Eye Contact: Seeing a woman’s story in her eyes

A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As I walked through a village ravaged by drought and famine, I saw women scavenging for scraps of firewood that they could barter for food to feed their families. I met a young mother who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. She had two small children to feed and care for, and barely enough food to give them. She went hungry that day so that they could eat. Our eyes met and I reached out to squeeze her hand. In that moment I knew what sacrifice looks like.

In rural Kenya, I met a little girl named Zincia who was in sixth grade and was the only girl left in her class. All the other girls had dropped out of school by her age—some forced into early marriages. Others dropped out simply because there was no water source in their village. Their families needed them to fetch water. This duty consumed six hours of their day, round trip. It is a hard and dangerous chore that leaves no time to even consider school. But one brave little girl managed to grab onto a hope that education would provide for her a better life. I met her eyes and I was humbled by her dedication.

A mom in Haiti.
A mom in Haiti.

In Haiti, I had to force myself to look into the eyes of a mother who lost a child in the earthquake. The same day she buried her child she was out looking for work. She had three other children who needed her. There was no time for self-pity or even for grieving. Her children depended on her and so she got up and did what she needed to do so that they would eat that day. As our eyes met, I was no longer a humanitarian; I was just a mom who saw my sister’s suffering.

Through my work with World Concern, I have walked in some of the neediest places in the world. It’s hard to see some of the things I see … until I remember that God sees each of those that suffer and He knows them by name. Sometimes what I see makes my cry. Sometimes I want to look away… But I am always amazed by the resilience and strength I see too in the women I meet. And they—my sisters—are worthy of respect and dignity, not pity.

A woman in South Sudan.
A woman in South Sudan.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed in 1911. Now, more than 100 years later, the need to see, recognize, and respond to the issues women face in developing nations remains great. They each have a story of sacrifice, resilience, hard work, and determination. And, I am committed to maintaining “eye contact” with them until they and their daughters are truly seen.

Remembering January 12, 2010

Four years ago today the ground in and around Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, shook powerfully.  Lasting approximately 30 seconds, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake would take the lives of approximately 220,000 people and change the lives of those who survived forever.

January 12, 2010 is a day that remains etched in the minds of many Haitians.  It is hard to find someone who was not affected by the goudou goudou—the colloquial name for the earthquake in Haitian Creole, which refers to the sound the tremors made.  As a colleague of mine in Haiti once said, “We were all victims of the earthquake.”

30 seconds of trembling was enough to pancake this school building
30 seconds of trembling was enough to pancake this school building

While this tragedy has obviously caused immense pain and suffering there are stories of fortitude, sacrifice and healing from the past four years.  Although we cannot mention every one, here are three from the World Concern family that remind us that all is not lost.

Elias and Louis in the doorway of their house
Elias and Louis in the doorway of their house

Elias and Louis
Elias and Louis are a couple in their late fifties who are both retired teachers and have a large family of twelve.  Following the earthquake World Concern helped them rebuild their home.  “It is a gift from God,” said Elias. “After the earthquake, first God saved us, then World Concern helped us. God bless you.”  Read full story here.

Jonathan handing over the check to Dave Eller, World Concern President at the time
Jonathan handing over the check to Dave Eller, World Concern President at the time

Jonathan’s compassion

After seeing the devastation caused by the earthquake on television, Jonathan, then a six year old in kindergarten, wanted to help.  When his mom suggested donating money, he dumped out all $6.37 from his piggy bank to contribute to the relief effort.  Then he and hundreds of classmates from school went on to raise an additional $3,641.  “I hope this money goes to replace stuff to make new homes,” said Jonathan.  Read full story here.

 

 

Berlin Smile
Jean Berlin and his contagious smile

Saved to serve people
Former World Concern staff member Jean Berlin narrowly escaped the earthquake as the school building he was teaching in collapsed soon after he walked outside.  He is convinced that he was spared for a reason.  “Jesus saved me to serve people,” he said.  Read full story here.

God has showed us that he is faithful and continues to heal and transform amidst an awful and incomprehensible disaster.  Today we remember and honor the lives that were lost and those who survived and continue to move forward one day at a time.

