Developing Economies

What $3,500 Means For A Poor Woman In Haiti

A woman carries a large bucket of goods on her head in Haiti.

Yvrose Jean-Baptiste, photographed last month. Chana Joffe-Walt/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Chana Joffe-Walt/NPR

I'm back in Port-au-Prince, doing more reporting on what it's like to create an economy practically from scratch.

The second I landed, I called Jean Paleme Mathurin, economic advisor to Haiti's prime minister. He had introduced me in February to Yvrose Jean-Baptiste, a woman who was desperately trying revive her fragile micro-business and pay back her creditors.

Yvrose had lost everything in the earthquake, but her microlending bank was still demanding she make her $100 monthly payments. The loan sharks she borrowed from wouldn't give her a break, either.

She wasn't generating much income because nobody had any money to buy whatever goods she had. Planet Money did a podcast and story for Morning Edition, and we wrote about her on the blog.

The audience response was incredible. People wrote in asking how they could help, and NPR set up an account for her at a Haitian microfinance institution, Fokonze. So far, about $3,500 in donations have come in. That's a transformative amount of money for an impoverished Haitian. It could move Yvrose from miserable and insecure poverty to what could become a stable life with a cushion for bad times

Jean Paleme and I agreed that we should meet Yvrose in person to tell her the news. We picked her up outside of her tent encampment and drove her to a pizza place.

I realized that I was expecting maybe a game show moment where she jumps up and down because she just won the car or whatever. But this was so much bigger than what happens on a TV show. We were telling her that the rest of her life and the rest of her children's lives will now be different.

It was a quiet moment. It felt tense. A happy kind of tense. Pretty soon, she gave what sounded a bit like a speech by a sports figure. She said, "First, I want to thank God for answering my prayer. I want to thank Mr. Adam and Mr. Mathurin for telling my story to the people. And I want to think everyone of those people who sent money to help me. I wish that I can go and meet every one of them and tell them what this means. I hope you will tell them."

Then she told us her plan: First, she's going to rent a tiny warehouse so that she can keep her goods safe. Then, she will go and pay her late payment to the bank. Then, she will begin to plan what goods she can buy.

Jean Paleme said that he'd like her to open a separate savings account and to begin planning how much to put in that account each month so that she and her family will be safe if there is another earthquake or hurricane or family illness. She said yes, she will do it.

We drove back to her tent and I asked if I could meet her family. It's actually a really, really nice tent, as far as tents go. Her husband is a construction worker, so he framed it out with bits of found lumber, built walls of wood, metal, and tarp and a high roof could stand comfortably under it

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