Domestic violence for one woman in Haiti


In recent reports, 30% of Haitian women have suffered acts of violence from partners or husbands. A third of surveyed Haitian women believe that a man may sometimes have the right to beat his spouse. Add to this that the Haitian justice system often victimizes the woman and rarely are charges brought forward. Unfortunately, these are not statements that are unique to Haiti; they are true for many developing world nations where women are often treated as second class citizens. Being an eyewitness to this reality for one woman during our most recent medical mission trip is much more moving than all the previous articles or books that I have read.
Unbeknown to the medical team, the woman had arrived at the hospital the night before after having suffered a stab wound in the back from her husband during a fight. Some family versions of the fight stated that she had started it by cutting her husband’s ear with a kitchen knife. The x-ray machine at our hospital was down due to remodeling, so the woman was sent across town to another hospital. She returned the following afternoon, in severe pain and with very labored breathing. I was flagged down by one of the Haitian family practice docs as we were packing our supplies for departure the next morning. Word of caution – If the American gynecologist can tell that something is wrong on your chest x-ray, you are probably in urgent need of medical attention as the last time I formally read a chest x-ray was 24 years ago. Her x-ray was significant for a collapsed lung on her left side and a fracture of her collarbone, caused by the knife wound in the back. She was fortunate to still be breathing but was at imminent risk of her heart shifting due to the collapsed lung. The team halted our packing duties and immediately shifted to duty mode. A few people were sent in search of a chest tube and vacuum device while others got the patient comfortable on the OR table. Events like this always make be proud to be part of a fabulous team – no job is too humble (ie searching among dusty shelves in a dark room with a flashlight for a chest tube) and individuals get comfortable dealing with tasks outside their specific expertise (ie gynecologist reading chest x-ray, dentist reading instructions on vacuum device and filling channels with water). Within an hour, the patient was breathing more comfortably and settled in her room, with strict instructions to her father to get help if the pump quit working. When the pump burnt out 11 hours later, he dutifully notified us and we substituted another pump. Two days later the chest tube was removed and the patient was discharged home – with her husband at her side. I am sure there was community discussion about her blame in the matter by starting the fight and at no time did she ask to press charges.
Studies have shown that domestic violence sharply decreases when the female partner is seen as a contributing financial partner to the household. If our patient had a small business and was increasing the family’s financial stability, her husband may have thought twice about wounding her with a knife, as it would impact her ability to work. Helping Haiti Work, a microloan program that my husband and I established in 2012, is attempting to right some of these imbalances for the women of Haiti. In my discussions with the loan recipients they have expressed that some of the indirect advantages of the program is that they are generally treated better by their spouses and the community, as operating a business brings them more authority. Trying to change cultural norms around domestic violence can take an extended time. Maybe we need to also look at short term empowerment of women so that they can influence the longstanding cultural norms.
Our fundraising for this program in 2014 will generate 40 new loans of $200 each for women on the waiting list. More women continue to wait. Please consider Helping Haiti Work in your end of year donations

November Haiti trip

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThank you to those of you who contributed during our Give to the Max Day fundraiser. While we were not as successful financially this year as we had been the previous year, we were able to increase the awareness of our organization.

While we were in Haiti last week we were able to meet with many of the microfinance recipients. These 135 women continue to have a 100% payback rate and are eager for larger loans and loans for their friends and relatives. It was difficult to explain to them that we do not have an unending supply of money to distribute and if we increase the size of the current loans ($200), it will mean less loans available in the future. American seems like the land of never ending funds when you see mission groups arrive at the airport daily and spend money hiring translators and eating in restaurants.

One women wanted to impress on us the ongoing benefits of the loan program. While she is able to use the profits from her business to send her children to school, the unemployment rate when children graduate from high school is still very high. Alcoholism and petty crime is increasingly more of an issue in rural villages as young men have no jobs and ample spare time.   Other young adults travel to surrounding islands for employment, where they are often treated poorly and are far from family support. The hope of these mothers is that more loans will create more local business opportunities  and allow  children to stay home after they finish school, working with their parents.

Many aid organizations in Haiti have worked diligently to build schools, making an education possible for children. Helping Haiti Work is taking the next step in Ranquitte and Limbe to help to create job opportunities for families. Consider a donation that will help us to fund more loans.

Giving Cash to the Poor

The model of our microloan program involves a half day teaching for the women recipients that instructs them in basic bookeeping and how to pay back their loan on a monthly basis. What is does not involve is telling them what type of business to operate.  Since 2000, many aide programs in the developing world have started to change the way they do business. Rather than the outside world viewing the poor as helpless, they are viewed as the part of the solution. Instead of spending money to build schools, roads and wells, many studies have shown that the results are better when cash is given directly to the poor with no strings attached.  It also decreases the cost of beauracacy and is much cheaper to run.

I have been delighted when talking to our microloan recipients regarding the ingenuity of their business ideas and their ability to change the focus of their business depending on the season.  A woman may sell foodstuffs in the summer, change to school supplies in the fall and then shoes over the winter. Each time she is using her loan to purchase the items for resale.

0[1]When we are in Haiti next week, we will be visiting with the pictured women.  They received their loans last month in Ranquitte. Unfortunately, soon after they started their businesses, extreme flooding from heavy rains has ensued. There have been multiple deaths and businesses have been closed. The road to Ranquitte passes thru 2 rivers, making washouts a common occurance. But I have always been impressed by the ingenuity of Haitians, and I am sure they will have improvised and have many stories to tell.