The road ahead for Haiti is long and challenges remain.  However Haiti has brighter days to come and World Concern is committed to walking on this road as long as it takes.  Please continue to pray for Haiti in this new year and thank you for your partnership.

The Community That Rebuilt Itself

Driving east out of Jacmel in south east Haiti, the paved road hugs the coast offering stunning views of the blue water beyond.  The view inland is equally impressive as rugged, green covered mountains look down on you.

This region is one of my favorites in Haiti and it was nice to be back.  On this particular day we were heading to the village of Figue to see firsthand how this community took the lead in a recent project.

Figue is located high up in these formidable mountains and several kilometers from the paved road along the coast.  To get there we followed a gravel road that steadily narrowed as we climbed.  The journey alone to some of the rural areas World Concern works is an adventure in itself.

Eventually the gravel disappeared and the road’s surface became rocky and soggy from the rain that falls each afternoon this time of year.

Robert, keeping everyone laughing.
Robert, keeping everyone laughing.

At one point Robert, our driver on the trip, stopped the truck and got out to lock the differentials and turn on the four wheel drive.

“Okay now we are ready,” he said.

Looking ahead I could see what he was referring to.  There was a particularly steep section that was incredibly narrow (can the truck even fit through that?) and the road dramatically dropped off on the passenger side (which is where I was sitting).

With my heart pounding in my chest, Robert expertly navigated the difficult section, as he has many times before, and then laughed out loud as a way to lighten the situation and celebrate his small victory.  At this point all of us couldn’t help but laugh too.

We continued on and soon reached the village of Figue which is surrounded by dense vegetation and rugged terrain.  There are 125 families in Figue with “five people per family minimum” as one man said.

In 2012 Figue suffered tremendously due to a harsh hurricane season.  In addition to crop loss, the village’s only church was completely destroyed.

Pastor Bonnet shares about his church
Pastor Bonnet shares about his church

“The wind was so strong during Hurricane Sandy,” explained Pastor Samuel Bonnet.  “The church was flattened.”

Pastor Bonnet has pastored the church in Figue for 32 years and his father pastored before him.  Although no one knew exactly when the church began, it’s obvious it has been serving Figue for some time and World Concern wanted to see that legacy continue.

While World Concern provided the materials and some technical support, it was the community of Figue who rebuilt their church.

“We built it!”  They chimed in unison when asked about their church.  It was clear that the community possessed a high level of ownership which is a beautiful thing to witness.

The new church building is an eye-catcher.  Not because it is flashy; in fact it is quite simple.  However it is the obvious strength of the structure that grabs your attention.  The old church was made of rock and dirt.  The new church is built with cement, ensuring it will serve its’ 200+ members well for years to come.

Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.
Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.

In addition to a new church, Figue now has access to consistent potable water thanks to the construction of a new water system.  Similar to the construction of the church, World Concern provided materials and technical support but the system was entirely built and managed by the community.

The primary water source is a spring a steep 10 minute walk from the main road passing through Figue.  Once the source was capped, piping was installed to carry the water down the hill to a reservoir.  This reservoir holds the water and once it reaches capacity, the water is piped further down the hill to a fountain on the main road.

64-year-old Amedene Tibo, a widow and mother of seven, has lived in Figue her entire life.  “Although the source was only a 10 minute walk from the road the path was bad and if you are carrying water you will fall,” she said.

Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system's reservoir.
Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system’s reservoir.

She is not joking.  After scrambling to reach the reservoir a few of us continued further up the hill to the actual source.  Even for a young person such as me, it was no easy trek.  The path itself is not clear and I was constantly slipping on the wet rocks that littered the ground (even though I was wearing low top hiking shoes with good traction).

Thankfully that difficult walk is not needed anymore.

As I sat listening to different people share about the water system and what a blessing it is I thought to myself, “What if it breaks?”  All too often systems such as this one end up rusting away as soon as something breaks if there is not a pre-determined plan established beforehand.

When there was a break in the chatter I asked that very question.

This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.
This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.

“If there is a problem with the system each family has agreed to give a little money so we can repair it,” explained Frednel Rimny, president of the local water management committee.

