Katy McElligott is a Regional Development Officer at Grameen Foundation and is currently traveling in Haiti to visit our partners at Fonkoze.
Haiti is a fascinating place. My first impressions just scratch the surface of a very complicated country with a very complicated history. I knew very little about it until the day I arrived and am soaking up as much as I can, so I can understand the context in which most of Haiti’s citizens and microfinance clients survive. I can honestly say, the majority of Haiti’s citizens seem to be proud, resilient survivors.
I am on this trip as a Grameen Foundation employee looking to better understand the work of our long-time partner Fonkoze. After the outpouring of support for Haiti after last January’s earthquake, I wanted to bring donors to the field to see how their, and others’, money was being invested. After a few days of observing Fonkoze’s work on the ground, I am so proud that we are partnering with them. Here are a few examples of what I’ve seen and learned.
Two days ago we accompanied the staff of the Chemen Lavi Miyo (“the road to a better life”) program, which focuses on reaching the poorest, to client houses. There, we met women who had just joined the program. Most had little or no assets, and were single mothers. We had to take a bumpy ride on the bed of a pick-up truck to get out to their village, but once we were there we received warm welcomes. These women have a long way to climb to get themselves out of poverty, but Fonkoze is helping provide the opportunity for them to do so and the women clearly feel empowered to try. I look forward to tracking their progress and their increased ability to care for their new assets, which include goats, chickens, and pigs.
Yesterday we attended a vitamin-distribution seminar, where clients were educated on vitamin deficiency and provided Vitamin A, a multi-vitamin, and medicine to rid their families of worms. It was fascinating to see Fonkoze Health Director Nicole Cesar clearly explain the importance of the vitamins and the clients’ clear understanding of how this would help improve their lives and those of their children. The center representative even asked if Fonkoze would be able to provide additional vitamins for their neighbors’ children (which the MFI will do if there are vitamins left over). The women were proud to have the right tools to help keep their children healthy.
Then we stopped at Fonkoze’s literacy class. We walked into a quiet one-room schoolhouse, where we watched about 20 women of all ages learning to write their names. They seemed happy to have an audience, as they were clearly so glad to show off their new skill. One client said she wanted to learn how to read and write so that she could understand what her children were doing with their school books each night, and so she could sign her bank papers with her real name instead of an X. She said she was willing to “take many falls” in order to learn.
The biggest lesson I’ve had so far about Haiti is that despite the devastation caused by the earthquake, Haitians are a proud and resilient people. If we give them the opportunity to help themselves, they will choose to accept that opportunity, even though they may fall down from time to time along the way.