Hi there, I’m Isabelle and I hail from Toronto. After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in international development, I had the privilege of working with ISCA as a value chain and agribusiness coordinator from 2015 to 2016 in the town of Terrier-Rouge, Haiti. As I stepped off the plane to land in Haiti for the first time ever, it felt quite humbling to know Haiti’s incredible history as the first black country in the world to win independence from colonial control, and the many challenges it has encountered in building a stable and prosperous country. Naturally I was excited but also very nervous to find out how I could help contribute to ISCA’s community development projects in rural Haiti.
The next six months consisted of supporting the implementation of ISCA’s community livelihoods plan, by coordinating a poultry cooperative project where local families would receive assistance in raising and selling chickens, and 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. Of course there were unexpected challenges encountered along the way – these included delays and changes to project timelines and implementation plans, due to breakouts of political protests that made it unsafe to travel on the roads, or the volatile national economy that resulted in significantly increased price of materials needed for the project. But as with anything in life you need to make lemonade out of lemons and these issues helped me realize the importance of having a back-up plan for any aspect of a project.
Some of the most rewarding parts of my role included delivering training sessions on business and financial management to the cooperative members, which covered topics such as maintaining a cashbook, concepts of income and expenses, and the benefits of and ways to organize an agricultural cooperative. Sitting with participants ranging from high school students to elderly men and women, I came up with training materials that both illiterate and literate participants could follow such as role-playing and the use of symbols. While most started off with no prior business experience and initially struggled to understand the cashbook concepts, by the end of the courses they were able to conduct simple bookkeeping to sustain their businesses.
In my current role as a social safeguards consultant with a consultancy, I’m involved in social monitoring, due diligence and impact assessment projects to provide social safeguard protection and enhance social and community development benefits in pursuit of sustainable infrastructure projects. This position entails trips on a regular basis to countries ranging from Colombia to Nigeria, and so I frequently come across situations where I’ve been able to put to use the lessons learnt through my work with ISCA.
The unexpected project delays and issues that inevitably arise on such trips means being able to accept and adapt to new circumstances to best accomplish your goals is critical – a key lesson that was drilled into my head in Haiti. The work also involves getting a variety of stakeholders’ perspectives on the social impacts of energy and infrastructure projects. The range of baseline data collection and interviews that I conducted with local households and businesses throughout the ISCA project also helped improve my ability to communicate information and engage with individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences in a culturally sensitive manner.
For anyone who gets the chance to work with ISCA’s Haitian projects, I would encourage you to go with the expectation that some things will inevitably go wrong as is possible with any project – so always have a Plan B in mind and go along with the flow. And enjoy your time there because you’re getting the opportunity to experience a country as unique as Haiti – take full advantage of it!
Blog Entry written by Former ISCA-AIDC volunteer Isabelle Kim