"Challenging, but enriching"

A 6-month work placement in a developing country; it does not sound obvious, but Thibault did it anyway. As a student in International North-South Cooperation, he went to work at Uniriz-C in Benin.

Today, Thibault is back on Belgian soil. Of course, we want to know all about his stay in Benin and the impact it had on his studies and on him. Time for a few burning questions.

Hello Thibault. Tell us, what exactly did your work placement in Benin imply?

I went to work for 6 months at Uniriz-C., a local rice cooperative in Glazoué. 0 Together with the UC Leuven-Limburg college, Collibri Foundation supports an education project to give young people a boost to start a business and produce food. I coached and supported three groups of youngsters from the selection procedure to the start of their business. This work placement was enormously diversified. Indeed, the three groups were in different stages of the project. Consequently, I had the opportunity to visit them in farming schools, but also at their homes and in their own fields. 

After having spent time there, what are your conclusions?

That it really is a useful project. It works well, its structure is good and the people who work on it are in the right frame of mind. The project is mainly supported by people who are positive and hopeful, and that is very important.

What can be improved in your opinion?

Communication. I think it is one of the most essential factors for the project's success. Between the partners in Benin, but also between the partners in the South and here in the North. I experienced that it is very important to the people of Benin to hear from you regularly.  This interpersonal communication is important during a collaboration. Another culture logically comes with a different way of communicating, and you have to be susceptible to that.

Did you see an evolution during your stay?

I have tried very hard to work on communication. It is not a matter of course to communicate transparently with everyone. So I talked and showed understanding with as many people and partners as I could. Every time, you have to try and reconcile the different interests. But we are on the right track.

This work placement was part of your thesis. What are your conclusions?

My thesis is about the impact of this project on young people.  The objective is to have the project partners take a more self-evaluating position. We should meet more often and discuss how things are going, where we can react better and how we should do it. Ask questions such as: is the project still in keeping with reality? What can we, as partners, learn from it? In this way, I want to try and reinforce the energy and collaboration in this project even more.

And what has been the impact of your time in Benin on you?

I have had a very nice time and I have learned a lot. In the beginning I had to adapt of course, but the project was very interesting and very challenging. The intercultural context results in quite a different way of working. And it was enriching on a personal level also. I was welcomed into a very open and sympathetic host family with a very kind mother. So I came back with a lot of lovely memories.

Meanwhile the next trainee is almost ready to leave. What advice can you give?

To buy a motorcycle (laughs). It is the easiest means of transport to travel on the bumpy roads in Benin. For the project, I would advise to focus on management skills. The young people know all about practical skills, but leading a professional business is quite a different matter.

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