The Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings ran articles on my volunteer placement in Jordan through ACDI/VOCA. Mail Tribune piece below.
Ashland woman helps Jordanian farmers
It’s a lesson in marketing and the possibility for growth
September 13, 2011
By John Darling (online version)
An Ashland woman recently spent three weeks in Jordan helping an agricultural association market food and other crops in an effort to improve its balance of trade and the lives of farmers. Using her Internet, writing and website skills, Melissa Schweisguth assisted the nonprofit Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables in improving its website to build financial self-sufficiency and broader markets. Schweisguth, who got a mention in Time magazine in 2009 for not producing one bit of trash since 2006, continued that practice on her trip, though she had to bring some packing west with her before she could find recycling bins, she said.
She went to Jordan as a volunteer with ACDI/VOCA — Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, two organizations started as part of U.S. foreign aid in the 1960s. “I was advising and working with Jordanians to evaluate and improve their website content and navigation and make it more user-friendly for marketing and promotion,” said Schweisguth. She noted that Jordan is working to become more competitive in European Union markets when crops there are out of season but still can be grown in warmer Jordan — at prices twice what they fetch in the Middle East.
“It was a great experience, always great to learn a different side of sustainability and how to sell new products, while learning a different culture,” said Schweisguth, noting that social equity is part of sustainability — and comes in part from being able to get fair market prices. In addition, she helped research market development and recommended the exporters and producers designate farms and products that are organic because of the great demand for organic food in Europe, she said. Most Jordanians speak English well, and she augmented her communication skills by using Mango Languages for Arabic online from the Jackson County Library System website.
Patrick Tracy, a recruiter with ACDI/VOCA, said the organization seeks mid- to late-career professionals in agri-business, farms, land grant universities, cooperatives, private businesses and nonprofits to volunteer in developing countries. They are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development Farmer to Farmer Program and focus on entrepreneur development, food security, financial services and agribusiness, he said.
Despite the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings, Schweisguth said Amman, the capital where she worked, was peaceful and felt secure, to the point that she ran daily around the city. But mostly she was busy working. “Any given work day might find me evaluating JEPA’s website and those of comparative organizations, exploring the website administrative back-end, researching issues and resources such as market requirements and trends, and outlining recommendations aligned with the Scope of Work,” she said on her blog.
To read her blog and see a photo gallery of her Jordan trip, go to www.mailtribune.com/jordanvolunteer.