Last summer, Claire Payton—inspired by the post-earthquake chaos she saw unfolding in Haiti—bought an audio recorder, packed her bags, and booked a flight to Port-au-Prince.
Despite having studied Haiti extensively, her motivation to travel to Haiti was purely personal. She wanted to help tell people’s stories.
Soon after arriving in Port-au-Prince, she developed contacts and started doing interviews. Traveling to interviews was particularly challenging because of the traffic, which had worsened due to the buildings lying in the streets. When Claire arrived in Haiti, she spoke fluent French, but not Kreyol. After several interviews, and with help of translators, she developed a grasp on the language.
Almost a year later, Claire launched the Haiti Memory Project, an “online archive of oral testimony about the January 12, 2010, earthquake and post-earthquake life.” She was motivated to create the website so that she could share people’s stories with a broad audience.
Although she initially interviewed a diverse group of people, she became most interested in people living in refugee camps and decided to focus her interviews on this displaced population. “I wanted to find out what people were most concerned about, and what they were experiencing,” Claire said.
The people Claire interviewed live in refugee camps throughout Port-au-Prince, where approximately 1/3 of the Haitian population lives. There are refugee camps in every neighborhood, in public parks, and even on highways. The individuals she interviewed ranged from musicians to midwives to voodoo priests.
In addition to the destruction caused by the 2010 earthquake, Claire says that Haiti’s history of failed government policies is even more apparent. “Haiti is a place where people are still living the consequences of failed policies,” Claire said.
Currently, there are 27 audio interviews on the website, in Kreyol, French and English.
Claire is especially proud that her project inspired an article, published by Jonathan Katz in late December, that focused on one of the people she interviewed.
If you are interested in working with Claire on the Haiti Memory Project, she is looking for people to transcribe and translate interviews.
Claire is a PhD Candidate in the Departments of History and French Studies at New York University. Click here to contact Claire.
Von Diaz is an MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU