Guest post by Diego Alfonso Martin Clemente.
I heard about Haiti after the earthquake happened, I started doing some research and what I found was an enigmatic and attractive country. After the Spanish gave over the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to French imperialism, the country became the first producer of sugar cane and one of the richest colonies.
After their independence from the French colony in 1804, Haiti was the first Latin-American country having the capacity of auto-governance and was an example of freedom and dignity for other colonies.
Haiti had an important performance on the international level, participating on the signature of the treaty of Versailles and becoming one of the exotic destinies for vacations.
According to the United Nations, Haiti is the poorest country in Latin-America and the second poorest in the world. After I learned more about Haiti and its link with the Latin-American countries and France (because I was doing my masters degree’s studies in France and I’m Mexican), as well as the situation in which the Haitians were living, I wanted to move to Haiti and help them out. I searched for an NGO who works with Small and Medium Businesses and I found All Hands Volunteers. A friend of mine put me in contact with them and 15 days after I was landing in Port au Prince.
« No body can do everything but everyone can do something »
All hands volunteers its an organization that was born after one man, Mr. David Campbell, decided to move to Thailand in 2004, after a tsunami hit the country. His motivation was to make an effort to reduce the disastrous effects of the natural catastrophe. There, he found people who shared the same interest and they created Hands On Disaster Response organization (All Hands Volunteers at that time). This organization worked in different countries helping clearing devastated zones.
All Hands Volunteers arrived in Haiti, just a few months after the earthquake (January 10th of 2010) and after one year of hard working they cleared the ruble in more than 209 houses allowing families to move back and leave provisional camps and shelters.
After one year of the catastrophe, the UN deployed a survey to analyze the social, economical and political situation in Haiti. The majority of the population still had difficulties in maintaining a sustainable livelihood. Employment opportunities were usually with wages below those necessary to live, in precarious conditions and with little to no permanence. Independent income-generating activities were usually carried out as survival strategies, with minor access to services, credit and other kinds of support. In this order of events AHV decided to implement a livelihoods program, aiming it at Small and Medium Businesses located in Léogâne.
The program is an endeavor, which began in April 2011. The program sought to increase decent employment among the population in Léogâne by helping the local Small and Medium Enterprises (SME); By giving training and the necessary knowledge to increase and improve incomes and profits of the business. The program provided intensive business training and mentoring to 8 participants throughout a period of approximately three months.
Consulting sessions with local and international mentors help participants to understand the course material, further put in practice the knowledge and implement the systems and tools they have learned. The frequency of mentoring sessions increase as the participants move through the program, allowing them and mentors to set individual objectives for their progress.
As the first intern of the livelihoods program, my tasks were unclear, however as long as the program moved toward the general objective of “creating decent employment” my objectives were getting shape and the daily activities during either the training or the consulting became simple and smooth. My mains tasks as an intern included providing hands-on guidance to the owners and managers, so that they could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their enterprises. Working side by side the local mentor we gave advice and guidance to the participants on best business practices, as well as addressing and solving day to day business challenges. I met this incredible mentors guys, Djemson Jeudi ( Mr. Positive) and Jean Frusnert, both were highly qualified for international standards. They though me so much about humanitarian programs and much more about the Haitian culture.
Because of the hard work of all of us (Livelihoods team, internationals and locals), the program was able to accomplish its objectives. Some times the living conditions and the way of thinking of some Haitians participants the progress of the program was block and we had to deal with frustration. But not even sleeping in tents, taking baths in communal showers, eating the same food over and over, getting stomachaches often, listening the roosters, cows and goats making sounds early in the morning, stop us from helping the participants to improve their businesses; on the other hand, the commitment and gratitude of some participants, the contact with the nature, realizing that as a human being surrounded by “poverty” makes understand the fact that we don’t need as many things as we thought, gave us the courage to continue the program, and in my case to stay for 8 more months after my internship finished.
All along the course of the program I could develop and gain old and new skills, I learned how to manage and address different people from different cultures (as I worked with, Americans, Haitians, Brazilians, French’s and Mexicans). I learned to write down all sorts of paperwork needed for the development of the Business Improvement program.
I “learned” Haitian Creole and I improved my proficiency of both written and spoken French and English in technical and interpersonal settings.
Collaborating as an intern with All Hands Volunteers opened me the entrance to the world of NGO’s in the economic development field.
As a result if we put together, my contribution to the program (labour, time, knowledge etc.) and what my participation in the program gave in return, it would be unbalanced because what I gained was way more (once in the life time experience).
At the end of the pilot program, could we truly say we help the economic recovery in Léogâne, Haiti?
As I mentioned in the prior paragraphs we worked with eight businesses and only four of them really used the knowledge and put into practice the given advice. When the program began, we didn’t have a starting point. The businesses didn’t have a normal control of incomes and outcomes, nor even mention a control of stock or purchase previsions. By the end of the program four of them had a regular control of cash flow and control of stock. The other four, had problems using the general business tools and/ or keeping up with the control which made it really difficult some times to accomplish the set goals.
As a conclusion I could affirm, mwen renmen anpil Haiti (I love Haiti so much).