“Koman ou ye?”
How are you?
“M’ byen! N’ap monte!”
I’m well! We’re climging!
“Wi! N’ap mounte!”
Yes! We’re climbing!
One thing I’ve learned in my time abroad is that Haitians will often state the obvious when trying to be friendly in passing conversations. The beginning of the month was filled with several hikes up to Disciples’ Village’s partnering village of Vielo to conduct the census of our stunning mountain village. Each hike consisted of dozens of encounters closely relating to the one above. At first I was confused as to why each individual we passed felt the need to remind us that we were climbing (and sometimes crawling), but then I grew to appreciate the reminder that as long as we were climbing we were doing okay. Being stagnant or falling down the mountain would be worrisome.
Developing a microfinance program is a lot like climbing a mountain. It’s energizing yet exhausting, glorious yet sweaty and dirty, breath-taking in many definitions of the word, and ambiguous yet filled with a few distinctive paths. Sometimes you have to stop and catch your breath mid-assent while other times you push through until an obvious stopping point is reached, and sometimes what you’re doing isn’t working and you have to climb back down a little ways to try a different path that will take you higher and closer to your goal. Similarly to looking up the face of a mountain and wondering how on earth we will reach the top, when talking to the leaders in our villages I often find myself struck with the magnitude of the need, the difficult circumstances, and seemingly impossibility of the task at hand. The specific needs for microfinance in our communities looks vastly different, and there are many paths to choose when climbing the mountain of microfinance—but what beauty there is to behold with every step!
July was an exciting and insightful month here in Haiti! We finished the census of our final partnering villages at the beginning of the month, and I have begun to compile an analysis with recommendations from research and census findings of our partnering villages. Completing the censuses also brought about a lot of helpful information about job and financial opportunities in our partnering villages. In Trouforban there is a small variety of employment options and an abundance of unemployment. Vielo has an overwhelming majority of farmers and a few residents not working because they are too old. Each village has its own challenges, needs, and opportunities, and I look forward to continuing to build relationships with individuals in our communities while gearing up to start a combination of business training, potential micro loans, and savings opportunities as part of our microfinance offerings in the very near future!
Two of the teams I worked with at the end of the month spent a week in the village they are partnered with, and I had the joy of getting to build relationships with the children’s leaders in Trouforban (TFB) and some of the women in Dahl. They all provided helpful information to keep me walking towards what microfinance will look like for Disciples’ Village. In TFB several children’s leaders own small businesses and offered insight on the size and terms of loans needed, shared their interest in business training and development, savings opportunities, etc, and several expressed their desire for a job and some skills they know or would be willing to learn. Dahl on the other hand has a bleak environment for jobs, especially for the women. Of the 12 individuals I talked to, many are willing to learn to sew/other skills and expressed that they could benefit from business training.
Perhaps the greatest advancement in July was getting to converse with people on the ground in Haiti who have been doing microfinance for several years and tagging along to a monthly meeting for their organization, Kodinasyon Fanm Endepandan Pou Avansman Lakay (KOFAEL). The experience taught me about the logistics and relational aspects of what makes microfinance successful here, including keys to necessary leadership, characteristics of participants, structure of monthly meeting, handling loan and repayment transactions, needed capital for loans, loan sizes, interest rates, and repayment schedules. It was exciting to observe all that I have researched in action, and I’m forever grateful to have met people who are willing to share their knowledge and have many experiences to be learned from. My greatest takeaway is that successful microfinance is often dependent on relationships, relationships, relationships…which was exciting to hear because relationship building is a large part of what I’ve been doing these past few months in our partnering villages! They are essential to the foundational trust and transactional nature of microfinance, and I’m fortunate to have some pretty cool and dedicated people to get to work with over the next few years.
The month of July also brought a new understanding of my ‘why’ for my time in Haiti. My softball coach at Belmont, Brian Levin, introduced to me and my teammates the saying, “If you know your ‘why’ you’ll find a way ‘how’”. And although my ‘why’ for life has been pretty evident for a while, a shift in focus from orphan care to orphan prevention—especially through economic development—has brought a burning desire to keep as many children in homes with good parents as possible in my work specific ‘why’. Haiti has an abundance of poverty orphans—children who have at least one living parent—who are in orphanages because their family loves them tremendously but cannot provide for their needs. It is my heart’s desire to see children reunited with their families and to live the way God designed for people to be raised, and it gives me chills to think of the possibilities and opportunities microfinance provides for mothers and fathers to care for their children. Now that I’ve narrowed in on my ‘why’, I trust that it will not be long until the ‘how’ shows itself if I keep seeking, keep building relationships, and keep trusting in our mighty God for guidance.
Once again I end the month in awe of the opportunity, challenge, and excitement that presents itself in the task ahead. I’m thankful for answered prayers and new findings in the world of microfinance in Haiti, and I’m ever expectant for what will emerge in the coming weeks, months, and years with a combination of a little blood, lots of sweat, and a few tears covered by the grace of God.