Daniela with a group of colleagues from Association des Femmes Fonds Parisien Pour le Développement, in a Haitian border community. Daniela is holding a kwokitol - a type of local doughnut. This initiative was part of a micro-enterprise project with Haitian women, supported by Daniela/Progressio and Hermanas Vedrunas. 

Daniela Peirano, from Chile, was a development worker with Progressio in the Domincan Republic and Haiti, from May 2010 to September 2011. 

What have you done since leaving Progressio and what do you do currently?

When I finished my placement, I returned to Chile for a year to take a break, be with my family and see my friends again. During this time, I taught classes at a university on the planning and evaluation of social projects, which had been enriched by my experience with Progressio.

Currently, I am working as an Associate Community Services Officer for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Colombia, in Cúcuta, on the Venezuelan border. My role consists of mainstreaming a differential approach (AGDM - Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming) in our work with displaced populations or those at risk of being displaced.

Please describe your role and the partner organisation that you worked with as a Progressio development worker.

My experience as a development worker was quite unique. Set in the context of the post-emergency period following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and working across two countries – Haiti and the Dominican Republic, it had some very distinctive characteristics.

The project aimed to generate early recovery initiatives on both sides of the border. Due to the nature of the territory and the urgency of the initiative, I did not have an official partner organisation, but instead various implementing partners, both Dominican and Haitian.

My main partner was a community of three religious missionaries – Hermanas Carmelitas Vedrunas – based in Fonds Parisien, a Haitian border community. They helped me gain entry to the area and coordinate the different initiatives the project was considering, including the generation of income by women, restoring a market, providing assistance to camps for displaced people, and re-directing a river.

The experience with the Hermanas was very interesting, as they carry out very significant work around education. In fact, Progressio helped them to restore a chapel which to begin with served as a collection centre for food distribution following the earthquake, and was then transformed into a preschool for more than 60 children from low-income families, whose chances of entering the educational system were almost non-existent. 

What inspired you to become a development worker?

A desire to get to know new cultures and ‘learn by doing’, and to contribute to conscious and appropriate development, based on a respect for local knowledge. Progressio’s offer seemed to respect these principles and contribute to development on a local scale and in a respectful and responsible way.

In addition, I had previously worked in Haiti, and this opportunity in particular presented the challenge of mitigating damage and contributing in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

What struck you most about Progressio’s development worker model? 

I liked the model of small-scale cooperation, working with local partners and in much more modest and humble conditions than other international development agencies that create too much distance between their living conditions and those of the community.

In terms of the relationship with Progressio’s office in Santo Domingo, it was very close and respected the autonomy of the development worker.

In my case, due to the specific context of my placement, I was on my own a lot. I missed having a team to consider the interventions with and to support me in the field.

What did you enjoy most about your role, and of your experience as a development worker?

The close contact with the community, which was consistent with the context. Although my experience was ‘atypical’ as I had no official partner and implemented a project directly, this allowed me to see the concrete results of my work. The result was reflected in the empowerment of some of the women with whom I worked, more than in material progress, and that was also the outcome most valued by the women.

What were some of your main achievements while working as a development worker?

The ability to plan work together with the community and design actions relevant to the area. I think that the main success was empowering the women. Beyond the small economic benefits that the enterprise we were working on could bring them, it was about making women’s fundamental role in the community visible and ensuring they have a role in dialogue with the local authorities.

And what were some of the key challenges and lessons learnt?

The main challenge was working alone, and on topics which I was not used to dealing with, such as business enterprise. The lesson learnt was that, despite the urgent nature of our actions, it is essential to plan with those involved in the intervention, otherwise we would be damaging the community and spending resources on actions without sustainability and continuity in that region.

Another lesson learnt was that access to income generation is the key to the autonomy of communities, and that this can be done through an inclusive, community perspective.

Did this experience change you as a person in any way?

All experiences are about learning and change, and this one clearly was too. Mainly in being tolerant and learning to live with and respect others with different histories, customs and ways of thinking.

The affection and smiles of the community stay with me.

Did your experience as a development worker influence your career/future direction, and help you to get to where you are today? 

Yes, the experience in complex contexts, working in border areas and carrying out humanitarian work was key to me being selected for my current position at UNHCR in Colombia, once again in a border area.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

That the processes do not begin when we arrive, nor do they finish when we leave; it is a continuous process to which we merely contribute.

In Chile, we say “stop, look and listen”. Arriving in an unfamiliar context with a different pace and different ways of thinking, especially for those coming from a more pragmatic mind-set, is complicated and causes a lot of stress. It is not about pushing people to meet our timeframes and indicators, but rather the other way around; we are the ones that need to adjust our planning and tools and offer them in support of their own development processes.