Ashlander's trip to Jordan is a success

An Ashland woman recently returned from Jordan, where she volunteered for three weeks, helping an agricultural association market food and other crops to Europe in an effort to improve their balance of trade and the lives of farmers.

Using her Internet, writing and website skills, sustainability specialist Melissa Schweisguth assisted the nonprofit Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables in improving their website, to build financial self-sufficiency and broader markets.

Schweisguth, who was pictured in Time Magazine for recycling everything and 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 E.U. crops 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 the goal of social equity is as important as sustainability — and comes in part from being able to get fair market prices.

In addition, she helped research market development, using the goal of growing organic food, which is much in demand in Europe, even more than in the United States, she says.

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 USAID's Farmer to Farmer Program and focus on entrepreneur development, food security, financial services and agribusiness, he said.

Despite to so-called "Arab Spring" uprisings, Schweisguth said Amman, the capital where she worked, was peaceful and felt secure all the time, to the point that she jogged 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.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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