gain their support. Flexibility is essential. "You need to adapt your style of working. Even though you might be used to working in, for example, a European way, you must switch your mentality because you are now working in their country.” Moreover, a suitable location for the Ark proved difficult to find; since April 2012, it has had to move twice.
Yet with help from the Ark’s collaborators, the project has been able to continue developing at a steady pace. Governmental support proved valuable as they helped the Ark secure a good location next to Fort Jacques in Kenscoff, where the centre’s wooden modules are currently being installed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also provided one full-time assistant and security services to maintain and protect the premises. In addition, the State University of Haiti will integrate the training provided at the Ark into their Memory and Heritage Masters Programme, allowing students to gain professional certification in preservation and conservation.
Danielle also shared the good news that the generous funding from the Prince Claus Fund (Netherlands) and the City of Geneva has allowed the Ark to be ready for its inauguration by end October 2013. 25 volunteers have also been trained and are on standby, while 30 volunteers from Paris have already indicated their interest for future sessions. These volunteers will be lodged in a fully-catered and serviced volunteer house co-shared with the Haiti PEN club, allowing for cultural exchange. After three years of meticulous preparation and planning, the Ark is finally set and ready to take off in its mission of helping Haiti preserve its precious heritage.
If you are interested in volunteering for this meaningful project, please contact Danielle Mincio at Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org. Missions are typically two weeks long and operate in teams of five. Volunteers should be able to speak French and/or Haitian Creole.