Walking through the doors of the Lenbe live-in branch, I was immediately greeted by friendly and welcoming staff. I had traveled from Port au Prince with Dr. Florence Jean-Louis and Dr. Wesly Elize, members of our Human Development department, for a health training for our center chiefs. When we arrived, we saw a group of women assembled at the branch to repay their loans. If I could, in one word, describe my overall impression of the women at the Lenbe branch, I would have to say—dignified.
Generally, the poor are portrayed as miserable, begging, crying, and pleading, an understandable consequence of their extreme desperation. But they have been robbed of their dignity and are dehumanized, which only serves to strengthen an inferiority complex. They seldom receive the opportunity to tap into their personal capabilities as individuals to help themselves.
After spending the weekend at the Fonkoze Lenbe branch, I was able to see firsthand that forming groups of self-sustaining businesswomen creates a more respectful and honorable approach to the helping the poor.
I was proud to see my fellow Haitian women come together to better their lives. These women were regional center chiefs, each responsible for leading 20-plus Fonkoze women. As center chiefs, they are responsible for teaching their fellow clients all that they learned in the health training. They learned the uses and benefits of certain health products. They also learned the proper way to take certain medication and preventative measures for health safety.
Giving these women, who display leadership qualities, a leadership position in their community, augments their social and economic power. They now become the master of their own fate. I’ve noticed firsthand that Fonkoze’s impact on the community does not cripple these Haitian women. There is no giver-recipient relationship. Fonkoze has clients whom they aim to serve. This business relationship is based on trust. Fonkoze gives these Haitian women a boost without disempowering or humiliating them, creating producers, not beggars.
I was also so proud as a female to see these resilient and self-sustaining women. Virginia Woolf once said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” After interviewing several of these women and hearing their struggles and triumphs, I’ve seen the power of leaving anonymity behind and uncovering the importance and value of a woman.