Four Long Years

Cabois Community School Teachers

Our Educators and Program Administrators

It’s four years, today, since the big quake in Haiti. A friend who had never heard me talk about that day brought it up yesterday. Talking about it again, after quite a while, really brought something up in me. I couldn’t help but relive how it felt to be there, in the thick of it, with the distictive smell of smashed concrete blanketing the country.

I’m proud of many of the things we’ve done together, but also can’t help but look at what we haven’t accomplished yet.

Since the earthquake, our team has built a great microcredit program that has impacted hundreds of lives in Haiti. We’ve taken in two men from Haiti who left difficult circumstances in Haiti, not so much for themselves, but for the opportunity to improve the lives of their families. We’ve accepted so much generosity from the people around us as you all have given us what we needed to get to this point.

In the four years since the earthquake, most of the initial attention the quake got from TV, newspapers, blogs, or conversations has been forgotten. The economy of Haiti has barely changed; poverty is still rampant.

The years from then until now bring up a particular phrase in my mind — “nou bouke” — which means “we’re exhausted”. In many ways I’ve been focused on putting one foot in front of the other, even as I hold on to the intention that everything we do for Haiti will have a positive impact that lasts for generations.

Because of that, I think it’s more important than ever to make sure that every hour and every dollar we spend on this effort is well-used.

Heads Together Haiti is unusual in the level of trust we put in Haitians to change their own lives, and the way that trust allows us to have an impact that really lasts.

When money is put in the revolving micro-credit fund we’ve created in Haiti, that money will be available again and again to families who want to build up small businesses doing any number of things in Haiti. We can’t boast a 100% repayment rate but we can promise to keep building the wealth available to our community to use for their businesses. With interest included, the repayments on loans repaid is enough to maintain the principle (that’s the money that has been donated or loaned for use in the microcredit program) and additionally, to take a modest sum to help provide elementary school education to their children.

We’ve got $2000 US available to the program participants now for loans, but additional donations will continue to increase that amount. Since money in this micro-credit “pot” is separate from other expenses and will never be used to pay for operating costs, donations will continue to increase the funds we can loan to people.

This may not seem terribly interesting but consider this: if 100 people each give $10 per month for this program over the next year, that would grow the amount available to be loaned to program participants by more than 50%, to $14000. If those 10 people continued until 10 years from now, we’d then have $122,000. It still seems like a modest sum, but let’s think about what it looks like from the point of view of a program participant. Let’s say it’s January 12, 2024 and a participant has been getting loans for us on a regular basis and reliably pays them back. She started with $100 USD of her own merchandise and doubled her inventory thanks to her first loan. That immediately boosted her income a little, and her reliability over the years now means she’s eligible for loans of $2000, and has an additional $2000 or so in business assets of her own. Working with $4000 instead of $100 means that her income from her business is many times larger than it was. While she was earning $1 to $2 per day before (roughly the amount most people in Haiti have to live on) she’s now making $10 per day. This is enough for good food and also a comfortable amount to reinvest in growing her business, getting medical care when needed, or providing a quality education for her family.

One of the reasons I believe this kind of transformation is possible is looking at Haitians today who are, by the standards of their own communities, fairly wealthy. Almost without exception, those “well off” Haitians in and around Fayette are involved in giving back to their community. Some built a school for their community, getting paid nothing for their work. Some give their time as literacy teachers, school administrators, or by doing fund-raising and community organizing. These are the people who are helping to organize our microcredit program, and who have the skills and knowledge that will enable members of their communities to build new lives for themselves.