Ayiti, kouzen

Jean Christophe’s blog entry originally appeared at http://www.acic-caci.org/blog/category/internships.

Closing in on my first month in Haiti, I won’t lie: the first few weeks were not easy. Living in rural Haiti is far from everything I experienced so far. Luckily, local staff is extremely helpful not only for work but also to facilitate our adaptation to Haitian life and culture (and provide moral support when our street food choices are reckless). We live in a village with one of the fewest power outage in the whole country, meaning we only miss about half an hour every week or so, which is great.  We are also lucky enough to have an apartment on the second floor of our office. Very useful to maximize hours of sleep (even though the sun rises with the roosters around 5AM). Nonetheless, after a few weeks it started to feel weird only to go up and down the stairs to get to and from work. We do move around during the day, but I realized I needed to see the country a bit more.

Last week, I visited the Citadel of King Henri Christophe and it was one of the most amazing historical sites I’ve seen in my life. It is a fortress built in 1820 by the King of Northern Haiti, Henri Christophe (who was actually from Grenada) following independence from the French Empire, to be used in case of an attack against Haiti. The size of its defenses was unmatched at the time. Built on the top of a 910 meters high mountain, it was strategically positioned to be able to defend itself from every side, and even had constructions on surrounding mountains to prevent any weaker sides. It also had one of the greatest artillery at the time, a vast majority of cannons and ammunition stolen from previous occupying powers.

One of our main challenges was the food situation. All the food is located in the outside market. Obviously it’s all natural foods: vegetables, fruits, rice, beans, etc., with no processed foods like we mostly see in our supermarkets. It’s a great thing but it also makes things a little bit more complicated when making meals. I had absolutely no experience cooking with such ingredients, mixed with the fact that there is no place we could go out to eat, we have to cook every meal, which again, I’m not shy to say, was a pretty big challenge. But now I’m starting to realize that this challenge became an opportunity for me to develop cooking skills with limited resources, and although I’m not one to brag, the lentil soup I made a few days ago was objectively amazing.

At work, everything is running pretty smoothly. Local staff is extremely helpful and the project is moving forward, some parts at an impressive pace. We still have some adjustment to make, as Haitian culture is very different from Canadian culture, which can be felt throughout various work assignments, but with all the help we receive, I have no doubt that we will be able to complete all of the tasks that were assigned to us.

Updates from Haiti – A busy few weeks!

Greetings from Terrier Rouge, Haiti! My name is Marie Dumont, and Jean-Christophe (JC) Taillandier and we are the two interns working for ISCA on their poultry production project here in Northern Haiti. We were welcomed to the country with Lloyd Dalziel, director of ISCA, who took the long trip to Port-au-Prince from Charlottetown, and the even longer trip from the capital to Terrier Rouge with us. We’ve been introduced to our partners at Chalice, and have met the families who have received chicken coops from this project. With Lloyd returning to Canada after a week, the two of us has been busy selecting new families to receive chicken coops, ordering materials, and getting construction started. Now we are beginning our second week of work, and while a lot has been done, there’s still a lot left to do.

But first, I’ll explain how I arrived here. I’m finishing my Master’s degree in international development at the University of Ottawa. I’ve taken courses in foreign aid, economics, policy, theories of development, and politics. I have a strong academic interest in development projects, yet my résumé lacks experience working in this field. I applied for this internship, as I know it would help build my experience and skills as a development practitioner and would enable me to apply my knowledge for this project. This internship is through the International Youth Internship Program, funded by Global Affairs Canada, offering six-month internships to Canadian youth age 19 – 30 as part of Canada’s youth employment strategy. ISCA partners with the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC), which organizes some of our training and logistics. We had a fantastic week of training with the other 19 ACIC interns who, like us, were preparing to go abroad for the next six months. That training feels like it was so long ago now, but friendships were made that I am sure will last a life time.

img_5911Although training for this internship was comprehensive and thorough, nothing can prepare us for the work that needs to be done in Haiti. My first observation is that work can happen quite quickly in Haiti, with our orders coming in earlier than expected, the wonderful carpenter, Wilfred, working quickly and organizing other carpenters to help. On the other hand, small obstacles like the price of chicks suddenly increasing by 1 gourde (about 2 Canadian cents), intermittent internet outages (as we are experiencing now), an increase in the cost of gas, or an unexpected delay on the arrival of the chicks, can have greater impact than when working in Canada.

