By Dennis Petruzzi
At Outreach to Haiti we believe in the principle that education is the path to opportunity and the way out of poverty. For 30 years we have invested in educating school-age children and young adults. In the summer of 2016, aided by a grant from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, we began to apply that same principle to adult women.
Mothers in Haiti, and in most developing countries, are often looked upon as pillars of the family and the community. Yet their potential and development needs are sometimes overlooked. So, Outreach began a pilot program called Famn Avanse Kounyea (FAK), in English Advancing Women Now. The goal of the pilot was to enable 10 women to each initiate and sustain a small business that would allow them to support their families. FAK is open to women who have successfully completed Outreach’s nutrition program demonstrating their commitment to improving their health and the health of their families.
We provided each participant some financial aid in the form of start-up capital and a short-term loan, but we recognized the key to success was education and personal development. Participants were under the direction and mentoring of Eunide Lefevre, the executive director of the International School Of Leadership Cap-Haitian, Haiti. Each woman received training in basic business skills, opened a savings account and wrote a business plan. Through journaling and group and individual training sessions the women acquired skills and increased their confidence and self- esteem. Some proudly began to share their experiences with daughters and siblings.
Pilot participants have now established a variety of businesses. One, a water purification process, increases neighborhood access to potable water. Others increase access to cooking gas, telephone usage and nutritional food products made from locally grown ingredients.
A condition of the grant from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was that the program would result in systemic change. Upon receiving our final report from the pilot, the Sisters agreed that we had clearly met that condition. They extended the grant and funded an additional 20 participants. We have begun training this new group with several of the participants from the pilot serving as peer mentors.
Rosemary Hanrahan MD, MPH, is a former in-country director for Outreach and the creative force and vision behind FAK. Here is what she had to say about its systemic impact:
“Women in Haiti face many challenges and are extremely vulnerable to the frequent hardships that plague the country. With small loans, financial literacy seminars and business skills training, FAK offers essential resources. However, the real beauty of participating in FAK is that each woman is encouraged and supported to identify and call forth the resources within her to create the life she envisions.” Well said and well done.
To be a part of the Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti, please visit our website at outreachtohaiti.org, call 860.800.3601 or write us at 815 Boswell Ave., Norwich, CT 06360. Thank you for supporting our diocesan mission in Haiti.