Get to know SOIL: A Conversation with EkoLakay’s Merlande Charles
SOIL’s team of over 70 works hard day in and day out to run and expand our life-saving, earth-restoring sanitation service in urban Haiti. One of the irreplaceable members of SOIL’s Northern Haiti office, which serves Haiti’s second largest city, Cap-Haitien, is Merlande Charles. Merlande, who has worked for SOIL for over six years, now works as the office’s administrative assistant in the newly opened EkoLakay depot. Get to know more about Merlande, how her work helps to ensure SOIL’s sanitation service EkoLakay operates smoothly, and why she’s passionate about safe sanitation in an interview conducted by SOIL’s Program Advisor Oliviero Zuliani.
How did you get started working for SOIL?
I got to know SOIL back in 2012 when Rosemarie, a woman who works in the kitchen, told me she needed help. So, I first worked alongside her in the kitchen. I’m a very good cook! But as SOIL grew, we needed someone to manage visitors and customers entering our office, so I started working also as a receptionist, as I had the necessary experience. Not long after that, I became SOIL’s full-time receptionist and now I work exclusively for [SOIL’s] EkoLakay program.
What do you do for SOIL?
I welcome and support people coming and going in SOIL’s new depot, whoever they may be. I’m responsible for doing customer service tasks such as providing support, answering the phone and accepting payments. I support inventory tracking and when necessary, I even step in to meet other needs the EkoLakay coordinators may have. One of the first things that I do every morning is to synchronize the TaroWorks data [from the Ekolakay field teams] so that I have updated lists of customers. I can then call those who have accumulated debt to remind them to pay and I call customers interested in installing a toilet in their home to invite them to come to the office to [join the service].
What is it like doing customer service for EkoLakay?
I really enjoy talking with customers, trying to understand their needs, and helping to convince people of the importance of what SOIL is doing in their communities. With time and experience, I have learned how to overcome communication challenges and I’m glad to have good relationships with our customers. I sometimes need to convince the customers to pay the service fee, and knowing the customers and their financial situation helps me find a solution.
Do you have the tools you need to do your job well?
Yes, since I arrived in SOIL I have participated in many different trainings. The most relevant training to work in my position was on the use EkoLakay’s mobile tools, so that I can use my smartphone to [provide informed customer service]. One recent SOIL training seminar I found particularly interesting was the one on sexual harassment, which allowed me to learn about things that you could face when you work in a team and how to effectively deal with them.
I started working in SOIL because I wanted to change things here in Haiti. I remember that years ago it was very uncomfortable to walk in Shada [a neighborhood in Cap-Haitien] because it was very hard to avoid stepping on human waste in the street. But now, it is cleaner thanks to SOIL and I can easily walk through the neighborhood. Another huge challenge is that when there are floods, the water moves waste directly into people’s homes and it can make children sick. With SOIL this is happening less! I am very glad to work for SOIL because I can see that this organization tries to understand the needs of their employees and customers and address them in any way possible.
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