Here’s some of the progress that has been made. With the 17 families that already have already received chicken coops, eight would be receiving chicks. The chicks were to arrive Monday; therefore we thought we would work on the weekend to ensure we were prepared for their arrival. We went with their adviser, Kency, to get rice hulls, which the families use as bedding for the chickens. We are able to access the rice hulls cheaply, but getting it is a bit of a process. First, all of the bags must be collected from the families, as they are re-used every time. Then, with a trike buggy, we head to the massive hill of rice hulls. JC and I looked at the big hill, and the bags we had to fill, and wondered how all of these bags were going to be filled. Kency had a solution. The many children that were around the area gathered around the buggy and began filling the many bags with rice hulls. It was fun for them! After, Kency gave them a tip of 5 gourdes each. Then it was time to transport the 16 bags back to Terrier Rouge to distribute to the families. Needing to stop only three times because the bags were falling off, we finally were able to distribute the bags to the families in Terrier Rouge and Grand Bassin. As it turns out, the chicks won’t arrive until September 22nd, but at least we’re prepared

We’ve also selected 5 new families that will receive chicken coops on their property. Construction with Wilfrid and his team has begun. Arriving at 6:30 am when his shift started at 8 am, it was clear that he was eager to begin building. He hired two workers to help, and after the first day, the first coop was nearly done. He’s not finished two and onto the third. The families are actively helping in the construction. It is clear they are excited about having the coops.

Ayiti m’Sezi – Closing on the first week in Terrier-Rouge

chickAfter the first few days of meetings with local staff as well as current beneficiary families I was able to quickly get up to speed on the project; the development, the issues, the disputes, and of course the success stories.

From a very initial assessment I consider the biggest accomplishment the success that the project is experiencing so far. I know a lot of work was put in by all members and interns of ISCA in the first year, and Chalice was of great help both financially and on the field. Not a single member has failed or dropped the program, and although lots of bumps were encountered, families and staff have shown resilience and kept moving forward. In addition, our local coordinator for the project, Kency, has met and surpassed all expectation. Kency is a young graduate in Agriculture that was hired last year to coordinate and monitor all the families to make sure they take their job seriously. He also helps with the ordering of new chicks and feed from Port Au Prince and even implements ideas in line with the co-operative model: he collects money from everyone so they can pool their resources to get other materials useful to the husbandry of their chicken. In addition, he bought a backpack pressure washer and goes around the coops to wash them, the families simply have to buy the soap.

According to every single family member, he has done an amazing job of both helping families when needed, and this is obvious when you see the way he does his weekly reports from the past few months as well as his perfect record with his own coop. Despite his shy personality, it seems obvious that Kency has had a huge impact on this project’s success.

That being said, we still have work to do; the 10 new families we selected need to have their coop built, trained on husbandry, bookkeeping and marketing. We would also like to open an agro shop within a month with the help of our feed and chick distributor HiPro Haiti. Later we would also love to have our very own hen barn, operated and owned by the cooperative members, allowing them to buy the chicks at a lower price, and to pay various expenses through the profits made from it.

Blog entry written by Jean-Christophe – Stay tuned for more great updates on the exciting project activities in Terrier-Rouge

Fruit Processing in Terrier-Rouge

In April, I had the privilege of joining the ISCA poultry team as the advisor for their pilot fruit processing project in Terrier-Rouge. As mangos are in plentiful supply throughout Haiti, transforming the raw fruit into a shelf stable product suitable for commercial sale provided an opportunity to train a local women’s group in food processing techniques and the basic elements of food safety.

Needless to say, it was a challenging and rewarding task. First point of learning for Isabelle and me was learning about the distinct characteristics of the different mango varieties. Who knew that mangos purchased on the roadside en route to Terriere-Rouge were called “mango fil” for a reason… as the resulting trial jam, while very tasty, was fibrous and stringy! After this initial trial, we found the preferred eating varieties of Jean-Marie and Baptiste, purchased in the market, make excellent jams.

Training took place in the Chalice mission’s office and kitchen. Eleven women, participants in Chalice’s sponsorship program, gathered for 6 days with the mornings spent in the “classroom” and the afternoons in the kitchen processing mango jams. As is taught in many of the food safety training programs in Canada, the women learned about the sources, and prevention, of food contamination, personal hygiene practices and food processing sanitation. Processing raw mangos into pulp, calculating fruit pulp:sugar ratios, learning about acidity and gelation, filling, packaging and labelling comprised the technical component of the training.  Learning to keep processing records and calculate the costs of production was an important lesson as well. All sorts of questions about the process were posed each day with the participants really showing how much knowledge they were gaining as the week progressed. By the 4th day of processing, making jam was a well honed practice!

