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Miton, Haiti --
Three years ago, a massive earthquake destroyed Mireille Henry’s home in Miton, Haiti, killing her mother and trapping her daughter under the rubble for five hours.
The mother of four lost everything she owned. Mireille didn’t even have a spoon to feed her children, she says, or a blanket to keep them warm. She relocated to a field with her family. On the luckiest days, they got to sleep under a tree.
It’s been a challenging -- and chaotic -- journey for Mireille, 44, since the earthquake that affected millions of Haitians and left hundreds of thousands in displacement camps. But Mireille has rebuilt her life, through the help of her community and an innovative micro-savings program.
In 2011, CARE introduced a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in Haiti and Mireille’s community. The program serves the poorest of the poor, people who do not otherwise have access to the types financial services much of the world takes for granted.
Every group of about 20 to 30 women in the community receives intensive financial training. Each week, the group’s members contribute a minimum of roughly $2 to the group’s savings fund. They can borrow from the group fund to invest in small businesses, pay for seeds and fertilizer before the planting, or cover important family expenses like school fees and doctor’s visits. The loans are repaid quickly with interest. The interest is then shared within the group as profit, distributed as “pay-outs.”
To date, there are nearly 5,000 members of VSLA groups in Haiti, and 81 percent of them are women. The groups have saved a total of $179,646.
Mireille has received three loans through the VSLA program for her children’s schooling. And she plans to use her next pay-out to re-start her fabric business. Before the earthquake, Mireille purchases fabric in bulk and then re-sold the materials at the market near her home. When the earthquake destroyed her home, she tried to salvage the fabric that was left. She stored some the fabric at the market, but it was all stolen, leaving her with nothing.
Eager to start her business again, Mireille says VSLA has taught her how to save funds that will bring her fabric business back to life.
“Even though we don’t have a lot of money, we now have a way to save,” she says. “We don’t have to go to a bank. I’m very proud of that, and I want to see this continue in the future”.
Mireille, like many others in her community, are making strides since the tragic earthquake. Today, she lives in a small home with walls made out of tarps and a ceiling of aluminum. Her new home sits right next to the foundation of her former home. But with hope and determination, Mireille continues to participate in VSLA in order to increase her income and strengthen her financial planning skills.
Mireille also volunteered to serve as the group’s treasurer. The group admired her strong-willed and serious nature. She is responsible for keeping track of the money and the cash box safe. During the weekly meetings, Mireille counts the money and verifies the accounts.
Mireille says she especially enjoys showing other women in the community, who are not part of VSLA, how much the program has helped her. She has encouraged many of these women to participate. She finds it to be an outlet for their voices to be heard in the community. Her VSLA group has lots of big ideas, she says. They’ve thought about opening a bakery together or starting a sewing studio.
“I know that women can be strong leaders,” she said. “I really believe that. I want to become a better leader, a stronger leader, myself.”
Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE has more than six decades of experience delivering emergency aid during times of crisis. Our emergency responses focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations, particularly girls and women. Women and girls are at the heart of CARE's emergency relief efforts because our experience shows that their gains translate into benefits for families and communities.
Essential to CARE's lifesaving humanitarian work is our commitment to help rebuild safer, stronger places that people call home. Our programs to improve health and education, promote social justice and open up economic opportunities make communities more resilient and less vulnerable to the forces that cause emergencies. Last year CARE worked in 84 countries and reached 122 million people around the world. To learn more, visit www.care.org.