Gabon

Shelby McClelland

Organization: FAO in Gabon
Dates: 31-May-14 - 1-Aug-14

In Shelby's own words

How I contributed: I contributed to the ongoing work of the FAO SFC office. One of the FAO's goals is to eliminate hunger and promote food sovereignty, and I helped to contribute to this goal by designing my internship and research around farmer cooperatives. My internship was designed to identify problems of participation, group dynamics, and management in various agricultural cooperatives. I worked with members of the project team and with the cooperatives to identify these problems and address them in the future. My work served to help the cooperatives function more like a business and a true cooperative, which will in turn help them increase revenue and food production for the future.

What I felt most challenged by: I felt most challenged by the living conditions and the feeling of security/connection to my friends and family in the United States. I have had long-term experiences abroad before, but I felt slightly mislead before departing to Gabon and expected much different living conditions. However, I learned to adjust to these changes in my expectations and adapted fairly well.

What I enjoyed most: I really enjoyed doing this experience with other Cornell students. I feel like I got to know two people from my major very well and gained new perspectives and ways of thinking from them. It was great to experience things together as we all come from a similar cultural background and were able to support and help one another through challenges and difficulties. I also really enjoyed knowing that my work had real outcomes in the FAO SFC office. It was rewarding to have my work contribute to an on-going project and helping real farmers that I had met face-to-face.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes, I would recommend this experience, but with a few reservations. If a student is going alone, they must have some basic knowledge of French. If traveling with another Cornell student who speaks French, it may be possible to send a student with no previous experience. Students should also be prepared for living conditions of the local people in the city. At the office, students must be motivated workers who do not need a lot of direction or monitoring. Self-motivation and drive are essential to succeeding at this internship. However, this trip is a great first step to doing development work.

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Brendan Brown

Organization: FAO in Gabon
Dates: 9-Jun-14 - 9-Aug-14

In Brendan's own words

How I contributed: I conducted a study on customary land tenure and usufruct rights in four villages within a hunting territory being used as a case study for baseline conditions of the bushmeat in Central Africa with the expressed goal of legalizing commercial bushmeat harvesting and sales. 

What I felt most challenged by: My difficulty in communicating challenged my work greatly and also stiffled my ability to express myself and repose in between work sessions.  Another challenge was gathering honest and uncensored information on sensitive subjects such as illegal hunting and poaching.  Garnering trust was difficult given the brief duration of my stay and my limited language skills, but essential for the success of the project.  

What I enjoyed most: I loved trying new foods, learning a new language, and participating in a culture different from my own.  Camping in the jungle was a good time too.  

Would I recommend this experience: Yes.  I learned very much and was able to experience one of the least developed regions of the world in both a sociological and ecological sense.  

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Saara Kumar

Organization: FAO in Gabon
Dates: 2-Jun-14 - 3-Aug-14

In Saara's own words

How I contributed: The mission of the organization I worked with was to enhance domestic agricultural production in Gabon as well as the success of the CAADP (Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme) initiative throughout the Central African subregion. I was able to interview banana farmers in the Remboue region of Gabon during a UN field mission and gain information about their profits, financial struggles, expenditures in banana production as well as family health and education. This information was used to help the FAO find the best ways to support these farmers so they could increase their production and market access to supply some of the demand for bananas in Gabon.  As for the FAO's subregion-wide goal, I was able to attend a CAADP conference in N'djamena, Chad to learn about the nature of the initiative and the long process involved in bringing the investment plan to life.

What I felt most challenged by: Apart from mustering up confidence to speak French with my coworkers and neighbors, the hardest part for me was adjusting to the pace of life and work in Gabon as well as the loose forms of timing. At first I would get very frustrated when things did not start at the exact time they were announced, or instructions were not made clear. I learned I had to slow down, CALM down, and ease into a pace that perfectly fits tropical heat and slow transportation services. Things started to make a lot more sense as time went on as both my French language and cultural competency increased.

What I enjoyed most: My favorite part about being in Gabon were the taxi rides through traffic. This may sound like a small part of my day, but it gave me time to reflect. The whole day I was stuffing my brain with academic concepts which I loved and were intrigued by, but my personal growth happened in the backseats of taxis on a suede, seat belt-less cushions. The colors of the city (blue and pink pastels on the sides of quickly built cement homes), the smells (frying bananas and sewage), and the faces (girls my age especially) were so close through the window as the car moved slowly, always taking a different route home. We could spend two hours in traffic listening to French pop and the occasional English Nigerian song and I would love every moment. I felt that I felt the city's heart most in those hours.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes, but only to students who are okay with being very uncomfortable and will invest time and mental energy into procuring potable water every 12 to 24 hours. That was my major concern, yet I managed to always have enough water and avoided getting sick during the entire 2 months I was there. A student who travels to Central Africa for agricultural research will see a tropical ecosystem complete with local delights such as monkey brains and local menaces such as forest elephants. The farms and plantations there will be unlike any farms they have ever seen. The level of governmental regulation and interest in agriculture is minimal (oil ships off the coast of the capital steal all the attention), and that will be frustrating. This is not a comfortable experience, but it is invaluable.

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Abram Mellinger

Organization: FAO in Gabon
Dates: 3-Jun-13 - 5-Sep-13

In Abram's own words

How I contributed: I worked as an intern to organize and orchestrate several missions and conferences that were held at the regional office in Gabon dealing with a wide range of issues. Duties included material preparation and participation in debate panels. My main goals and contributions were with the plantain development team where we went on 3 separate week missions to work with farmer co-ops in the field.

What I felt most challenged by: The language was difficult because I had never functioned in a professional setting outside of my native tongue. It was difficult sometimes to be extremely involved due to communication barriers but with time I could adequately express myself. This was my first instance working with a larger multi-lateral institution and with such organizations a certain amount of bureaucracy is present. The slow-moving pace of some projects was frustrating and I had particular trouble with my contract and problem-solving issues which I did not particularly enjoy. My living conditions were not ideal and I was somewhat isolated since I was the only non-domestic intern. Most evenings I spent alone in my one-room apartment and there was little I could do as far as a social life.

What I enjoyed most: I enjoyed the people and being able to work directly with some of the farmers in the forest. Having only Gabonese fellow interns was a very interesting way to really get to see what life was like in this part of the world. The city of Libreville is very nice and the most safe African capitol I have been in. It is easy to travel on your own throughout the country but costs are quite high in this part of the continent.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes, I would recommend this program, but only to the independent self-motivated individual. There are many opportunities and interesting work to be involved in but you must find your own way to contribute and become productive. I did not find a sense of carpe diem during my stay there and some individuals did not put a very high priority in being productive and it was difficult for me to really observe how the office functions without my own initiative and curious questions. From what I have heard from other students, this would not be an office that is bustling as others can be.

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