Fruit processing Group with certificatesFrom my perspective, the most challenging part of the training was conveying the technical concepts and terminologies into terms that could easily be translated into Creole. Lucky for me, I had an excellent translator who explained many of these words.

On the last day, we celebrated the success of the week. ISCA & Chalice presented each woman with a certificate of participation for their dedication and passion for the training and finally, we tasted the sweet fruits of our week long labour.

Blog entry written by Carol Ann Patterson, Fruit Processing Advisor (The Pathfinders Research & Management Ltd, Saskatoon, SK)

 

Orevwa pou kounye a Ayiti! / Goodbye for now Haiti!

And that’s the end of that chapter – as of May, I’ve completed my six-month internship with ISCA in Terrier Rouge, Haiti. It’s strange to look back and realize just how quickly half a year flies by, and at the same time just how much you can accomplish and learn about yourself, Haiti, jam, chickens, and development in that period.

I learned that you always, always need to have a Plan B – you can prepare for activities like carrying out field visits, capacity building sessions and buying materials, but there will be circumstances out of your control that will delay your work. In Haiti, most of that involved political demonstrations that made it unsafe to go out on the streets at times, the unreliable internet connection, and the rise in the cost of goods and services due to inflation and the fluctuating exchange rates.

I learned that respect is a universal language – that is, treat others with respect and people will appreciate it and return the favour wherever you are in the world. Even through language and cultural barriers, I was able to form meaningful connections with Haitians who welcomed me into their country with open arms, for which I’ve been incredibly grateful.

I learned that international development work is what I want to be doing with my life. It has its share of challenges and frustrations, sometimes leaving me feeling hopeless about the IMG_7246 (2)countless obstacles to poverty reduction that no one person can seemingly address. But having seen the positive difference that ISCA’s livelihoods project has made for many families here, it reminds me that development work can have a genuine purpose and impact.

It’s been an honour to work with the families as they moved along their journey to become successful poultry entrepreneurs throughout the past six months. While my contract has finished, I’m looking forward to staying updated on the project’s progress and helping ISCA out whenever I can. I’m also hoping to make it back to Haiti one day so I can explore the rest of the country – it may look small on the world map, but it’s sure filled with rich and diverse foods, sceneries, and cultures.

Mèsi anpil Haiti for all the memories and experiences that I’ll never forget, and may the project participants continue to have great success with their chickens

Isabelle Kim was an intern with ISCA-AIDC throuogh Global Affairs Canada IYIP Program

When life gives you mangoes – make mango jam!

Another component of ISCA’s community livelihoods plan includes the establishment and capacity building of a local fruit processing group, who would make products such as fruit jam for sale both in Haiti and abroad. Haiti is one of the world’s top 20 mango producers, but the surplus supply often goes to waste and is thrown out. So what better place to make use of the extra produce to make value-added products that can be preserved and sold in Haiti and overseas?

 For this, ISCA worked with Chalice to find a group of women in Terrier Rouge who were interested in participating and recruited Carol Ann, a Canadian food scientist with expertise in food processing, to carry out training sessions on jam making with the group.

It turns out that jam making in a country like Haiti has its own set of challenges – not only did we have challenges finding local sources of materials like bottles, but the participants had no prior experience with using kitchen equipment that we Canadians tend to take for granted like a stovetop, thermometers, and scales, or the mathematic calculations and formulas needed to measure out ingredients.

But throughout the sessions held over the course of six days, I saw a transformative change in the women participants. What started off as casual interest in the concepts Carol Ann was teaching – basic sanitation and hygiene, food safety, pH levels, sugar content and more – evolved into genuine excitement and engagement in the jam-making process as the days went on. By the end of the training, I saw an impressive, confident group of women with great knowledge of how to use various tools and calculate the right quantity of ingredients, and an active interest in continuing to apply the skills they gained to experiment with making jam from other local fruits.

 Over the next few months, ISCA will continue to work with Chalice and the group to create a sustainable business model for the fruit processing activities. I can’t help but feel hopeful that the training provided by the always enthusiastic Carol Ann has built the foundation for a new and successful business venture for the group. At the very least I can personally attest to the excellent taste and quality of the mango jam that the women made, having devoured numerous bottles of them!

Post written by Isabelle Kim, who is an intern living for the past six months in Terrier Rouge

We’ve come a long way, chickens!

