Get to know Francia and her volunteer work with HavServe in her own words
Francia is a young professional from Mexico, who lives in Washington, D.C. where she is pursuing a Masters in International Development at American University. She has traveled throughout the world and volunteered both in Mexico and other countries. Francia speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Korean, and studying Haitian Creole. In February 2011, Francia volunteered with HavServe in the Village of Lebrun, Haiti to help 26 families start and plant their own Vegetable Gardens. The HavServe Team had the pleasure of interviewing this dynamic young woman and learning why she felt in love with the people of Lebrun, Haiti.
What motivated you to seek a volunteer opportunity in the Village of Lebrun, Haiti?
I was very busy with work, school, and life in general, and I needed something different to refresh my mind. I wanted to remind myself of my professional abilities and reorient myself by going somewhere different and applying my skills in a meaningful project. I had volunteered before in India and other places, so I knew how powerful a volunteering experience can be.
I also love to help others, although this time I wanted to do it on a higher level. I’ve volunteered with other organizations but found that they were not focused and not able to offer me a chance to fully unleash my skills. I felt that HavServe was much more focused and that the Vegetable Gardens project in the Village of Lebrun would let me apply my international development expertise. It turned out to be true, and I had a very energizing and positive experience.
What was most frustrating or challenging to you during your volunteering placement?
First, while I don’t think it was frustrating, there is something that surprised me. The Haitians are very relaxed, and the culture is much more laid back than what I’m used to. I knew from the preparation with HavServe that this would be the case, but to experience it firsthand is the only way to fully understand how different the Haitian culture really is. In my work with the people in the Village of Lebrun, I found them to have very different expectations about what work is all about. They’re hard working, but things just don’t get done as quickly as I’m used to.
Second, language barriers were apparent at times, but one of the local youth working on the pilot project, Jimmy, speaks fluent English. So that was not so difficult.
From what you observed during your experience, what are the three most important characteristics of a successful international volunteer?
First, you need to be a good listener. You can’t help if you don’t listen to what people truly need. It takes a while for them to open up, so you need to build trust. I worked very hard to learn about the community so I could show how much I cared. When the locals saw my efforts it helped build our relationship. HavServe helped me get ready for building those relationships but, again, you need to experience it to fully understand it.
Second, you need the ability to adapt to a different living standard. I come from a comfortable background; I have family and friends who are always there to support me. However, while I felt very comfortable and supported in the Lebrun Village, I was in a new place far from home. I had to learn to adapt to a new environment and do things that local people do at work. When I was working just like them to understand their struggle, I was able to advise them that it could be done in a better way. Not only that, I learnt new skill sets like by doing farming work.
Third, you need to be proactive. You have to be out there. I had a great experience because I was always observing, speaking to people and trying new things.
What kind of impact did you have on the community of Lebrun in Haiti?
I think the Village is very pleased to see people coming to help and support them. However, in going there I helped to build that excitement even more. I showed them how easy it might be to build a vegetable garden to feed a family of six, and I think that is important.
I also helped to convey the sense of opportunities that exist. The Village of Lebrun is very remote, and I think I helped to show them that there is a world beyond it. Along my volunteering journey, I connected with the Local Haitian people, especially young people, and helped them to broaden their horizons.
In terms of my work, I helped to make the local staff more efficient. I was not there for long, but by working hard every day I think I showed them there are different ways of doing things that make life easier. It’s good to try new things. For example, together with Julie, another volunteer, I helped them put together vegetable garden package to nearly twenty six families, and taught what I learn of organic farming, and helped local Haitians organize their work and their planning process in a more efficient way.
How did the people in the Village of Lebrun, Haiti perceive the role of international volunteers like you?
Haiti has seen a lot of people coming in and out lately, so they’re used to foreigners. But when they found out that we were volunteers and realized how hard we were working to help them, they became very appreciative. They appreciated that we had focus and purpose, and realized how valuable it was to have two professionals come to their community to share our skills. Beyond that, the local community also saw that they could really grow faster, with the support and know-how transfer from the international volunteers.
What did you learn about yourself during your experience?
I learned so much! I learned that I can build an organic vegetable garden from the beginning to the end. In my life in Washington, DC, I don’t have much room to be free, but in Lebrun I had the opportunity to be creative and to design every part of the Vegetable Garden Project with the local community. I have skills that I did not know I possessed. I also felt very empowered by how much I could give to the community and inspire the youth, girls, and women. It was very touching to see how appreciative the locals were. I also met other volunteers and learned about different lifestyles and ways of thinking. This has helped me become a worldlier person and widened my network. For example, I became very close with Julie, another volunteer from California, and now have new friends in Haiti. We are bonded by our great experience in the Village of Lebrun, and Julie is staying in the village for three months to teach English and Music. I am so excited about my experience in Haiti, and I am looking forward to help as many Haitian families in the Village of Lebrun as possible have their own vegetable garden and fruit trees.