Navigating Haiti and the International Development World

Hello BCEPers! I am a little over a month into my internship now, and I am finally settled in Haiti. I am living in Petite-Goave, a city of about 160,000 people, 2 hours west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. I am living with a host family in a mountainous area outside the center of the city. I absolutely love my work because I am always traveling to different parts of the country to meet with different stakeholders. However, the work in general can be very tiring because of its long days and constant movement.

Description of Organization

I am interning for WASTE advisors on urban environments (http://www.waste.nl/), a small Dutch consulting non-profit, which advise low and middle income countries on how to establish environmental services, primarily sustainable and context appropriate solid waste management systems. The organization operates based on their Integrated Solid Waste Management System (ISWM). ISWM considers how every aspect of establishing a system from the cultural drivers to capacity building impact the various waste collection operations (ie. collection, transportation, treatment, disposal, etc).

Project Description

Under WASTE I am interning for the Municipal Reconstruction Project in the Les Palmes Region that is funded by VGN International, an association of Dutch Municipalities. The project is a joint effort among the four municipalities in the Les Palmes region of Haiti, Gressiers, Léogâne, Grand Goâve and Petit- Goâve, and it is scheduled to last for four years. Together they created a regional office, “Agency Technique Inter-communal des Palmes” (ATIP) to improve their capacity to provide urban environmental services such as sanitation, water, and waste. Several donors are working on the project including Canadian, Dutch and French municipal associations. The regional technical assistance office ATIP, will help build capacity in the region and to advise the municipalities during and after the project. The main goal of the project is to have an affordable, well-functioning, waste management and valorization system in each city, with access to a controlled dumpsite away from the flood zone. Other results include having hygienic markets, clean cities, streets and canals, and an established valorization chain for plastics, metals, and organic waste. Enterprise development in sanitation and solid waste, school sanitation, expanding institutional knowledge, and health care waste management are spill-over projects necessary to complete the main goals.

My Roles and Responsibilities

My main responsibility is to be the “face of the project” and the researcher for the WASTE team, especially when they are not present. This means that I serve as a channel of information between project members and the community. Therefore, my assignment is to be a bilateral actor that moves easily in and out of the worlds. The interesting thing is that I am learning how to function in the culture of international development projects and Haitian society at the same time. This task is a lot harder than I expected, one because I am technically new too both worlds as a working professional. So, the most important aspect of my job is making valuable and lasting connections with key stakeholders, including community leaders, local authorities, NGOs, and everyday citizens, in the interest of advancing the project. Thus. I am in a perpetual state of mingling and pleasing the right people at the right time. The other aspect of my job is to be an investigator/researcher for the WASTE team. I am to collect information and necessary data. For instance, during my orientation, I had to interview all merchants in all of the four city’s markets to investigate their perceptions of and solutions for the solid waste problem there. I am also responsible for identifying and engaging stakeholders, such as NGOs, government agencies, businesses, neighborhood cleaning committees, etc. Other responsibilities include writing (1) daily reports about my activities, (2) interim reports, (3) programs for workshops, (4) cost estimations, (5) stakeholder maps, (6) briefings on NGO, local and national government policy and laws, (7) and reports on current recycling and agricultural valorization chains. Based on the information gather, I am supposed to analyze and develop recycling and ISWM implementation with the WASTE team. I also facilitate community and stakeholder workshops.

Most Valuable Aspect of My Internship

The most valuable aspect of my internship are the communication, negotiating and general people skills I am acquiring. I am in constant contact with Haitians and foreigners from different parts of the economic and societal status spectrum. Navigating the socio-economic ladder, knowing what to say to who and when, as well as knowing how to act in certain situations are all key in my internship. This is important because of the politics, which surround the establishment of the project and which deeply penetrate Haitian society. I think of this task as interest management, or strategically managing the interest of each stakeholder for the sake of accomplishing the project goals. For instance, if we have a meeting with a local official, a technician, and an NGO, it is important to know what each participant’s intentions and motivations are. While this is sometimes impossible to decipher in the beginning, if you listen closely enough, it eventually becomes clear. The more I visit different locales in the country, the more I am beginning to understand how different stakeholders live and think. However, for me the most difficult aspect of my job of being on the ground and serving as a channel of communication, is facing the consequences and reactions to decisions not made by me. For example, local officials, my colleagues at the regional office, and people in the community come to me when they need to convince the donors to fund something, when there is a delay in the project, or when they are not satisfied. I am learning how to deal with this. So far, my strategy consists of carefully listening and not making any sort of promises. In Haiti, like in life, who you know is key. Competence and hard work can take you far, but connections never hurt. In the project I am learning a lot about my family network in Haiti, which frankly I was not aware of at all. So far, my family connections have facilitated negotiations for obtaining waste management equipment, establishing partnerships with recycling businesses and hospitals.

For the most part, I am very pleased with my experience, and I am looking forward to integrating my thesis work.

-Rachel

 

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About Rachel