It was encouraging to hear that the committee understood the importance of creating a plan and had put one in place.

The progress in Figue and the community’s hard work should be celebrated.  A safe place to worship for the village’s church goers and a new water system are wonderful contributions that will certainly bless the people of Figue for quite some time.

This doesn’t mean Figue and other rural communities don’t face more challenges.  Poverty is complex and multi-dimensional.  This theme came up often in our discussions with our travel companions.  We’re learning that not everything can be “fixed” or perfected; and that’s okay.  Instead it’s about walking with people and helping them move forward one step at a time.  This is a slow process but one that World Concern is committed to living out.

 

Goats and Girls Education: A “Baton” For Life

girls goats haiti1Although we’ve been taught that there is no “silver bullet” to combating poverty, education may be an exception.  The impact education can have in the lives of children—especially girls—is overwhelming.

–  One extra year of school boosts a girl’s future wages by 10-20 percent.

–  A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.

–  Education drastically reduces child marriage. On average, a girl with 7 years of education will marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children.

If statistics are not convincing, listen to girls themselves.  I’ve found that in Haiti girls yearn to attend school and know full well the value of an education.

“School is important because you need to learn things so you can have an occupation,” said 12-year-old Rocheka who lives in the small coastal village of Crabier in southern Haiti.

rocheka small1
Rocheka with her goat

So what’s with the goats we talk so much about? And what do goats have to with education?  Well I’m glad you asked.

In rural parts of Haiti World Concern has found that the gift of a goat can help keep girls in school for the long run.  Here’s how:

In partnership with schools and churches, World Concern gives a female goat to a young girl who also receives basic goat husbandry training so she knows how to take care of her goat.  Once the goat has babies (called kids; funny but totally legit), the first kid is given back to the program so another child can benefit.  Then all other kids that the female goat gives birth to can be sold by the girl to pay for school fees and other related costs such as books, materials and uniforms.

This way the girl is given a skill (goat-raising) and she is able to contribute towards her education, reducing dependency and making her an active participant instead of a passive receiver.

There are three primary advantages to the ‘goat model’:

1.    Life lessons.  When a goat is initially given to a girl, she also receives basic goat husbandry training.  The training focuses on how to feed the goat and keep it healthy.  A goat is an asset in rural Haiti and represents an important source of income that girls can use to pay for school fees and other necessities.  It’s important from the beginning to give girls the skills they need to take care of the goat.  The goat husbandry knowledge they gain during the training is something they can use for years to come, even after they finish school.  Since a goat requires consistent attention, girls learn important life lessons such as responsibility, discipline and ownership.  Aside from the initial training, World Concern staff returns each month to teach girls and other students about additional tips and techniques for raising their goat.

2.    “Multiplying effect.”  When a goat is given, its impact goes beyond the girl who initially received the goat.  The first kid that goat produces is returned to the program so it can be given to another child.  This is one reason that our goat program in Haiti has existed since 1998 and continues to this day.  The gift of a goat has a significant impact in the life of a girl but it also is a gift that multiplies over time, impacting other children as well.

3.    The gift that (literally) keeps giving. “Each year a goat will give between six and nine kids, and she typically can produce kids for up to 10 years,” explains Pierre, World Concern’s regional coordinator for southern Haiti.  The kids that a goat produces represent income for a young girl so she can attend school and most importantly stay in school.  All goats, minus the first, are hers to sell.  Enabling a girl to earn an income and pay for school lightens the financial burden on her family and allows the family’s precious resources to be spent on other critical needs.

World Concern provides vaccinations to goats in the program as well as on-going veterinary care.  This ensures that the investment of a goat will truly benefit a girl long term.

Manoucha and friends_Crabier Haiti_Hope to Kids 5012_6-13
Rocheka (second from left) and friends outside their church in Crabier.

Rocheka is one of many girls in Haiti who are able to stay in school thanks to the gift of a goat.  Rocheka is a soft spoken yet determined and bright girl who has big dreams.

“After I finish secondary school, I would like to be a nurse so I can take care of children because many children suffer from disease,” she shared.

Youslie is a 7-year-old girl who lives in the village of Guilgeau and is currently in the second grade.

