In Haiti, women are often referred to as poto mitan. Literally, it means “middle pole”—the pillar of the house and the backbone of society. Women act as the pillars of their families and, by extension, of society. They provide the economic and social stability needed to sustain their families and communities.
Often, however, Haitian women simply do not have the resources to support themselves or their families. Due to a variety of circumstances that have trapped them in poverty, many women in rural Haiti lack the means to act as poto mitan.
Fonkoze seeks to empower these women in a variety of ways: through lending programs that enable them to strengthen and expand their small businesses, through the provision of health and insurance services to allow them to recover quickly from unforeseen circumstances, and through an innovative program for the ultra-poor—Chemen Lavi Miyò (“the Road to a Better Life”).
The women who enter our Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program are the most vulnerable in Haitian society. They live in sub-standard shelter in rural societies, have multiple children, none of whom attend school, and struggle to feed their families. They have no productive assets, no skills, and perhaps worst of all—no self-esteem.
The CLM women are not yet ready for microloans. Instead, Fonkoze and our partners, KANPE, seek to reinforce their capacity through an intensive 18-month program. It includes asset provision, health services provided by Partners in Health, business training, and one-on-one case manager guidance. In the process, participants are transformed, regaining their ability to act as poto mitan.
Women almost ready to graduate from the CLM program undergo a 3-day Confidence Building Training in order to ensure that they have the foundation to succeed in the long-term. The workshop reinforces the women’s self-confidence by helping them recognize and analyze their past successes.
International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to do this on a global scale—to recognize the incredible progress that women around the world have made since this day first came into creation over a hundred years ago. At the same time, much room for progress remains—particularly in the domain of domestic violence, which continues to threaten women around the world, our CLM members included.
With the right tools, however, we believe that women can kanpe—stand up—and overcome such challenges. A group of 340 CLM members recently underwent Confidence Building Training in preparation for their graduation day. Fittingly, they are graduating on March 8. On this day of solidarity for women around the world, they are celebrating their ability to overcome adversity—both in the past, and in the future.
As CLM graduate Rose-Marie Assenne said, “The person that I was yesterday, I am not the same person any longer.” She explained how CLM taught her to engage in commerce, allowing her to leverage the two goats and a pig she received at the program’s start into four goats and a horse.
Perhaps more importantly, Rose-Marie and her fellow graduates now have the self-esteem to continue even when times are hard. It is a victory worth celebrating, not just in Haiti but with their sisters—their fellow poto mitan—around the world.
To learn more about Fonkoze and its Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, visit http://fonkoze.org/
Photo courtesy of Fonkoze.