P!Nterview: Haiti and Hurricane Season 2010

P!Nterview: Haiti and Hurricane Season 2010

Fonkoze, a Haitian micro-financial institution (MFI) and anti-poverty organization that is one of the most respected in the world, shares information about Haiti’s needs this storm season

Q: What is the most pressing issue for Haitians this hurricane season?
A: In Port-au-Prince, where thousands are living in tent cities, you don’t need help to see what the biggest problem is. It’s housing. The same is true for my region, Marigot. In my region, most people are living in homes — but they’re in bad shape. Most homes survived the earthquake but they now have cracked walls and foundations. We don’t know how well these structures will hold up in heavy wind and rains.

Q: How has Fonkoze specifically been able to recover and rebuild? What do you see in terms of individuals’ progress in recovery?
A: We’ve been able to respond strongly. Fonkoze was up and running well before other financial institutions, which has been good for us. We don’t look as impressive as the commercial banks, for example. Our buildings are not flashy. But our expertise and operational strengths are intense. And the relative [simplicity] of our operations became an asset. Commercial banks, with more sophisticated infrastructures, had a much harder time restarting their operations.

Q: What is the current greatest need among your clients and the communities you serve?
A: Finding a source of income to meet basic daily needs. Despite the help we offer, we are encountering many women for whom it will be difficult to move into our larger loan programs. Thus, one program that needs a lot of investment now is our Ti Kredi program. Ti Kredi (Little Credit) gives $25 USD loans instead of the larger $125 USD loans given to borrowers in our standard solidarity group credit program. In addition, Ti Kredi borrowers get six months of intense financial literacy training and small business support to help them create and build a stable income stream. There is an enormous need now to grow that program, which will allow women to then have access to larger credit pools.


Q: Are homeless and displaced people able to benefit from these programs?
A: Yes and no. Ti Kredi is a way to have an income generating activity, and what you do with that income depends on your need. On the other hand, we have women that do not have safe, permanent housing and are antsy about starting a new business and investing in merchandise because their homes still have large open cracks in the walls. They don’t have the security they normally would, to be able to lock away their goods. We help by extending credit to all [people] regardless of their housing situation, but it would be very helpful to help these women access safe housing as a starting point.

Q: In February, Dr. Paul Farmer shared blunt recommendations with the U.S. Senate regarding the United States’ role in Haiti’s recovery. He mentioned the role non-profits play, specifically foreign non-profits. What is the best way foreign non-profits like PLAN!T NOW can have a positive role in rebuilding and preparing Haiti for this storm season and those to come?
A: I see two problems in the way many foreign entities – not just non-profits, are working here today.

1. It is really important for the long-term development of Haiti, just like any other nation, that the elected government exercises the authority its people have given it. As far as I can see, a lot of international intervention is occurring in Haiti without any reference to Haitian government leaders. This weakens the government’s ability to play even a coordinating role in the recovery. That has to be bad for the people. These foreign groups say the government lacks the capacity to do this work, but they must have the patience to work with them because otherwise Haitian sovereignty itself is at risk.

2. A lot of groups coming here do not know the country. They don’t know the people or how to make accurate evaluations of what is needed and who the best people and groups are to address those needs. For this they must have experienced Haitian partners. Fonkoze, for instance, is 100 percent Haitian. It was founded by Haitians, and most of its staff and leadership are Haitian. I’m a Fonkoze Branch Manager, and there are over 40 branches nationwide. All but the branch I work in is run by Haitians. Fonkoze, is in every part of the country, so we have a genuine national presence and intimate understanding of the culture, politics and history here. Meanwhile, we see foreign organizations with the best of intentions, landing here – and spending money with the first person they see who seems qualified to help them achieve their goals. They have no way of evaluating whether the people or groups they’ve partnered with are who they say they are. Thus, we have seen many examples of the wrong people getting the wrong kind of help. Again, to resolve this, we urge foreign groups to research and find trusted Haitian groups to partner with for recovery work.