“In school I like to read stories,” she said.

Youslie recently received her goat and is enjoying taking care of it.

“I feed the goat twice a day things like corn and corn husk,” said Youslie.  “Once the goat has babies I will drink the milk.”

Youslie (L) Belony (R)_Gilgeau Haiti_June 2013
Youslie (left) and her friend Belony in Guilgeau.

In Haitian Creole, the language spoken by all Haitians, the word baton is significant.  Translated directly it means ‘stick’ or ‘baton’ however it has a deeper meaning.  A baton can also be a skill or ability that a person possesses which will help them succeed in life.  This meaning is often used in reference to education.

Following earning a certificate from a trade school or graduating from high school, someone may say, “Now I have a baton I can use to fight in life.”  With a baton, a person is given a tool which will help them in their pursuit of a more healthy and productive life.

In Haiti, girls face many challenges which leave them vulnerable—generational poverty, limited financial resources and lack of opportunity.  At World Concern, we want to give girls a baton that will help carry them through some of these challenges.  Education is one baton that has a long-term impact on the life of a young girl.

Girls like Rocheka and Youslie are the future of Haiti.  Helping them stay in school is an investment in their life but also has an impact on their family, community and country.

Help us impact more girls in Haiti by giving the gift of a goat today!

Let’s do more than talk about educating girls

Malala Yousafzai’s tragic experience of being shot for her advocacy of girls’ rights has brought much attention to the importance of and need for girls’ education worldwide. As Malala celebrates her 16th birthday with a visit to the UN, all eyes are on the world’s response.

Will we simply talk about the importance of educating girls? Or will we do something?

Christine in Kenya.
Christine was the only girl in her class in secondary school in rural Kenya. Now, she’s a role model for other girls in her community to pursue their education.

When I think of the incredible challenges faced by girls in developing countries to pursue an education, I think of girls like Christine.

Unlike most girls her age, Christine is one of the few in her rural Kenyan community to complete her education. Throughout secondary school, she was the only girl in her class. “It was difficult,” she said.

In this part of the world, most girls her age are either married off young—some as young as 10-years-old—or cannot afford to pay school fees. When finances are tight, parents tend to pay for their sons to go to school, rather than daughters. World Concern provides scholarships for girls like Christine to finish school.

Because she did not marry young, Christine and her family were ridiculed by others for their decision to pursue education. She found it hard to relate to her friends. But this never weakened her determination.

A young girl studying in Bangladesh.
A young girl studying in Bangladesh.

Christine is waiting for the results from her secondary exams so she can apply to university. “I want to become a dentist so that I can come back to the village and help others. One day I want to start a school to educate more girls.”

Christine is now a role model for girls in her community.

“The few girls in the area who are not married off are working hard so they can reach the level I’ve reached,” she said. Twirling her braids for a moment, she paused, then said, “I tell them to work hard because life is so hard.”

“In Maasai land, girls are very vulnerable,” explains Jennifer Warabi, the head teacher at a nearby primary school that provides scholarships for at-risk girls. “Parents send boys to school over girls. We have rescued many girls who were married at a young age, and brought them to school so they can continue their education.”

Ms. Warabi has taken a special interest in one of her teen students named Agnes, who was already married and pregnant when she came to the school. She gave birth while living at the school, but has been able to continue her studies. “She’s performing well,” said Ms. Warabi.

The situation in places like Haiti is critical too. Crushing poverty keeps many girls from attending school, and even fewer from completing their education.

It is especially important to support girls in their pursuit of education.  According to UNICEF, only 52% of girls in Haiti participate in primary school and the number drops to 21% in secondary.  The need is obvious, and the solution is simple.  Not only does an education provide increased social and economic opportunities for a girl but it helps break the cycle of poverty in her family and community.

After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse and help people in her rural village in Haiti.
After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse so she can help others in her rural village in Haiti.

Manoucha is 19 years old but still has a couple of years left of high school.  “I like to go to school but I have lost some years because I was sick,” explained Manoucha.

Although she has experienced challenges, Manoucha is committed to finishing high school.  “It’s the best way to help your family,” she said. She also has a dream of being able to help others one day. “When I become older I want to be a nurse because if someone is to get sick I will be able to give them aid.”

