Investing in Life: A Microcredit Program in Haiti
By Lauren James*
February 3, 2011—For about 18 years, Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (EMH, Methodist Church of Haiti) has operated a microcredit program in the town of Petit Goave, 43 miles from Port-au-Prince, in Haiti. After last year’s devastating earthquake, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partnered with EMH to strengthen the program and build up the participants.
Ninety women are currently enrolled in the program as community bank members and microcredit leaders. Beginning last August, UMCOR representatives met with the women to review the needs of the program, which over the past five years has seen little outside investment.
Some of the women have been borrowers for more than 10 years, and most currently have loan portfolios three times the size of the first loan they received. They have used the loans to buy and sell pharmaceutical products, food, and clothing in bulk and retail around Petit Goave and as far away as the Dominican Republic.
The loans have allowed the women to stock products, increase the profitability of their businesses, and invest their earnings in building a home, sending their children to school, or even buying a car. Loans are regularly paid on time, and the default rate is low.
Women Learn to Manage Business—and Life
Pauline Mars has participated in the program since 2001, when she borrowed $75. Today, she is an animatrice, or program manager, and has a loan of $2,500. Pauline buys and sells cosmetics and grain. With her loan, she acquired a depot where she stocks different grains to sell when the market is most favorable.
“The community bank is my life,” Mars says. “I have had many different experiences and made new friends. My attitude has changed, and I am more confident.” Mars invested her earnings in a small piece of land and has built a home.
Dana Joseph sells food products and began in the program in 2000. After her husband lost his job, Joseph was able to continue to send her seven children to school and support the family.
“I have learned important life-management skills through my business, which enables me to invest in my children’s lives,” says Joseph.
Building Skills, Strengthening the Program
In their conversations with the UMCOR representatives, the women identified business training as the principal need. UMCOR agreed to fund a microcredit assessment and development program that would help the Methodist Church of Haiti develop the borrowers’ business skills and strengthen the capacity of the program’s staff.
Offering women more education to build their knowledge about financial management strengthens the existing program from the ground up. Women learn important skills that also carry over to family life and social interaction.
The UMCOR-funded microcredit development training program was offered during October and November 2010 in Petit Goave. Konsey Nasyonal Finansman Popile (KNFP), a local microcredit training organization headquartered in Port-au-Prince and staffed by Haitian professionals, led the training.
Courses included Description of a Community Bank; Control of a Community Bank; Record Analysis; and a session on communication. Workshops were held in four modules developed over eight weeks.
UMCOR and EMH representatives observed the module on communication and noted that sessions were group-based and hands-on. The women worked in small groups on exercises designed to help them understand how to communicate effectively.
In one exercise, the groups were instructed to design an invitation to an event. The objective was to contemplate all of the information they needed to convey, such as the time, place, and purpose of the event. Each group then presented its results to the plenary. All of the women were active participants, and the conversation was lively and productive.
This first set of training modules is part of a multiphase project that also includes the identification of program areas in need of additional support, such as a matching fund for savings accounts or the creation of a loan portfolio for larger borrowers.
The program has provided the women of Petit Goave with a way to support their families and send their children to school. And it has given each of them a sense of pride and hope in their accomplishments as businesswomen.
*Lauren James is UMCOR’s liaison with the Methodist Church of Haiti, in Haiti.