Yeardley Smith: Journey to Haiti -Day 4



Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Mirebalais, Central Plateau, Haiti

Dear Zibby,

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.

Today’s trek into the countryside was not the mudfest it was yesterday. But one of our four-wheel drive vehicles (our team travels in two cars), did get stuck trying to cross a small river on our way to the first site visit. We caught the whole thing on video just like a National Geographic documentary. After several attempts by our fearless Haitian drivers, it was decided it’d be best to leave the hopeless SUV behind and just take the pickup truck which zipped across the river, no problem. Once on dry land, Kate and the camera crew gamely climbed into the back of the pickup and we picked our way along the gutted country road going about 15 miles per hour, at most. Occasionally our driver had to get out and place rocks in the deep ruts so the truck would stay level.

Our first stop today was a Solidarity credit meeting. Solidarity is the third rung on the Fonkoze ladder and a core part of the Grameen model of micro-lending. Women, often from the same village, organize themselves into groups of five members, and take out individual loans. That group then joins with other groups of five, and the lot of them form a Credit Center. Now a whole community of villages is involved and people are not only responsible for themselves, but they can rely on and help their peers. Solidarity.

Today was the day the Credit Center had their monthly meeting with the loan officer to make scheduled payments on their loans. The women sat in chairs in a straight line under some trees, while the loan officer — who arrives by motorcycle and carries the cash in a knapsack(!) –sat at a wobbly card table facing them. The loan officer takes attendance and then one woman, who’s been elected the leader of her Solidarity group, hands over her group’s cash, and signs her name on a paper receipt which she gets a copy of. If she can’t sign her name, she signs with a “+” sign. One women signed with two “+” signs.

In Solidarity you start with a $75, three-month loan and go up from there. The loan officer records all the transactions by hand in a notebook. Every year all loan officer’s ledgers are audited by an outside auditor.

I asked what happens if one of the women in a Solidarity group can’t pay her installment on a given month. Depending on the circumstances (sickness, death in the family), she will be given a grace period to come up with the cash. If it becomes a chronic problem, however, everyone’s assets in her group will be frozen and no one will be able to borrow more money until she makes good on her payments. (Gulp.) I’m telling you, these women mean business. They have embarked on a journey that, not that long ago, seemed totally out of reach. Now they’re well on their way to changing their lives completely. You definitely don’t want to be the one to stop that train!

As with CLM clients, and those in Ti Kredi, the difference between them is meausurable. The same is true between the women in Ti Kredi and Solidarity. The members of Solidarity have an even greater sense of themselves. Delightfully, they both wear their best dresses to their group meetings, despite the oppressive heat at 10:00 in the morning. But where the women of Ti Kredi are still finding their way, the women in Solidarity are more confident and ask for things: health care (which all Fonkoze clients get); disaster insurance to offset the devastating effects of hurricane season; and lower interest rates, since the world economy took a dive (they’re currently paying 5%). To me, the fact that these women feel deserving enough to pose these questions is one of the most profound and moving indicators of their progress. I believe it is the essence of helping people help themselves.

Saint-Annie was the last Fonkoze client we visited today. She’s in her late fifties, I’d say, and has been a borrower since 2001. She started in a Solidarity group she formed with three of her sisters and a niece. They’re all doing very well now, she says, as is Saint-Annie who lives on the main road, not far from Mirebalais, in a concrete three-room house with cement floors. Her home doubles as her shop where sells goods wholesale and retail. She’s like the local 7-Eleven. She carries beer, water, soda, milk, sugar, flour, cornmeal, candy, popsicles, and clothes when school is in session. She has two refrigerators in her home –the first refrigerators I’ve seen outside of our hotel. And two of the rooms in her house have a bare bulb for light. The third one has nothing.

Store hours are from 6:00 or 7:00 AM (depending on whether or not Saint-Annie goes to church), and it stays open until 10 PM –unless it’s raining, that is, then she closes at 8:00.
“How come?” I asked.
“Because people don’t walk around in the rain,” she said, smiling at me like, Wow, you’re one dumb bunny, aren’t you?

Saint-Annie has a grace and stillness about her that I like to think has been enhanced by the fact that she is now a successful, self-sustaining business woman. This week she pays back the last installment on a $50,000 loan she took. She said she’d like to borrow $100,000 next time.

I love micro-finance.

x Y.


20 Responses to “Yeardley Smith: Journey to Haiti -Day 4”

  1. delaune michel Says:

    what a fabulous posting. I am in such admiration and awe of you and the women you are visiting. Talk about changing the world. thank you for sharing this amazing journey – truly inspiring.