World Concern is helping Manoucha finish her education. In Haiti, we do this by providing young people like her a way to earn income and pay school fees. Manoucha received a goat and training on how to care for her goat.

Her goat’s first baby was returned to the program so it can be given to another child. This way, the program can sustain itself and kids are able to learn a skill and are given ownership.

A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.
A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.

“Once there are more baby goats I will sell them to purchase things I need,” she said.  “It will help me pay for school fees.”

You can help a girl like Christine or Manoucha finish her education, pursue her dreams and change the future of her entire community. As we stand in awe of Malala’s courage today, let’s help her celebrate this milestone birthday by taking action.

Click here to give the gift of education to a girl in need. $50 provides an entire year of schooling in a poor community.

“I want every girl, every child to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai

Food insecurity & the silent crisis in Haiti

Quietly, a crisis is brewing in Haiti.  You likely have not heard about it.  It rarely makes headlines or even surfaces in mainstream media.  It currently affects 6.7 million people, or about two thirds of the country’s population.  And it is getting worse.

fastfoodAt the center of this crisis is one of humanity’s most basic needs—food.  In Haiti, as of March of this year, 6.7 million people face food insecurity.  Simply put, food insecurity refers to a limited supply of food and the inability to access it.  This means families in Haiti, already stretched financially, are forced to make hard decisions.  Where will we get food today?  How much food can we afford?  Will we eat two meals, one, or even none today?  Can I afford my children’s school fees when there are more pressing needs?  These are questions no one should have to ask and wrestle with on a daily basis.

Why is Haiti on the verge of a food crisis?  Like many things in Haiti, there is not one answer.  However a series of brutal storms and droughts in the past year has been a big player.  There is a brilliant infographic published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that provides an overview of the natural disasters Haiti has faced since May 2012 and how these events have exacerbated the food situation.

The destruction Tropical Storm Isaac and ‘Superstorm Sandy’ left behind in 2012 meant combined agricultural losses totaling $174 Haiti-hurricane-sandy---Webmillion.  This is an incredible amount of money when you consider that the average Haitian only earns $700 per year.  There is no safety net in Haiti, aside from the support one has from their family and others in the community.  Though Haitian culture is very communal and it is almost expected that you will help out someone when they are in trouble, there is only so much support that can be given.

For poor farmers, the most valuable thing they have is the land they work.  Their entire income may be dependent upon a successful harvest.  Following Hurricane Sandy, 70% of Haiti’s crops were destroyed.  This means a loss of income for many farmers and less food available on the market, which drives up prices.  These two outcomes, due to a rough year of consecutive natural disasters, are why so many people are currently facing food insecurity.

Even in normal conditions, Haitians spend a huge portion of their income on food.  Rural households spend almost 60% of their income on food and the poorest groups spend more than 70%.  Compare that to the average American who spends 11% of their income on food.  It doesn’t take much to imagine how drastically different your life would be if it took the majority of your income just to feed yourself.

The cost of living here in Haiti is actually quite high and is not something widely known.  It has definitely surprised my wife and I since we moved here to work with World Concern.  To put things in perspective, currently our monthly food budget is the same as it was in Seattle (and we’re not buying imported wines and cheeses).  We often eat rice twice a day because it is cheap, a good filler, and we like it.  We have the resources to feed ourselves even if the cost steadily rises.  Unfortunately, this is not true for many in Haiti especially as food insecurity worsens.

So what can be done?

A priority must be to get farmers producing again.  Productive farmers mean increased income for families and also a needed boost to local production.  This is why supporting farmers and helping them become successful is important and positively impacts both farmers and consumers alike.

World Concern’s food security project is one way we are attempting to support rural farmers.  In 2013 alone, this project aims to improve food security for 2,000 people.  This is a really cool project and one that I am happy to share about.  World Concern leases three hectares of land in three different departments and uses the space as an outdoor classroom.  Here, local smallholder farmers are taught how to produce high quality seed that they can use season after season.  Other trainings geared towards youth interns, the next generation of farmers, teach best practices.  Another important piece of this project is the introduction of mechanized equipment to local farmers.  Many farmers in Haiti work the land manually which is tedious and difficult work.  The project uses small tractors to help farmers increase productivity.

