"Challenging, but an enrichiment"

A 6-month internship 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 how he experienced his stay in Benin and the impact it had on his studies and on him. Time for a few burning questions.

Hello Thibault, back from Benin in one piece. Tell us, what exactly did your internship imply?

I went to work for 6 months at Uniriz-C., a local rice cooperative in Glazoué. My college UC Louvain-Limburg and Collibri Foundation support an education project there to train young people to become experienced farmers. I accompanied and evaluated three groups of young people at the training farm Ferme SAIN, where they can practise the farming techniques they learned at school in a real farm. So I often visited them, but I also did office work, administration, etc.

After having spent some 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. They want to advance and they realise that have to work together to achieve this.

What can be improved in your opinion?

Communication. I think it is one of the most important 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. Even if there are no problems and you don't actually have anything to report, they still expect you to call or visit them. If you don't, they think you are not interested in them or their activities.

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 internship was part of your thesis. What are your conclusions there?

My thesis is about the impact of this project on young people. My conclusion is that the training they take will most certainly help them move on. But also that it is not as easy as some people might think. These young people are facing many challenges. Will they succeed in their studies? Will they be able to work as farmers afterwards? On the other hand, this search for solutions and different ideas is an enrichment to them.

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

I had a great time. 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 I had the pleasure of staying with a sympathetic host family with a very sweet mama. So I came back with a lot of lovely memories.

Meanwhile the next intern 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 another pair of shoes.

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