A Path to a Better Life in Haiti
By Niall Murphy, Concern Worldwide
Juna Dely lives on the island of La Gonave, Haiti, with her partner Jean Wodline, his mother, and five of her six children. She participated in a Concern project run between 2007 and 2009, aimed at helping her establish a regular income for herself. I meet her, with my Haitian counterpart Jean-Ricot, at her house just outside the village of Tamarin, to discuss her involvement with the project, and to see if and how her life has changed since. She says that while her income initially increased after the project concluded, in the subsequent years, due to the effects of climate, animal disease and food price increases, she has had difficulties, and cannot afford to send all of her children to school. Despite this, since the start of the project, she says her reading capacity has improved, and we laugh when she says that Jean-Ricot’s neat handwriting in his notes is much easier to read than the scribbled words on my page.
Though the effects of the earthquake in 2010 compounded the need for aid intervention in Haiti, Concern has been working here since 1994, tackling poverty and its causes.
Concern’s mission is to help those in ‘extreme poverty’ - a status characterised by a lack of assets (land, education, savings, support networks), and maintained by inequality and vulnerability to shocks such as illness or natural disasters. Often these are people who lack the confidence and capability to engage even in a small-scale economic activity, such as farming or a market stall.
In Haiti, one of the areas that our projects have focused on is microfinance – the provision of loans and other financial services to those who are too poor or too remote to access the more conventional banks.
Concern has established a special relationship with FONKOZE, a Haitian microfinance institution (MFI) with whom we have partnered on a number of projects. Fonkoze was established in 1994 by Haitian grassroots leaders, and has developed into the largest MFI in Haiti, with 46 branch offices throughout the country, offering credit, savings and insurance facilities to the poor, with a particular focus on women.
This partnership enables Concern to utilise Fonkoze’s coverage and infrastructure to extend its reach into poor and rural communities. We share common developmental goals, evident through both agencies’ work providing the poor with the resources they require to lift themselves out of poverty. Part of this includes access to financial services such as small loans.
However, following some of the initial microfinance projects funded by Concern in Haiti, it was seen that we were failing to reach those at the very bottom of the poverty spectrum. Because of reasons such as illiteracy and the social stigma of poverty, the extreme poor were unable to gain from these microfinance services.
Around the same time, a Bangladeshi NGO, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), had developed a ‘graduation model’ to bring the extreme poor up to a level where they could interact with and benefit from microfinance. With assistance from BRAC, Concern and Fonkoze adapted this model into a programme specific to the needs of the extreme poor in Haiti.
The resulting programme, CLM (‘Chemen Lavi Miyo’ – meaning ‘Path to a Better Life’ in Haitian Creole) was piloted over the course of 18 months in 2007-2008, with 150 female-headed households in extreme poverty, including Juna’s community on La Gonave, and has since been expanded to involve over 500 households in four regions of Haiti.
The rationale behind the graduation model is simple: some households cannot access credit because of their extreme poverty and CLM identifies these households with the input of the community, and puts them on the road, so they can continue with a formal credit system. The project looks to support the participants in three areas – economic, social and health. Each participant is accompanied throughout the project by a case worker, to help deal with issues as they arise.
One of the project’s goals is getting the women into the habit of regular saving. With a substantial savings account in place, they can use this to mitigate the effects of shocks. Savings are also often used to invest in assets like large livestock, such as a cow.
After graduation from the CLM project, participants are encouraged to avail of the small-loans facilities offered by Fonkoze. This starts with ‘Ti Kredit’ – a loan of about US$25 intended to expand an existing business. Following this, groups of women can apply for higher loans in solidarity groups.
The research I’m currently conducting involves looking at some of the first groups of CLM participants, like Juna, to see if they are maintaining their progress out of poverty, and what can be done to improve the programme in the future. Personally, this gives me an opportunity to visit the households in remote rural parts of Haiti, and to speak to the women who are trying to carve out a livelihood for themselves. As can be expected, the project has had its elements of success but it is not without its challenges.
The research partly looks at the empowerment of the women, and questions how they perceive themselves within the community, and about decision-making at a household level. When I ask Sencia Tranquille from Saut d’Eau in central Haiti about decision-making regarding everything from meals up to the decisions on large assets, she proudly states that it is her, and not her partner, that makes these decisions, as it is she who has increased the household income through her small businesses. Sencia has already branched out from the initial livestock she received as part of CLM. She sold some of her chickens and along with income from her market stall, was able to buy a young calf, which aside from being an asset, is a status symbol. She has also been able to put concrete on the floor of her home where we are sat around an impressive hardwood table on ornate chairs, and is able to provide a well-balanced diet for herself and her family. Importantly, Sencia says, she also feels she is now more respected amongst her community.