Row of okra at World Concern's agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.
Row of okra at World Concern’s agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.
Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.
Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.
ag training
A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.
Getting some hands on experience.
Getting some hands on experience.
One of the project's tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.
One of the project’s tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.

 

Food insecurity remains a real threat to families in Haiti.  This is a big issue and cannot be dealt with quickly.  However it is exciting to see World Concern take important steps to support rural farmers and strengthen their capacity to become productive.

This is definitely a silent crisis.  My goal is to, at the very least; make people aware of the current situation and how it is affecting millions of people in Haiti.  So please check out the links you see throughout this post and become informed.  Even do a little research on your own if you feel compelled.  In order to effectively engage we must understand what is going on and why.

Microcredit in Haiti Part 3 – How our program is unique

This is part three in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  If you missed part one and two you can read them here and here respectively.  Thank you for reading!

As we have seen throughout this blog series, microcredit is a tool that can provide opportunity to the poor who often lack access to the resources needed to succeed.  In Haiti microcredit has exploded over the years and currently there are an estimated 116,000 borrowers throughout the country.  With this many microcredit clients in Haiti and many other groups serving poor small business owners, what makes World Concern’s program unique?

“Our clients say to us that our interest rate is low, our training helps them in their business, and since we are a Christian organization they feel comfortable with us,” said Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit program director in Haiti.

In part two of this blog series we discussed how World Concern includes Biblical values into its’ training for each new client.  World Concern staff is able to use text from the Bible to share about the importance of having integrity both in personal life and business life.  Our desire is to transform individuals and communities both physically and spiritually.  It is encouraging to see how microcredit can be used to accomplish this goal.

World Concern has been providing microcredit to small business owners in Haiti since 1990.  We hope to use our experience and expertise in this area to continue to empower and support people in the future.

“I want to see our microcredit program become an institution of reference for others.  We want to continue to be involved in microcredit in Haiti.  We wish to serve more clients and reach the most vulnerable in our country,” shared Mr. Douilly.

Together we can see this vision of continuing to serve the most vulnerable come to life.

Small business owners in Haiti often lack the ability to access credit and therefore lack opportunity.  Access to credit at traditional banks is reserved for those who are more privileged and have assets.  Although the poor desire to be productive and provide for their families, there are little to no options for them to expand their business and earn a livable wage.  Microcredit aims to address this injustice.  It is one tool that World Concern has found useful in equipping and supporting the poor.

Please consider partnering with us as we support small business owners in Haiti.  Your investment not only impacts the individual client but their family and community!

Here are a few of the 5,000 exceptional people we are blessed to work with in Haiti.

Meet Damas - With his loan he was able to purchase a larger refrigerator for his shop.  Now he has a larger inventory and is doing well.
Meet Damas – A loan allowed him to purchase a larger refrigerator for his store. Now he can keep more inventory and is doing well.

 

Meet Bellia - This mother of two sells clothing, shoes, and purses.  With her loan she was able to purchase products her customers were asking for.
Meet Bellia – This mother of two sells clothing, shoes, and purses. With her loan she was able to purchase products her customers were asking for.

 

Meet Elmè - One of her six children are pictured with her here.  Her business is near a school where she sells sweets and beverages to students.  A loan allowed her to buy more products and grow her business.
Meet Elmè – One of her six children is pictured with her here. Her business is near a school where she sells sweets and beverages to students. A loan allowed her to buy more products and continue to provide for her family.

 

Meet Lizette - Each day of the week, Lizette cooks delicious food and sells it.  After seven years in business, she realized a loan could help her grow her business.  With the loan she was able to purchase other products and expand her small enterprise.  She has two children and both are able to attend school.
Meet Lizette – Each day of the week, Lizette cooks delicious food and sells it to loyal customers.  With the loan she was able to purchase new products and expand her small enterprise.  She has two children and both are able to attend school.

