Girls at drinking fountain in Haiti

The CARE-Cornell collaboration piloted a new summer internship program in 2016 that engaged four Cornell graduate students to do research with CARE country offices abroad and then return to CARE USA headquarters to share the lessons they learned. Twelve additional Atkinson Center interns worked at EDF, Oceana, and Oxfam this summer. 

Feeding More Students in Haiti

September 6, 2016

Girls at drinking fountain in Haiti

The CARE-Cornell collaboration piloted a new summer internship program in 2016 that engaged four Cornell graduate students to do research with CARE country offices abroad and then return to CARE USA headquarters to share the lessons they learned. Twelve additional Atkinson Center interns worked at EDF, Oceana, and Oxfam this summer.

CARE implements over $260 million of development food assistance programs in six countries in partnership with USAID Food for Peace. During her internship with CARE Haiti, Applied Economics and Management grad student Elizabeth “Jade” Womack explored how a school feeding program that supports local agriculture and small business enterprises can reach more students. Womack proposed cost-effective solutions for scaling up the Kore Lavi school feeding pilot program and introducing the model to other parts of the country.


Jade Womack and Paola RocheJade Womack (right) poses with fellow CARE-Cornell intern, Paola Roche

Three little girls in blue school uniforms smile at me. The two shy girls hide their faces and grab the shoulder of their brave friend who has taken the opportunity to speak to me. I have no idea what she is saying in Haitian Creole. The group of girls giggle when I poorly string together “Koman ou ye?” (How are you?). I have just arrived in the Haitian countryside, where I will spend two months working with CARE Haiti, visiting schools, vendors, and marketplaces.

My French-to-Creole translator comes to my rescue, and the girls smile in agreement as we decide the uniforms would be better in pink. They are soon directed to wash their hands before the school meal. They already had a morning snack of bread and cheese. Now it is time for lunch, and their classmates are excited because it’s their favorite dish: rice, beans, and sauce. For many of the schoolchildren, these two free meals are the only sustenance they will receive today. Part of a USAID program called Kore Lavi, this new school feeding model piloted by CARE Haiti in collaboration with the Haitian Minister of Social Affairs has expanded the social safety net for Haitian children.

Out in the schoolyard, I see the women who prepare the meals hard at work. These local food vendors are one of the program’s major beneficiaries. Unlike other school feeding programs, Kore Lavi supports both Haitian agriculture and the local economy by hiring women from the community as cooks. These small-scale entrepreneurs used to sell meals on the road or in the marketplace, but now they have been able to expand their clientele to the schools, which has increased their family incomes and opportunities. Due to their weekly salaries from Kore Lavi, many women have been able to buy more animals and construct new homes. The women proudly share that they have started sending their own children to school, now that they can afford the tuition. In the Haitian countryside, women are often denied an equal voice in household decisions because they make less money than men. Programs like Kore Lavi are giving women new opportunities, agency, and respect in their rural communities.

Vendors in HaitiSmall-scale food vendors in Haiti

This summer, I got to know these vendors, and through surveys and group interviews, they helped me answer some important questions: “How can we make this program better?” and “How can we lower the costs?” By implementing tools from my Cornell coursework in production economics and agricultural markets, I set out to find a way to maintain profit margins for vendors while making the program a more attractive model. My project was the first attempt to understand the costs of procurement and profit margins for the pilot feeding program.

During the internship, I created a comprehensive report describing ways the program could be improved. The program could use cheaper imported rice and beans and replace a meal with millet. Together, this could decrease the day’s hot meal cost from around $0.70 per child to $.50 per child. Additionally, many of the vendors can’t read, and I discovered that the recipes they were given for the school meals were hard for them to understand. In response to the literacy challenges, I created focus group exercises using images. The women praised them highly, and together we decided a solution would be to replace the current written recipes with photo-based visual recipes.

CARE is currently considering these and my other recommendations while planning a USAID follow-on program to scale the school feeding program to 2,300 more students in the upcoming year.

A valuable lesson I learned through this internship is how important it is to build trust with those you are surveying. Many women did not want to share some of their ideas initially out of fear they would be incorrect, or perhaps that I—a white-Asian biracial girl from an Ivy League college—would judge them. In my academic career, I’ve learned how to survey, report, and analyze, but I never knew until my internship with CARE Haiti how all of these skills depend on trust and friendship to create sincere conversations for data collection.

Due to Haiti’s political history, many citizens are suspicious of outsiders. I ended up challenging myself to learn about not only school feeding programs, but also Haitian language, culture, and history. The vendors started to share their ideas on how to improve Kore Lavi after I shared personal details about myself: for example, I told stories about my grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinners in coal-country Appalachia and compared the slow-roasted meat to the Cajun-spiced goat the women were preparing. These small conversations never made it into the report I created for CARE, but without them, I would not have gotten the completed surveys and mutual respect required to produce sound research.

Through CARE Haiti, I built wonderful friendships with the vendors and also developed a deep familiarity with the Kore Lavi project, with all of its positives and room for improvements. I was able to survey in Creole by the end of my summer, and I ended up being extremely sad when I had to leave Haiti. Thank you, CARE Haiti, Cornell, and ACSF for an amazing experience that will shape my worldview as an economist for years to come!