Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and the author of “Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World” (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).
Battling the odds has never been a new concept to the people of Haiti.Fifty-eight percent of the country’s population is undernourished. Fifty-four percent live on less than US$1.25 a day.
But despite these conditions, Haiti has also had to endure a number of natural disasters—most recently, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Tuesday, January 12, near Port-au-Prince. Damage from the worst earthquake in 250 years has been described as “unimaginable” and “incomprehensible.” All hospitals were leveled by the disaster, and a devastating death toll is expected, potentially in the hundreds of thousands. The archbishop of Port au Prince is one of those whose lives have been lost, and the offices of the World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank have been destroyed.
No nation can be prepared for devastation that seemingly occurs within the blink of an eye. But Grameen Foundation and its partner Fonkoze have experience working on the ground in Haiti to help citizens recover from such disasters. In response to hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike that struck the country in 2008, our partner Fonkoze developed Kredi Siklon, a one-time “hurricane loan” program for affected borrowers to access additional microloans to get their businesses up and running again so they could pay back their original loans over time as well as these supplemental loans. Close to 14,000 women took advantage of the program. We also presented Fonkoze with a $50,000 emergency grant to support its hurricane relief efforts, and one of our staff was serving as their Interim Chief Financial Officer at the time.
For years, Grameen Foundation and Fonkoze have been using microfinance and technology to help Haitians—especially women—move themselves out of poverty. With programs like Chemen Lavi Miyò, Fonkoze provides women with training, one-on-one supervision and encouragement, confidence building, and other services to prepare them to enter a lending program with an MFI.
Last year, Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson on the award-winning animated television series, The Simpsons, accompanied me to Haiti to witness how microfinance and free health and literacy services improve the quality of life for Haitian women and their families. Her passion for the impact of microfinance inspired her to make a combined donation of $1.14 million to Grameen Foundation and Fonkoze.
The odds are stacked against Haiti now more than ever. Among other impacts, Fonkoze’s head office complex is now uninhabitable. Please help us help the nation recover from this recent disaster and try, as hard as it may be to imagine, to help our local partners build a Haiti that is more prosperous than pre-earthquake conditions.
Leave words of hope and encouragement for the survivors of earthquake in the comments section of this blog post.