 

 

Microcredit in Haiti Part 2 – How microcredit works (‘the nuts & bolts’)

This is part two in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  If you missed part one, you can read it here.  Please keep visiting the World Concern blog in the coming days for part three.     

The majority of Haitians earn their livelihoods by operating a small enterprise but are left without an equitable option for receiving access to credit in order to grow their business.  These enterprises are operated by people like Bellia, whom we met in part one of this blog series, and many other low-income and hardworking individuals.

Mr. Douilly visiting a project in southern Haiti.
Mr. Douilly inspecting a project in southern Haiti.

“People get loans at the bank.  But certainly the bank is not accessible to everyone.  At the bank there are a lot of difficulties in giving a loan to someone.  They will ask you what other bank loans you have and if you have a house,” explained Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit program director in Haiti.  These requirements mean the poor are denied the opportunity to access and utilize credit.  This is why microcredit remains an important poverty reduction tool in Haiti.

World Concern in Haiti has been using microcredit to empower and strengthen the poor working in the informal sector since 1990. With the support of donors, 31 staff members are currently able to serve 5,000 clients in five departments throughout the country.

This is no small task.  It requires a sound training program, an effective model, and a strong network of local partners.  If you have ever wondered what the process of implementing a microcredit program looks like, then you should enjoy this next bit.

How Microcredit Works

Identifying new clients

World Concern’s new microcredit clients in Haiti must meet the following criteria:

  • Possess a high level of need
  • Unable to qualify for a loan from a traditional bank
  • Currently operate an income generating activity (examples include selling food, household items, or clothes)

Since our goal is to reach those small business owners at the bottom of the economic ladder, it is important to take each of these three criteria into account when deciding whether or not to accept a new client.  There is no rubric or measurement tool used when determining whether or not a person is in great need.  These decisions are made on a situational basis and with the help of our local church and association partners and World Concern staff working in each community who know the individuals well.

Training

We want our clients to be encouraged and given all the resources they need to succeed.  While a small loan can certainly help develop someone’s business, a high quality training can help develop the individual.  This is an important investment and one that World Concern takes seriously.  After all, we are interested in the transformation of the entire person not just their economic situation.

Each new client participates in three training sessions.  The first is about nutrition and developing a balanced diet, the second teaches business skills, and the third focuses on using Biblical values in the marketplace.  The training sessions provide our clients with practical skills they can use to improve their lives and businesses.

“The values we teach them include integrity because we are going to give them a loan,” said Mr. Douilly.  “We can take verses and texts from the Bible to talk about the importance of integrity and morality.”

We have found that Biblical values can play an important role in improving clients understanding of scripture as well as how these values can help them operate a successful business.

Microcredit model

There is more than one way to implement a microcredit program.  Each context has unique challenges that need to be considered.  World Concern has developed three methods for providing loans to clients that are effective in Haiti.  These methods are Individual, Solidarity groups, and Village Bank groups.

Microcredit Models Infographic2

Although World Concern does offer loans to individuals, many of our clients join one of two groups; a Solidarity Group or a Village Bank Group.  These group methods have been a part of the World Concern microcredit program since the beginning.  A group receives one large loan and the loan is then divided among each client – sort of like a mini credit union.

Aside from simply sharing a loan, group members have the opportunity to support and encourage each other.  The Solidarity and Village Bank groups help provide clients with a sense of community, which is important when trying to run your own small business.

“We meet every Thursday to share ideas and give advice,” said Bellia, a mother of two and member of a Solidarity Group.

Interest Rates

You can see from the infographic that interest rates are kept low enough that clients can afford to pay them, while still allowing the program to continue.  The traditional banking system is simply not an option for the poor in Haiti who lack assets.  Aside from banks, another form of accessing credit is through local loan sharks.  But interest rates through a loan shark are astronomical and also not a viable option for the poor.

According to Jean Rico Louissaint, World Concern’s Microcredit Coordinator for the northwest department in Haiti, loan sharks charge borrowers at least five times the interest rate World Concern offers.  High interest rates such as this only trap people in poverty and are hardly fair.  Our program aims to provide a different solution; one that actually works for the poor, not against them.

