Canadian Intern in Nicaragua

As a young marketing communications professional, Brittney Potvin arrived to her six-month volunteer placement with the Association of Producers and Exporters of Nicaragua (APEN) with the goal to help them raise awareness about the work they are doing and the products they are selling.

“There are so many things that Nicaraguans are selling that are exactly what people in Canada are looking for. People who care about buying products from Nicaragua care about who they are buying their products from – and these are companies with strong sustainability principles.”

APEN is a not-for-profit located in the capital that offers various services to small, medium and large scale producers, exporters and businesses in Nicaragua. Their mission is to help shape Nicaragua as a leading export country. Some examples of APEN’s services include refrigeration (to and from the airport), business diagnostics, and APEN also has an “Academy of Exportation” which offers several courses on subjects such as the logistics of exportation, how to obtain different forms of international certification, how to sell products online, etc.

While many Nicaraguans are using social networking tools, such as Facebook, Brittney could see that many of the members of APEN, a non-profit organization that offers various services to small, medium and large scale producers, exporters and businesses, were missing out because they weren’t using the tools.  She tried to help APEN members, such as cacao, chocolate and coffee farmers, understand the value of social media and provide social media lessons. “By creating a strong online presence, these sellers could raise awareness in other markets and attract buyers,” she said.

Internet accessibility is not an issue in Nicaragua, where most of the public parks have free Wi-Fi. “Generally people are connected, and many are active on Facebook. I could see a lot of the young entrepreneurs using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but the older leaders are slow to adapt.”

Brittney was able to help APEN’s members better use social media, sometimes with simple tips such as adding hashtags and online names to media materials, but also to make sure they are participating in social media so that they don’t miss others talking about them. Some of the APEN members had strong teams and were sharing high quality images online, garnering a lot of traction. Brittney was able to showcase these examples for other APEN members to model.

Brittney was part of the International Youth Internship Program, sponsored by Global Affairs Canada. First introduced to Nicaragua and other Latin American countries through university studies, she applied for the internship following completion of a master’s degree focusing on international studies at Simon Fraser University.

“The internship program was ideal given that I had only recently completed my studies and had yet to secure full time employment,” Ms. Potvin said. “As a non-government organization (NGO) focused on development issues with opportunities in Latin America, Cuso International was a good fit.”

Although the overall experience went well, Brittney notes that it took a few months for her to feel fully immersed in the program. “All of my colleagues were Nicaraguan (with the exception of a Dutch intern), and when I arrived, it was challenging to establish myself without speaking fluently. Although I had studied Spanish before, working in a second language was much more challenging than I anticipated, and my inability to understand the office chit chat, I feel, prevented me from quickly understanding the office culture. It took me a couple of months to feel part of the office/team, which although I anticipated, was more difficult than expected.”

Her placement ended in February, but she hopes for the opportunity to volunteer again with Cuso International in Latin America. “I recommend Cuso International to anyone interested in contributing to skill, culture and language sharing, as well as those with a passion for international issues, such as social justice or poverty alleviation. I am certain that the personal development that comes with the placement is worth the time.”