What a hectic few weeks it’s been! Working with Chalice, ISCA selected the seven new families who would be joining the poultry enterprise project across Terrier Rouge and Grand Bassin. The new coops were also completed ahead of schedule, thanks to the hard work of Theodore who joined us from the Chalice South site to lead the construction, as well as local carpenters Wilfrid and Fidere.

The first set of meetings we held with the new families helped me realize just how far we’ve all come along in the project. The participants, ranging from teenaged students to the elderly, had a wide variety of questions – what temperature is best for the baby chicks, how often to clean the coop, when to start selling the chickens, and many more. And in contrast to when we met up with the first set of families during my first couple of weeks in Haiti where I was eager to learn the answers to these questions as a newcomer to the project myself, I was able to help the families with their concerns, and also give them plenty of encouragement about the new challenges and opportunities they may encounter throughout the project.

Photo1The original ten families have also seen plenty of progress. When we interviewed each household on how they’ve used the income gained from the first cycle of chicken sales, answers ranged from paying for their children’s school fees, starting new business ventures, buying new livestock, and opening up bank accounts. Having gained a taste of the success that can be made from their chicken enterprises, the families are clearly eager for more – they have plans to open up a cooperative bank account to pool their resources together, to buy supplies like livestock vaccines.

We’ve come a long way indeed from November, when both the participating families and I were relative newcomers to the exciting world of poultry enterprises!

Post written by Isabelle Kim. Isabelle spent six months in Haiti as part of an internship sponsored by Global Affairs Canada

The Rewards of Development Work

After almost five months into this position, there have been days where I couldn’t help but think that development project work mainly consisted of lots of motorcycle rides across rough terrains, moving at a snail’s pace in the scorching heat as locals look on in amusement, and sometimes hilarious misunderstandings as I attempt to work through language barriers. But then I come across moments that remind me just how fulfilling this work is, and show that the positive difference the project is making is worth all the little day-to-day challenges encountered along the way.

I recently ran into Alina, an illiterate single mother responsible for six children who is a participant in the poultry enterprise project. She told me how thanks to the income she earned from the first cycle of our poultry enterprise project, she was able to start up other business activities including buying seeds to grow new crops in her garden. She was incredibly excited about her new ventures and learning about how one of our participants is reinvesting her money was incredibly satisfying for me.

As the project moves into its second phase, I’m eagerly looking forward to continuing to work with the participants to help them bring about even more positive change for themselves and their families

  • Isabelle

Wrapping up the first fill

The first fill officially finished on February 1st when all ten families completed their chicken sales. Even as some families experienced challenges with chicken illnesses and marketing difficulties, in the end all of them were able to sell off their chickens by the deadline provided and complete the first fill and still make a profit.

After the initial trouble the participants had in understanding concepts of income and expenses, it was especially satisfying for me to see that all of them had successfully recorded their cashbook entries with details of their chicken sales. The debriefing sessions we held with the families following the sales also showed their commitment and passion for their poultry enterprises, as they held lively discussions on the best ways to market chickens and ensure their healthy growth. Chick and feed orders have been placed for the next fill for delivery in early March, and the families already seem eager to start up their business activities again.

Next week, we will be selecting the seven new families to join our project. The challenges and successes that the first set of families have experienced will surely be great lessons for our new participants, and I’m excited to welcome them to our group of ‘chicken families’ soon.

Blog entry written by Isabelle Kim

And the chickens are off!

When we first went to visit the chicken families following the holidays, we were greeted by the sight of plump, grown chickens prowling the coops – a long way’s progress from the tiny little chicks that we delivered at the beginning of December. We held another training session on recordkeeping at the Chalice office to make sure that the families would be fully prepared to take on their chicken-selling enterprise. Through the use of props and roleplaying sessions, we showed them the steps to write down information on when, how many, and for how much the chickens were sold, incorporating the use of symbols to make sure that illiterate participants could follow along. With that, the families were ready to start off on their chicken-selling journey.

As we continue to track the progress of the participants’ sales, it’s been interesting to see how some families have shown off their marketing savvy by advertising their IMG_1728 - Copyproducts throughout their neighborhoods. We’re starting to realize that what’s even more important than the formal town markets in successfully selling chickens is marketing within the families’ neighbourhoods – when people hear about good chickens being sold, they make the effort to visit and buy the chickens directly from the chicken coops. It seems that word-of-mouth can make or break a business, especially in a rural setting. It’s a key lesson that we’ll be discussing with the families over the next few weeks to figure out the best marketing plans to use for their chickens.