Please consider making a contribution to our program on Give to the Max Day.  I would love to inform all of these women that not only will we be able to continue the program but we can make it grow to include their friends and relatives.  Helping them to help themselves – Helping Haiti Work!


The Butcher in Limbe

P1030728During one of my first meetings with the microfinance women, I noticed that one of the women kept looking at her watch. This may not seem unusual, but in Haiti “time” is a relative term and most people do not wear a watch.  She was often getting out of her chair and peering down the street. For what, I wasn’t sure. Ten minutes before the meeting was to end, her cell phone rang and she abruptly left. I was soon to find out why she was so worried about the clock!  After the meeting, we were led on a tour of the local market where some of the women sell their goods. A small crown was gathered around one particular stand. As we got closer, we saw the woman who had been in such a hurry. She had been waiting for her delivery of frozen chicken pieces and hot dogs to resell in the market. Most Haitian homes do not have a refrigerator, so getting the partially frozen meat sold and out of the hot sun was a priority.  Her business has been profitable and she is planning on selling meat at other markets in the area.

A widow in Ranquitte

Haiti Nov 2013 - Ranquitte (11)

Our most recent expansion of the microfinance program was to a rural village nestled in the mountainous hills of Haiti, 2 hours south of CapHaitian. Ranquitte is the hub for many even more rural areas that are only accessible by foot. Madame Jetah (second row wearing white skirt and purple blouse) has lived in this area all of her life and is now in her early 50’s with 5 children. She was widowed a few years ago, which made a difficult life almost impossible. She has also been helping to care for 5 of her nieces and nephews since her sister died. She was chosen as one of the original recipients due to her extreme need. Each week she travels the 2 hours to CapHaitian sitting in the back of a pick-up truck. After arriving, she purchases gasoline in gallon containers, which she transports back to Ranquitte while riding in the bed of the pickup truck over extremely rocky, rutted roads. The gasoline is poured into smaller, quart size containers that she resells to villagers as fuel for their motorcycles or generators. She hopes to grow her business so that she can add a second trip each week and sell even more gasoline.



Most stories about Haiti begin with one or more of the following facts.

1. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

2. The average Haitian lives on less than $2 a day.

3. It is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.

4. Unemployment is 40-60%.

While these statements are true, they do little to portray the Haiti that we see when we visit with the recipients of our microfinance loans. These women are resourceful, hard working and creative despite their low literacy level and lack of formal business training. They are most appreciative of the continued existance of the program so that they can continue to benefit and so can their friends and relatives. In order for the program to offer more microloans, we need to keep asking for donations. Facts do not generate donations; personal stories do. In the beginning, I had hesitated to share individual pictures and stories  as I did not want to invade the privacy of our Haitian participants. But I have realized that stories are what motivate others to give and I believe that the invasion of privacy is outweighed by the possibility to help more women. Work in the developing world is never black or white – only shades of grey.

Our next trip is planned for November 7-15. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I will share stories of individual women who have been successful in their small business. Give to the Max Day (our biggest fundraiser) occurs while we are in Haiti. I am hoping their stories inspire you to give.



New Loans and the Power of Hope

20140919_141745Our 6th loan group, who received their  loans in late 2013, paid back the original amount of $200 and were awarded a second loan of $225. We still maintain a 100% payback rate and will soon be considering larger loans for the women who start on their third loan cycle in 2015.  With the Haitian economy growing at a rate of 4.5%, the women are wanting to expand their small businesses even further and are willing to take on additional risk.

“Half the Sky”, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, was the impetus for starting this microfinance program. Their stories of the power of individuals to expand opportunity for women in the developing world led me to further research microfinance. Their second book, “A Path Appears”, details the benefits of positive change both for the recipient and for the giver.  “Interventions that create hope, such as microsavings schemes and entrepreneurship training, can shatter the cycles of learned helplessness and create hope.”  That hope is what we are seeing and hearing from our loan recipients. They are WORKING to create a better life for both themselves and for their families. And they are benefitting in many more ways than monetary – they have a renewed sense of pride and accomplishement.

Give to the Max Day is one short month away.  This is our major fundraiser for the year and will help to fund new loans in 2015.  Please consider making a difference in a Haitian women’s  life and creating hope for her family.

New loans in Limbe

12 New loans were granted in Limbe last week. The women were pleasently surprised as the last set of 10 loans was just in May and we were not expecting to be able to fund another group until later this fall. A large monetary donation from Amo Methodist Church in SW Minnesota made this extra group possible. unnamed[7]unnamed[1]

Menstrual Pad Awareness event at Messiah United Methodist Church

unnamed[5]Over 70 women attended our first menstrual pad awareness event held on July 15th at Messiah UMC in Plymouth.  The first part of the evening was spent hearing about the need for reusable feminine hygiene in the developing world, how the lack of resources impacts a young girls’  ability to attend school, and the development of a sewing center that constructs the pads as part of our microfinance program.   Special guests from Zimbabwe shared their stories about how universal the need is for these products. The evening ended with those in attendance cutting and sewing some of the menstrual hygiene kit components for later distribution. Donations totaled $745 to be used in supporting the sewing center.


New Loans in Limbe and Ranquitte

Due to the generosity of our donors during the Mother’s Day Fundraiser, we were able to start 10 new loans in both Limbe and Ranquitte.

Group of 10 women in Limbe
Group of 10 women in Limbe

Due to the start of the rainy season in Haiti and because Ranquitte is a more remote location, the 10 loans here are being administered as women are able to travel and we don’t have pictures of the full group.