Haitian Loan Program Rewards Advancement
ALEX COHEN, host:
From NPR News, it's Day to Day. We go now to a town in Northern Haiti called Limbe. Just a few years ago, women there had a hard time getting together even $10 to start their own businesses. Now, thanks to a micro-lending program, they're selling everything from food and used clothes to charcoal and car parts. Ruxandra Guidi reports.
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RUXANDRA GUIDI: It's 11 a.m. on a weekday, a prime time to find someone at this market who has brought back new merchandise from the capital, Port-au-Prince. Lebatis Hassi(ph) is a 27-year-old mother of three selling bras, clothes and sandals. A few years ago, while she was working as a maid in Port-au-Prince, Hassi decided she'd rather become a petit marchant(ph), a small-business owner, but she didn't know how to get started. She couldn't even come up with the $5 needed to take a bus to the big city to buy the stuff, until a neighbor told her about Fonkoze. The micro-lending institution has been helping more than 50,000 people throughout Haiti for almost 15 years with funding from European and American foundations, individual donors and USAID. Hassi applied and got approved for her first loan for $10.
Ms. LEBATIS HASSI (Resident, Limbe, Haiti): (Through Translator) After two years in Fonkoze, I have begun making a lot more profit. Now I can buy twice as many used clothes and sandals in Port-au-Prince, which allows me to sell them at a higher profit in Limbe.
GUIDI: Hassi's current loan is about $100 a month, which allows her to travel to Port-au-Prince every couple of weeks to buy more merchandise and to get food on her table. She doesn't pay an interest on her loan, and as long as she pays on time, Hassi knows that she can make her way out of deep poverty, even if it takes her four or five years.
Ms. HASSI: (Through Translator) With the extra money, I also get to buy shoes and clothes for my kids and my nieces and nephews. And then whatever money is left every month, I reinvest it back into my own small business.
GUIDI: There are at least 400 small merchants in Limbe who got their start with help from Fonkoze, which says that only about two percent of such borrowers fail to pay back their loans. The idea is simple: Women start out by taking a small loan and committing to Fonkoze's programs to improve their family's health, standard of living and education. The better they do in every aspect of their lives, the more money they can borrow at no interest. It's a model that's worked successfully in Bangladesh, but redesigned for Haiti by its founders, Father Joseph Philippe, a Haitian priest, and Anne Hastings, a former American management consultant.
There are two other micro-lending institutions working in Haiti, but none of them require the borrowers to commit to a holistic improvement in their family's lives. Cherle Bless(ph) is a Fonkoze monitor. Her job is to walk through Limbe's markets, streets and homes to talk to people about micro-financing and why they shouldn't be intimidated by it. Today, she's on her way to meet a group of women. She'll be giving them a lesson on money management and financial independence, two of the many topics that Fonkoze covers in this community.
Ms. CHERLE BLESS (Fonkoze Monitor): (Through Translator) Fonkoze is there in every step of a person's development, whether it's related to their economy, the environment, health, education, there right sits an all-inclusive approach to solving Haitian poverty.
GUIDI: But solving poverty in the most destitute country in the western hemisphere is not an easy thing to do. But for these women, they have loans to repay and long days of work ahead of them. When their meeting ends, they're back out on the street, selling more goods at the market. For NPR News, I'm Ruxandra Guidi, Limbe, Haiti.
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COHEN: Day to Day returns in just a moment.
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