Empowering Local Employees

There are lots of critics of the international development sector, and in many cases, their criticisms are justified. Without a doubt, there are changes, adjustments and improvements that need to be made to strengthen the effectiveness of development programs. Most development experts and experienced aid workers will agree that local ownership and engagement are the keys to long-term sustainability and stability. Yet when talking about local ownership and engagement, most people are talking about governments, communities (where the program will be implemented) and organizations. Recently, I realized there was one group missing from the equation: local employees of international NGOs.

I know many locals who work for international NGOs in Haiti who don’t feel qualified to make a real contribution to the organization in which they work. Instead, they often feel disrespected and disenfranchised, comparing their work experience to slavery and prison. I understand why such dramatic comparisons are made, because I’ve seen firsthand how some local employees are treated by their employers.  That’s why I firmly believe that an international NGO should be judged in part on how it treats its local employees, and not merely on the fact that it has local employees or more local employees than expats.

I think many international NGOs are simply using local employees as props to generate funding and to support their claims that they’re building local capacity. But the truth is, many of these organizations do not properly equip their local employees with the training, resources and mentoring they need to succeed and eventually hold leadership positions within the international development community. If you’ve ever been to a cluster or similar type meeting, then you know most of the attendees, presenters, etc. are expats, and not Haitians. Much like not involving local governments, communities and organizations in the planning, development and implementation of aid/development initiatives leads to unsustainable, ineffective programs with lackluster outcomes, so does the mistreatment and/or failure to train and develop local staff.

Clearly, some NGOs working in Haiti need to make more of an effort to train, mentor and retain its most promising employees. In so doing, a stronger, more competent workforce will be developed; one that can handle its own country’s problems long-term.

My Mother’s Daughter

Growing up, I always knew my mom was in deep thought when she’d aimlessly sweep the floor, repeatedly moving the broom back and forth over the same spot for what seemed like an eternity. Well last night, while talking to her on the phone, I found myself doing the exact same thing. I had called my mom to discuss my current finances and future career options. I didn’t realize it, but I picked up the Swiffer and started gliding it across my bedroom floor. When I realized what I was doing, I said, “Oh my goodness, what is happening to me. I’m sweeping like you.” We both laughed.

Without a doubt, I am my mother’s daughter. So much of her is reflected in me. The older I get it seems the more I notice the many similarities in our personalities and physical appearance. I think I inherited the best parts of her.

Aside from being a great caretaker and provider, my mom has been the best teacher I’ve ever had. She has taught me so much, often delivering her messages in a subtle, unassuming way instead of being preachy and overbearing. She’s given me the space to live my life as I see fit, rarely giving her opinion on the decisions and choices I make.

I am so thankful for my mom. I’m especially thankful for the time I spend with her as an adult. I’ve learned a lot about her…her life, her dreams, her disappointments. I’ve come to appreciate her not just as my mother, but a friend.

When the time comes, I have no doubt that I’ll be a good mother because my mom set a really great example. I truly believe she’s the best mom in the world.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy. I miss you. I love you.

Made in Haiti

Today is Labor and Agriculture day in Haiti; a day to celebrate locally grown and produced agricultural products, as well as plant new trees and crops. Some would argue there isn’t much to celebrate, as the majority of farmers in Haiti struggle to earn a decent living due to factors such as low production, poor quality inputs, outdated techniques and cheap imports that undermine the local market. While I agree that the agriculture industry here needs a complete overhaul, especially a major change in policy as it relates to food imports, it isn’t all gloom and doom. There are many good local products and products made with local ingredients available in markets and from street vendors.

I make a conscious effort to purchase locally grown and/or produced food whenever possible. That’s relatively easy to do with things like coffee, tea leaves, cocoa (for making hot chocolate), bread, honey, beer, rum, confiture, peanuts, almonds, cashews, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. It’s also pretty easy to find local beef, goat and pork. It’s much more difficult, but not impossible, to find local chicken, eggs, sugar and rice, as imports from the Dominican Republic and the United States flood the market. (I recently learned that many onions are also imported from the DR, so I’m going to make a point of asking about the origin of all the fruits and vegetables I buy just to be sure.)

There are several products that use mostly local ingredients, which I’ve come to enjoy; mostly sweets and baked goods like granola cookies, comparet (scone-like ginger bread made in Jeremie), bon bon siwo (also a ginger bread but a bit sweeter and with a softer texture), peanuts coated in cinnamon and ginger, tablet pistache (similar to peanut brittle) and dried pineapples covered in coconut.

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Occasionally, I buy locally made potato chips and breadsticks (I can’t remember what they’re called in French/Creole). A couple of weeks ago, I saw a locally made hot sauce at Giant Supermarket and decided to purchase it instead of the omnipresent Louisiana brand. There are many other products that I’ve had my eyes on, and plan to try soon.

Sometimes, it’s a bit more expensive to buy Haitian products, but to me, it’s worth it. Hopefully, the many ex-pats living here feel the same way. I realize our purchases alone won’t stimulate local production, but every little bit helps.