Investing in dignity: Immeasurable returns

Approximately 6 months ago in May 2012, over 300 women gathered in the small villages of Sodo in central Haiti, to celebrate their graduation from the CLM (Chemen Lavi Miyo) program.  Chemen Lavi Miyo means ‘path to a better life’.  When these women entered the program 18 months before, they found it hard to believe that their lives could be transformed.  Fonkoze, a leading pioneer in micro-credit finance, told them that would happen, if they followed the guidelines of this path to a better life.

These women asked the same questions we’ve all asked.  What is CLM?  What is this path to a better life?  These women were told that they were hand- picked by the leaders of their community for being the poorest of the poor.  They were told that, even in Haiti, people shouldn’t be living in this level of poverty, without clean water, without food for their children, without an ounce of dignity, moving from one man to the next, just for the hope of one more day of food for themselves and their children.  Nobody should live this life of misery.

These women were told that a Haitian case manager would be their mentor for the next 18 months, helping them rebuild their life.  The case manager and all the resources of Fonkoze would work together to help them.  Fonkoze would help rebuild their dilapidated hut, making sure it had a roof of tin to keep the rain out, and upgrading the dirt floor to cement.  They would also provide a water filtration system so that the dirty river water would be drinkable and safe.  They would provide them with a medical card so that they can walk to a medical clinic and get free care when their children are sick.  They would make sure their kids are put into an elementary school.  They give them a monthly stipend for 6 months while the case manager works with the woman to establish some means of economic  support for the family.  This might involve setting the woman up with a bulk supply of rice and beans which she can break into smaller units and sell at a roadside stand and also a longer-term means of commerce involving a handful of chickens or a goat which she can raise near her house and eventually take to market.   But most importantly, the woman would get a case manager who would become her mentor over the next 18 months, meeting with her several times a week, teaching her many valuable life training skills.  These women need to understand how to handle currency and make change in the marketplace so they can interact with buyers and not be taken advantage of.  They need basic training with reproductive issues and family planning.    These women have all seen the aid which flows into Haiti, the bags of rice and beans and other food products which is distributed by all the various aid organizations.  But they know that they need more than short-term aid.  They need someone to help change their life on a permanent basis.   They need a Fonkoze case manager who will believe in them and be there to work thru all their challenges, every day, every week, providing unwavering support in getting them on this path to a better life. 

I was in Haiti in May when 300 women graduated from the program.  At the graduation ceremony, I was able to speak to the group.  I told them that on previous trips to Haiti, I had met many of them at their homes when they first entered the program.  I had witnessed their transformation from poverty and hopelessness to owning a small business and being able to support their children.  I once met them as dejected and ashamed and now saw them in their beautiful dresses, full of dignity and pride brought about by their successes in the program.  The transformation I saw in these women brings tears to my eyes and puts hope in my heart.  It gives me faith in the strength of Haiti’s people.  Its people are strong and bold.  I saw women overcome challenges that most thought as insurmountable.  They succeeded.  They stuck with the program and after 18 months, they are on the path to a better life.  I congratulated them and told them they could count on us to continue to support the program until ultra-poverty in Haiti no longer exists.

HTF believes that the $1,700 cost to raise a family out of poverty over an 18 month period is the best investment in humanity that one could make.  Please generously support this life-changing effort during the holiday season and throughout the year.