On our final day in Haiti, we visited a literacy class, conducted by microfinance clients for microfinance clients. Fonkoze’s path-breaking adult education program, modeled on the work of Brazil’s educator and visionary Paulo Freire, involves training clients to deliver four-month modules – on topics as diverse as basic literacy, children’s rights, maternal and child health, and environmental stewardship – to their peers. This approach represents social self-empowerment that, when coupled with economic self-empowerment through savings and loans, can propel women faster than either can alone.
Archive for May, 2009
Wednesday May 27th, 2009
Los Angeles, CA.
I’m back in Los Angeles. Back in my lovely home with its big backyard, and my two well- nourished cats, poring over the myriad choices that are available to me each day: What would I like to eat? Where would I like to go? Which dress shall I wear? Should I take the car, or walk? My dream job on “The Simpsons” notwithstanding, the fact that I have so many choices at my fingertips at any given time is what makes me wealthy. To me, choice is the brass ring in my life.
Since I returned, friends and colleagues have been quick to tell me how proud they are of me for going to Haiti and seeing Grameen Foundation’s work firsthand. It’s very flattering. But I have so much to learn that I feel like I didn’t do that much this trip. The most useful I felt in Haiti is when I tried to teach a group of women in an education center, outdoors under some shade tress, to knit with a pen and pencil for “needles,” and “thread” from a nylon bag of mulch! I still want to go back and really teach them. I would bring a whole suitcase full of yarn and needles next time so they could make beautiful placemats or afghans to sell at market. Anyway…
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Mirebalais, Central Plateau, Haiti
There was no hot water at the hotel this morning. Of course I was all soapy by the time I realized the freezing cold water really, truly wasn’t going to get any warmer! Ooof!
Same as yesterday, I met Alex, Kate and Myriam on the upstairs porch of our hotel for breakfast: tea, (coffee for Kate), and slices of pale toast with butter. Myriam had bought some mangoes and pineapple, so the kitchen sliced those up for our breakfast, too. The fruit was out of this world! Alex kindly provided the tea. He travels with his own stash, like I do. Though I completely forgot this time, I was so preoccupied with remembering to bring things I never travel with like bug spray, malaria pills, and my own quick-dry bath towel.
Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation.
The visit to Adaline, the entering CLM client, was a reality check for all of us. (Yeardley writes in a moving way about that visit elsewhere in the blog.)
We stood before a woman who was one of the poorest people in one of the poorest countries on earth. Her almost total lack of possessions told most of the story, and her vacant look and inability to answer very basic questions about her plans for the future told the rest. If I had not known of the successes of 96% of the first batch of CLM clients (some of whom I had met in March 2008, at which time they looked as hapless and hopeless as Adaline), I would have walked away depressed. In fact, I feel compelled to return to this place and see what Adaline looks like 18 months from now.
Monday, May 18th, 2009
Mirebalais, Central Plateau, Haiti
In the midst of the wreckage of this country, I continue to meet the most inspiring, charismatic people on both sides of the micro-finance fence. It makes it impossible to stay mired in despair, despite the never-ending sprawl of abject poverty here. In fact, I feel quite hopeful. Because even though you could liken the day-to-day progress that GF and Fonkoze are making to emptying the proverbial well one teacup a time. The well still gets emptied that way.
My report on our emotional visit with entering CLM clients will have to wait one more day. Now, for a bit of the lighter side of visiting microfinance organizations and borrowers.
During our first half-day in Haiti, my colleague Kate Druschel and I adopted the personas of worldly, well-travelled anti-poverty professionals when advising Yeardley – who was in deep learning mode. At one point over lunch we said, “Yeardley, you should probably avoid eating these things, even though Kate and I will probably eat them since we have built up immunity over the years.” It sounded slightly pompous to me when I said, it, although it was probably true.
Sunday May 17th, 2009
What a day. A huge day! I met up with Alex and Kate at the Miami airport this morning and we flew to Port-au-Prince. There, we were picked up by a driver from Fonkoze (the org that GF partners with in Haiti) and taken to the Hotel Montana where Anne Hastings, director extraordinaire of Fonkoze, met us for lunch. More on Anne in a minute.
The Port-au-Prince airport is small and painted that strange mint-green color inside that I’ve seen in other tropical countries. It’s a color that clashes so vividly with the foliage. Odd.
Ooof! It’s incredibly hot and humid here. Air conditioning is a luxury mostly reserved for hotel rooms and some businesses, it appears. But even then it’s iffy since the state turns off the electricity for several hours each day. Can’t keep up with demand, or can’t afford it? Unclear. So everybody has batteries, like car batteries, to run generators to power their appliances. The offices of Fonkoze have a whole wall of batteries, (fifty I think Anne said) so they can keep their computers and lights running during business hours. Fonkoze is also behind high walls (painted deep orange and purple) and there’s a man at the front gate with a rifle.
Alex Counts is the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation.
Fourteen months earlier, I had visited Haiti and spent an afternoon meeting with five families who were beginning participation with the so-called “Ultra-Poor” program of Fonkoze, Grameen Foundation’s local microfinance partner organization. Also known as by its Creole acronym CLM (“Path To A Better Life”), this program takes people who would normally be too destitute, too sick, and too socially excluded to join and succeed in traditional microcredit programs (which Fonkoze also offers). Even after twenty years anti-poverty work, I was disturbed by my visit to early stage CLM clients: the children’s distended stomachs, the glazed-over looks of the adults, the abysmal housing conditions, the fact that almost everyone in those families was sick. I wondered, despite the CLM program’s carefully tailored economic, health, housing and empowerment interventions, whether any of those families would be ready for the traditional microcredit anytime soon.