Relationships: the Cornerstone of Life

7 July, 2019

Alex Peterson

Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Alex Peterson takes a look at the core of IsraAID’s work — and life as a whole. “[Now, two years after Hurricane Maria,] we aren’t really an organization that is here to build structures . . . We are here to build the programming that will last beyond another storm — the things that get Dominicans through the next disaster on that bedrock level.”

I admit, I was initially unsatisfied when IsraAID’s country director for Dominica responded in this way. Building a house, a school, or a community center… aren’t these the types of concrete, tangible things that benefit these communities amidst their recovery? Even if it’s a question of resource allocation, surely these projects should be on our radar if we find ourselves with new funding.
Today marks the one-week anniversary of my arrival in Dominica, and saying I have been enlightened is an understatement. IsraAID has several core objectives on the island, including training locals in beekeeping to support income generation, creating disaster preparedness plans for schools, and fostering psychosocial and emotional resiliency through community programming.
As it turns out, I arrived during one of the busiest times of the year for IsraAID Dominica. More of my hours have been spent in a van traveling to different meetings than actually working at my desk in Roseau! But this is far from a complaint, as these meetings have opened my eyes to the true mission of IsraAID in this country.

The photo at the top of this post captures a meeting we had with two Dominican beekeepers, Jacqueline and Ronnie. Jacqueline and Ronnie were trained by IsraAID post Hurricane Maria. ⁠Participating in an intensive training course on beehive management and honey production, they were able to develop a new source of income for themselves and their family. ⁠A staggering 100% of Dominica’s agricultural sector was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, leaving over a fourth of all Dominicans without a livelihood. Today, much of the sector has bounced back, thanks to the collective efforts of Dominicans across the island. ⁠As well as providing a source of income generation, the bees will also nurture the growth of agricultural production throughout the year.⁠
Our meeting wasn’t all good news and tales of successful honey sales, however. “We have honestly had some difficulties. To sell in certain markets, we need to meet certain standards for our honey, but meeting those standards takes equipment that is expensive. We know the quality of our honey is better, but it’s hard to scale,” the couple shared.

The conversation turned to discussion of how to scale up, market, sell to international markets, decide whether or not to become a part of a regional beekeepers association, and more. What stuck out to me about their dialogue was not the content, but rather the attitudes that lead to this meeting in the first place. IsraAID is here for the long term and building relationships with the local population to secure deeper resiliency; one-time distribution of emergency recovery aid is simply not the model in use.

I saw in this a powerful lesson for other areas of life. Oftentimes, laying a foundation for the long-term returns is a story of slow growth, setbacks, and an absence of immediate gratification. Consider a few of the people who society might intuitively call “successful” — community leaders, Nobel Prize winners, educators who inspire the next generation — in the majority of cases, this success took years of setbacks, hard work without immediate results, constant pressure, mission-oriented determination, and a sprig of luck. I believe one of the most essential skills in life is understanding the long game. Do you want to attain a certain GPA in college? Build or rebuild an important relationship? Pass a law to benefit your community? Reduce society-wide stigma around a certain issue? . . . Establish your goal, plan out the steps necessary to accomplish it, and live with intention.
If this was the full picture, however, the title of this blog post wouldn’t be what it is. Long term goals hinge on meaningful relationships. If goals and resiliency are the honeycomb, relationships are the bees. The people who will encourage you when you face inevitable setbacks, those who will come alongside you when you can’t move forward alone, and those who are honest with you when a reevaluation is necessary — such individuals are not simply helpful, they are absolutely fundamental to achieving your desired impact. It is this emphasis on relationships that makes me so proud to be investing my time with IsraAID this summer.

On the flip side, it’s OK to have some fun on the way to your goals. I’ve found my bit of fun in playing basketball at a local park with one of my coworkers, frequenting a delicious yet unabashedly unhealthy Jamaican Patty Shack down the road, and even trying yoga for the first time.
Clearly, life is a balancing act. The key is understanding what areas of life to juggle in the first place. At the age of 21, I don’t claim to have that figured out; but what I do know is that positive relationships are the cornerstone of a healthy, happy, successful life — and the lifeblood of the work we are doing here in Dominica. — 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 from the state of Washington in the U.S., where he is currently attending the University of Washington in Seattle. He is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows volunteering in Dominica for summer 2019.

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Relationships: the Cornerstone of Life