My name is Jean-Christophe, and I worked in Terrier Rouge for almost one year, starting in September 2016. I was offered ISCA-AIDC’s internship position of Business Development Coordinator after graduating from John Molson School of Business in Montreal with a Bachelor of Commerce in International Business. I can say right away that the theory of international business I learned in school was extremely different from what I experienced in Haiti.
Our objective as interns was to expand the chicken cooperative that was launched about one year earlier. Our first task was to increase the number of members. This was done by selecting families that would join the cooperative. Once the families were selected, we started the construction of chicken coops on their land and trained them in basic business administration skills, such as accounting, and chicken farming techniques. We also improved the finances of the cooperative project as a whole, since there were two full-time employees on the payroll. We decided to launch a community shop that would meet local demand for agricultural and livestock farming tools and supplies. The full-time employees would work at the shop during the day. While I was there, sales grew and the employees, Kency and Wilfrid, tried out different marketing tools in the community, fostered relationships with various suppliers, and built a solid client base.
I also helped developed business skills for our women’s jam-making start-up, called ‘Onz Manman.’ The start-up was launched with women in the community, along with my fellow intern, Marie, and a volunteer food processing expert named Carol Ann. The ladies were well organized and were able to work together; we only needed to make sure the sales were kept up.
Working in an environment with such limited resources and daily challenges taught me a great deal. It set the bar very high for what would now become my definition of a ‘difficult situation’. Learning to find ways to make things work, even when things do not go according to plan – a common occurrence in Terrier Rouge – is a skill that is useful everywhere. My level of Haitian Creole also improved and was quite useful, especially when negotiating with various contractors and business partners.
Haiti is notorious for being difficult to work in, even among developing countries. When I talk about my experience with others, I often see surprised reactions and praise for the work I have done. However, it was the breadth of responsibilities I had that taught me many organizational and management skills. Managing the development of the chicken cooperative required so many skills that I had no choice but to learn and improve everyday, which I could have never done without the help of the local staff.
I often explain to people that Haiti is so much more than what they see on the news. My biggest advice for future volunteers, or anyone planning on visiting Haiti, is to not to get caught up in the sensationalistic news reports that portray Haiti as a grim place. I can promise you that by showing a genuine interest in the people, their culture and their language, you will see how beautiful Haiti is. Although Terrier Rouge is the best place in Haiti, do visit other corners of the country. Jacmel and Kenscoff (near Port-au-Prince) were among my favorites for longer trips, but nearby Cap Haïtien is perfect for day trips or a weekend getaway.
I am now studying Computer Science in China, but I still talk to some of the friends I made in Terrier Rouge and still cannot get enough of Haitian konpa music. I sometimes feel nostalgic, so I set up an email alert notifying me of cheap flights from Shanghai to Port-au-Prince… just in case!
Blog entry written by former ISCA-AIDC volunteer Jean-Christophe