COVID-19 and the World of Work

MPTF Informal Economies Recovery Project - Partner Spotlight

Q&A with Olympia E. Morei-Remengesau – Director/Curator of the Belau National Museum

News | 06 June 2021

1. Hi Pia, wonderful to be speaking with you today. Could you please introduce yourselves for our readers? Where you are from? where you work? what your role is within the Belau Museum?

Alii from Palau. My name is Olympia E. Morei-Remengesau, but most people call me Pia! I am from Peleliu State - one of the Southern States of Palau but born and raised in Koror State, the Cosmo-Business Center of Palau. I am presently the Director/Curator of the Belau National Museum. I was hired as an Administrator of the Museum and served also as an Assistant to the Director. I then became Director in 2009.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about what your personal experience through the COVID pandemic has been?

I am amazed and still reeling from this mind-boggling Pandemic COVID 19 that has affected the whole world; even our little country Palau – a barely seen dot on the world map. In a way for us, I feel that it has been a blessing in disguise as life in Palau has been on turbo mode. As a People, we were trying to keep up with the rest of the world. We were scrambling to meet the tourist demand; trying to create and innovate more tourist attractions. At the same time the Museum was trying to compete with foreign-owned tour and gift shop companies operating locally. I also personally feel that our natural environment was being heavily compromised to keep pace with modernisation. This was our scenario (pre-covid) before we closed our borders in March 2020. With our borders closed, we as a family and communities experienced a significant loss of income and suffered depression and stress over loss of income, closing of schools and Government restrictions that limited mobilization for safety and health reasons.

3. How has the Belau Museum had to adapt during the Pandemic?

At the National Museum, I had to come up with a plan to protect and restrict our funding but also to ensure that my staff will not suffer significantly. I was forced to lay off all of my part-time employees, release my four full-time workers and two part-time security guards from the Museum payroll and enrolled them in Government funded assistance for all tourism-related businesses. The Palau Government had put in place a funding assistance for all tourism related businesses to assist in their payroll expenses.

The National Government, through the Palau National Development Bank offered a low interest loan to assist the businesses sustain their monthly expenses e.g. fuel, communications, office supplies and maintenance costs. I was able to apply and receive a $36,000.00 loan to assist us in off-setting our monthly expenses for the latter part of last year from July to December 2020. We reduced our hours of operation from five to four days a week and were closed on weekends from Friday to Sundays as we lacked visitors. This adjustment of our operations greatly reduced not only our utility bills, but also our monthly operational expenses. We are back to regular Monday to Friday hours now but still closed on weekends.

We kept our weekly talk show which we started in 2016, keeping the public informed of what we do at the Museum - updates, new items on sale at the giftshop and hosting guests to talk about different subject areas. These talk shows are all
conducted in vernacular (Palauan language), and our audiences call in to ask questions, make comments, share their knowledge and offer suggestions. So we shared with our audience the situation we are experiencing during the pandemic..

We invited the schools for visits (as part of our on-going programs) and waived the admission fees to all students. We also reduced admission fees for local residents, including the expat communities working in Palau.
Finally, we are now working with a local company to upgrade our website, increase more content have an on-line store. We have a
Facebook page and are looking to hire a permanent IT consultant.

4. How is the Belau Museum working with the UN Informal Economies Recovery Project?

The Dialogue began last year with the UN Informal Economies Recovery Project and I applaud the great effort by the UN to assist the local cultural and creative industries affected by border closures. The Project will tremendously assist the Artisans that we serve by not only up-lifting their spirits and supporting them in the work that they do, but also enhance their skills, support them in marketing their work to a global audience – through the Museum. The aim is to bring creativity and craftsmanship back to our communities and to train and teach the next generation. We need to preserve and own our unique Palauan Identity and Uniqueness; as well as show our local artisans that their work is financially viable and an can be an important tool in supporting them and their families. The National Museum will assist them in all aspects of their creativity to support their Art through this UN Project.

5. Why do you think the Informal Economies Recovery Project is important for Palau?

It is very important for Palau because as a nation we were or are on the verge of losing our soul. When I say soul, I am referring to the Creative Industries, the arts, music, the craftsmanship that were regarded only a means to showcase and sell Palau to the Visitor Industry when necessary. All local Artisans, especially musicians, have to retain a full time 9-5 job to support their families. They cannot afford to be creative, to write music or produce songs as it will not put food on the table. As I said from the start, this
Pandemic is a blessing for Palau because now we can really come to the table and take stock of what we are as a People and capture what we have lost or are losing, enhance what we have and move forward.

6. What are your hopes for the creative sector in Palau and what could be the museum’s role in it?

One of the Museum's roles is to promote, enhance and support arts at all levels. The gift shop's main mission is to support all local artisans. The Museum is and has been doing conducting summer workshops in pottery, weaving, carving, dance and music. We have an active after school program in singing and voice lessons; dance & movements to Grade School level. It is my hope that the creative sector in Palau will explode and finally get the attention it deserves. I am optimistic of the partnership between the Museum and the UN Informal Economies Recovery Project – especially with the full support we are receiving from the Palauan government.