Local Partners

Essential to our microcredit program is our network of local partners.  These include churches and local associations.  “The associations and local churches help us identify new clients, especially those that are vulnerable in the community,” explains Mr. Douilly.  “The church knows that we give loans so they often ask us to present the microcredit program to their congregation.  After this presentation they send us a list of people who are doing business in the church and are interested in receiving a loan.”

Many clients who come to World Concern through a local partner form a Village Bank group.  The infographic above highlights this.  This allows small business owners in the same area to take out a joint loan together and support each other.

Collaboration is an important aspect of any development program.  We are very thankful for our local partners and their assistance in providing opportunity to small business owners throughout Haiti.

It is exciting to see how microcredit can help provide opportunity to people operating a small enterprise and otherwise have no feasible credit option.

In part three of this blog series we will look at what makes World Concern’s microcredit program unique and our vision for the future.

 

Microcredit in Haiti Part 1 – How microcredit can create opportunity

This is part one in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  Consider this a little ‘behind the scenes’ look at how your generosity is used to provide real opportunities for Haitian small business owners.  The aim of this series is to provide you with a deeper understanding of how microcredit actually works in this context.  I will share about our history with microcredit in Haiti, describe the model we use to implement this program, and introduce you to some special people along the way.  I hope you will be encouraged and learn something new!  Please keep visiting the World Concern blog in the coming days for part two and three.    

Economist Muhammad Yunus, the ‘father’ of microcredit, is quoted as saying, “But we have created a society that does not allow opportunities for those people to take care of themselves because we have denied them those opportunities.”

One thing I have seen even in my short time in Haiti thus far is that people want to take care of themselves.  If you ask someone what they hope for their future a common response is, “I want to earn an income so that I can provide for my family and live a better life.”  I have heard this both in Port-au-Prince and in the countryside.

The idea that the poor are content with waiting around for the next handout is inaccurate.  Although I do not hear this specific word used in discussions with Haitians, the generally vibe is that people just want an opportunity.  A fair shot.  A lack of opportunity is a particularly harsh form of poverty because it acts as a trap.

Microcredit is one development tool that aims to offer an equitable solution to this injustice.  What is microcredit?  According to the Virtual Library on Microcredit, the definition of microcredit (adopted at the 1997 Microcredit Summit) says microcredit programs “extend small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families.”

Here in Haiti, World Concern has been using microcredit to help people care for themselves since 1990.  Over the past 23 years our microcredit program has experienced lots of growth.  Currently a local staff of 31 serves 5,000 clients in five Departments across the country.

Mr. Douilly sharing about microcredit and his experiences with World Concern.
Mr. Douilly sharing about microcredit and his experiences with World Concern.

“Our goal is to see clients work with us and then become independent.  They are independent when they can come to us and explain their situation and show how their business has grown.  They also need to show that they can work with the stock of merchandise they have,” explains Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit Director in Haiti.

 

Bellia is one microcredit client that is working on building her business.  Since 1997 Bellia has been selling clothing and accessories at the market in Saint Louis du Nord in North West Haiti.  She said, “I use the loans to buy more products and grow my business.”

With the income Bellia earns she is able to provide for her family.  She has two children who are both in school.  Bellia proudly shared about another important purchase she recently made.  “I was able to buy land.  I want to build a house on it so I don’t have to pay high rent.”

Bellia next to her stand at the market.  What a wonderful woman!
Bellia next to her stand at the market.  What a lovely woman!

There are many other vendors at the market in Saint Louis du Nord, some who are also selling clothing and accessories.  When asked how she has stayed competitive over the years she said, “With my wisdom.  I smile and offer a good price.”  With a smile like this, how can she go wrong?

In Haiti, World Concern’s microcredit clients are primarily women, like Bellia.  Why is this?  Mr. Douilly explains that “Women often care more about their activity.  When they come and take a loan they want to pay it back more than men.”

Also, women are generally more likely to be engaged in a small income generating activity.  If you were to visit a market in Haiti, you would see that the majority of vendors are women.

Bellia serves an example of how microcredit can provide opportunity.  She is one of 5,000 people currently being empowered through our program.

In part two of this blog series we will look at more of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  What does the process look like?  What trainings are new clients given?  So stay tuned!