Volunteering in Jamaica: Helping local partners build capacity in communications
By: Lais Viera, WUSC Volunteer, Jamaica
Volunteering in Jamaica has been a truly gratifying, wonderful experience. As a sovereign island nation, Jamaica has so much more to offer than just gorgeous beaches. Hilly, sleepy towns, magnificent mountains, beautiful forests, freshly cultivated fields, and many other hidden treasures abound, including a rich and diverse culture and history. Volunteering with WUSC has allowed me to glimpse a different side of Jamaica that most visitors rarely get to experience.
I had just recently finished a post-graduate degree in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance from Humber College when I decided to join the PROPEL (Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Produce through Enterprises and Linkages) project as a Regional Communications Advisor. Career-wise, as an entrepreneur, I had a great deal of flexibility to make the move overseas. For over 5 years, I had been operating two small businesses: a photography business and an English editing service that mostly catered to academic publications. I also had previous experience in business management and communications for development (C4D) that I knew would be relevant to this position.
My mandate has entailed helping to develop and implement a communications plan to better showcase the activities, successes, and lessons learned of the project. I am also developing communications tools and trainings to build the capacity of other communicators at PROPEL and its partner organizations. Lately, I have even been engaged in supporting a new agriculture radio program being implemented in Jamaica.
I volunteered for this particular assignment mostly because I believe PROPEL is a unique and sustainable agriculture initiative, using a market systems approach to achieve inclusive economic development. PROPEL is funded by Global Affairs Canada and implemented by World University Service of Canada, works across the Caribbean with private sector buyers, producers, business service providers and other market system actors to facilitate the safe, effective, and efficient movement of fresh produce from the farm level to high-value markets (HVMs). The project aims to increase the value of Caribbean fresh produce accessing HVMs in the Caribbean and internationally by CAD $100 million over six years.
Being able to speak to farmers and producers in the field and learn how our work has impacted their lives has been one of my favourite aspects of my mandate. For example, recently, we conducted a Farm Field tour for producers living on the Eastern side of Jamaica (St. Andrew, St. Thomas, and Portland) who were struggling with their Irish potato and onion crops. After visiting successful producers in St. Ann, where they were able to ask questions, observe, and synthesize information, the producers felt much better equipped to implement new and improved practices in their fields in order to see better results. The information they obtained through peer-to-peer learning and evidence-based learning will continue to have a long lasting impact in those regions as they share and put to practice what they have learned.
Of course, it has not all been easy. I have also encountered some challenges in volunteering overseas. I have had to learn how to best adapt to different cultural norms in Jamaica, as well as the often overly bureaucratic processes in the country.
Overall, I think working in different countries is a great way to observe first-hand how such large scale projects, being undertaken by organizations such as WUSC, are having an impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Witnessing the development of entire value chains, and observing how the work WUSC facilitates is endorsed and continued by partner organizations, the private sector, and government agencies is really remarkable. It shows the long-term impact our initiatives have in contributing to the overall economic development and food security of these countries, which will ultimately benefit generations to come. Making a contribution towards that, albeit a small one, feels very rewarding indeed.
To learn more about our work in the Caribbean supporting small- and medium-scale producers, click here.