  2. leeanne hutchison Says:

    Dearest Yeard, Thank you so much for sharing about this awesome project, and for your courageous part in it. I’m blown away, and so inspired to be introduced to the work of Grameen. All of it makes me want to be a better, more useful person myself. love always, lah

  3. Alessandro Says:

    Dear Yeardley
    I am so inspired by you – the more I read the more I think that micro-finance could maybe help many very poor people in this country as well… it could even ultimately improve the overall economy if loans are spread in a more intelligent way as the Grameen foundation does
    As Leeanne posted – i too feel like wanting to be a better and more useful person myself… I’ll figure out how … and it motivates me to fight through my own struggle with dignity and more serenity
    Take care of yourself and thank you for sharing this adventure with all of us
    XXXOOO alessa’

  4. yeardleysmith Says:

    Microfinance has been done in this country as well. As I understand it, there are certain restrictions put on small businesses in the US, that present their own set of challenges and make the process more expensive here, than in some developing countries around the world. But there’s currently a pilot program in Queens called Grameen America that is working hard to find a way to overcome these hurdles.

    You can also read about an early foray into microfinance in Chicago in 1990’s, and the particular problems they faced in Alex Counts’ book: “Small Loans, Big Dreams.”


  5. Anthony A Capobianco Says:


    When I see all the poor and hungry and homeless people of this planet, while there are others who are rich and wasteful and selfish, I ask myself, Why can’t wealth be evenly distributed so that the basic needs are met for all?

    Meanwhile, I’m doing all I can to fight against poverty.

  6. thomas pascal Says:

    I need help my self.

  7. Penny Says:

    When I was a child, I used to pass a one-eyed beggar in Hong Kong. The contrast between the incredible wealth and poverty bothered me. I later tried studying economics to find answers but I’ve found better answers with the Grameen Bank, its example and the Foundation. And by becoming involved also with I am touched to be able to participate in my own small ways.

  8. Kathi Says:

    I love the blog! It really brings things home.
    I first heard of micro finance on NMR Radio and mulled it over. When I needed to get a 50th birthday gift for a wonderful woman I researced it more and decided a donation in her name would be perfect to mark the day. I was unable to attend the party but was told she teared up reading the letter….. She has since told me she will continue to support Garmeen into her “old age”.
    Thank you!

  9. Nancy Wanjira Says:

    Dear Grameen Foundation,

    I am always happy and inspired to read through your monthly magazine.
    I always get excited to see how fast you have expanded into different regions.

    I am based in Kenya. Fighting poverty in the slums.
    I am a partner to Youth Enterprise Development Fund a state corporate in the ministry of youth affairs. My MFI is KENA ROSCAS.

    Imagine I have been running one product for lack of support to establish other products.

    I have longed that you expand to Kenya and East Africa where there is much potential.

    Would you mind partnering with me and the state corporate YEDF that you may offer financing to all our young MFIs.

    It is a ripe opportunity for you that I can coordinate since we need to expand our products.

    If you are interested at the National Level I will be happy to connect you to the YEDF CEO for further planning.

    May the Lord bless you as we all fight poverty through Microfinance. MIcrofinance is a noble Spiritual call to serve Gods people.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.

    Nancy Wambui Wanjira
    CEO & MD

  10. Khalid Ahmed Chaudry Says:

    Its our moral duty to fight against poverty !

  11. dinah harlow Says:

    I’d like to get more involved but am not sure how to proceed.

    Please advise.

  12. emilio Says:

    are you have programe abaut religi teaching?

  13. speedlimit Says:

    I was hungry.

  14. Jacinto Correia Says:

    I need Help my mother is dying she sufer of hipertantion to day want to private hospital her heart stop for more than three time i´m just trieyng to getting help from your guys because she support all nepheus most of them their parents die at the time of war and she getting hipertantion we have no help from gouvrment please you guys can be our help in the name of true GOD. contact 00244928201771 Angola
    Dear sir i´ve no Website that one is for my freinds

  15. Dr. Amrit Lal Ghosh Says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I become interested to work to fight povery, by observing the abject poverty of the poor people around us, particularly in the Durgakona village, Near Assam University, Silchar, Cachar, Assam, India. In the village people are living their life like beasts. I want to start an institution/society in the village or the nearby area, which will guide the people for their alround development (education, incomegeneration and population control including health). I am working in the village for the last 5-6 years, I find that for the development of the rural people some integrated approach is required. For the purpose support of some institutions/individuals/ projects is required. I shall be very happy if some kind and broad hearted institutions/individuals come forward to help me for the same.
    I do not have my website. I am working in Assam University.

  16. gaurav dhiman Says:

    i wanna remove poverty and illeteracy from the whole of the world,
    i am keenly intrested to do something like mother teresa, even though i don’t have finance right now……but somehow i’ll turn my dreams into reality one day…….i wanna help poor children…….

  17. gaurav dhiman Says:

    i wanna participate in any kind of social work……thanks

  18. arhdizain Says:

    Это действительно так. Вот и на нашем сайте вы сможете заказать архитектурное проектирование, дизайн интерьера кухни, а также узнать все новости дизайна

  19. victor Says:

    i would like to access funds to run a business. i a m a kenyan please advice

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