“Endless logistics challenges!” - KLU graduate Jennifer Esterle works as a logistics specialist in Haiti

Former KLU student Jennifer Esterle works as a logistics specialist in the humanitarian sector in Haiti for a small non-profit organization called Meds & Food for Kids. The company is helping to save children's lives by fighting against malnutrition by producing a product called Plumpy'nut (or Medika Mamba in Creole), which is a peanut-based paste for treatment of severe acute malnutrition. Jennifer has shown great interest in the humanitarian logistics sector throughout her studies at the KLU, so it came as no surprise when we heard about her engagement in Haiti.

The KLU: Jennifer, what is the situation in Haiti?

Haiti has endured centuries of political unrest, foreign occupations, corruption, and natural disasters- all of which have left the country weakened and vulnerable. Malnutrition in Haiti is the result of many factors, including endemic poverty brought on by the nearly 80% unemployment rate and primitive agricultural practices that prevent farmers from growing enough nutritious food to feed their families.
One in ten children in Haiti is acutely malnourished and one in five is underweight. One in 14 will die before reaching the age of 5.  More than 9 million people live in Haiti; over a third of them are under age 14. With an average household income of around $400 a year, 76% of Haitians live on less than $2 per day.

The KLU: Who are you working for? What exactly are you doing?

I work for an organization called Meds & Food for Kids which is a non-profit producer of therapeutic and supplementary food products. Their mission is to improve access and provide innovative nutritional solutions meeting international quality standards through local production close to the populations requiring them. At MFK, I am responsible for the coordination of the supply chain: everything from procurement of raw materials to planning the production schedule to coordinating the distribution of finished product.

The KLU: Which major challenges do you face in your daily work?

There are many challenges in the field of logistics related to uncertainty; however, all of these are exemplified in a place like Haiti. There is limited access to raw materials within the country.  Furthermore, importation is difficult because Cap Haitien is not close to a major port.  To complicate things further, a lacking transportation infrastructure inhibits the movement of goods from the major port in Port-au-Prince to other places within the country.  All of this in combination with government corruption creates endless logistics challenges.

The KLU: What has led you to work in the humanitarian sector?

I have an overwhelming curiosity for developing countries; that is, to gain an understanding of why and how they function as they do. All of this in an effort to understand how to increase development in such a way that offers people the resources they need to help themselves.  For this reason, I am particularly interested in sustainable development programs. I came to realize that there is a bridge between my personal interests and academic ones and the result has been the start of a career in humanitarian logistics.

The KLU: How do you personally cope with the situation in Haiti?

The simple luxuries of water, electricity, or internet are often lacking in Haiti. Many of the most basic comforts of life are missing. Despite this, life is simpler in Haiti. When I remind myself that there is a purpose for being in Haiti and that the work that we do at MFK directly and indirectly contributes to saving the lives of malnourished children, it all becomes manageable.

The KLU: How has the KLU helped to prepare you for your job?

During my studies at the KLU, I was exposed to the field of humanitarian logistics for the first time. Although it was of interest to me for many years, I had not previously received any formal training or experience in the field.  The KLU offered me the opportunity to pursue my own interests in this specialized area, both academically and professionally.  Specifically, The KLU offered to sponsor a team of students to compete in a global case competition related to the humanitarian sector. Furthermore, my internship was focused on humanitarian logistics, I participated in a course with a focus on humanitarian logistics, and finally, I wrote my thesis on a topic related to humanitarian logistics. The KLU offered the resources and flexibility that allowed me to specialize and develop skills in my personal area of interest.

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Souce Picture "Haiti": Wikipedia. Image is in the public domain.