Innovation and Inspiration

28 July, 2019

Alex Peterson.

How IsraAID is supporting local businesspeople in Dominica post-Hurricane Maria, from Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Alex Peterson. Of all the gifts a person can receive, I believe inspiration to be one of the most valuable.

A newfound sense of purpose, a restoration of hope, a resurrected motivation — these are often catalysts for change that facilitate the manifestation of humanity’s highest callings. This week in Dominica, inspiration could be found in great abundance.

Last Tuesday, I had the chance to sit in on one of IsraAID’s “Hackathon” business sessions, where a dozen or so young Dominican entrepreneurs came to discuss and get feedback on their start-ups. Working in teams of two to five, they presented ideas ranging from a complete wellness spa to an aquaponics system that would sustainably supply the island with freshwater seafood. In addition to learning from their designated mentors and IsraAID facilitators, participants heard from a representative of the Dominican Ministry of Commerce, Enterprise, and Small Business Development about grant opportunities and how to achieve their long-term business goals.

“Pursuing your dream and making your business successful is a shift of perspective and lifestyle,” Mr. Joseph explained. “Your business is going to be an extension of you as a person. If you are hard-working, industrious, and organized, your business will reflect that.”

In an energizing setting like this, I found myself reflecting on the importance of empowerment and opportunity. These motivated entrepreneurs already had a vision deep within them to transform their livelihood through a creative idea; all they had needed was someone to offer the necessary training, resources, and inspiration. Now these groups meet multiple times every month to get their own businesses off the ground. As is already apparent among the Hackathon participants, genuine empowerment bears the fruits of creativity, personal growth, and courage. If IsraAID can invest in such enduring virtues, I see no better mission.

While motivational workshops and direct support are one source of inspiration, there are other indirect influences that can bring it about as well. One example is the newly developed music program at the Dominican Association of Persons with Disabilities (DAPD). Two weeks ago, I was in a meeting between IsraAID and several of Dominica’s biggest NGOs as they discussed opportunities for the improvement of child protection and safety across the island. When the meeting was over, a few people stayed behind to catch up with one another, including the President of the DAPD. She was speaking with IsraAID’s country director, Hannah, about the possibility of procuring instruments and teachers for a new music program. They soon called me over, asking if I might be willing to help with the process given my experience teaching basic music to youth with developmental disabilities and visual impairments. The following Saturday, I held my first two-hour music lesson in Roseau. The session was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

As I sat in the DAPD office, cleaning the keys of the new keyboard and tuning the strings of the guitar, I heard a knock at the door. “Ah that must be him!” I thought to myself. Walking briskly to the main entrance, I pictured my first student as a young lad, perhaps obligated to attend music lessons by a parent who wanted him to invest in a hobby. I had been told that my first student would be blind, but I didn’t know much else.

Contrary to my expectations, he was an older gentleman in his late 50s and possessed a palpable enthusiasm. Having clearly been in the office before, he confidently found his way into the main room, felt for a chair, and made himself comfortable. I asked him a few basic questions before we began: “Where on the island are you from? Do you have a background in music? What are you hoping to get out of these lessons?”

This man was determined to learn guitar as a form of self expression. He had an extraordinary singing voice and a natural gift for music. When he had heard that the DAPD was launching a guitar program, he signed up quickly, even though the office is a full hour’s bus ride from his home.

If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is. That kind of attitude doesn’t appear overnight. It stems from an outlook on life that considers nothing out of reach.

Meeting this aspiring guitarist inspired me to reconsider opportunities that I previously rejected as “not my forte”: learning to paint, becoming a faster reader, and learning to cook, to name a few. While I may not become the next Gordon Ramsay, I’m convinced that inspiration’s value doesn’t rest solely in its ability to produce results — it breeds an attitude of discovery and self-confidence that aids in countless other life endeavors. This is precisely the kind of inspiration that IsraAID is helping to spark in Dominica.
That said, I’ll let you know if I manage to master the soufflé.

— Alex Peterson, Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow in Dominica
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean islands. The hurricane caused multiple fatalities and destroyed much of Dominica’s key infrastructure: electrical, water, agricultural, and buildings and homes. IsraAID’s team in Dominica has rebuilt hurricane-destroyed roofs; worked with the Ministry of Education; developed hurricane-resistant construction methods & practices for disaster risk management; and provided livelihood opportunities through beekeeping.

Alex is currently attending the University of Washington, in Seattle, Washington. He is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows volunteering in Dominica for summer 2019.

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