Muriel Lafontant owned a little land with a garden. She had the initiative, energy, and imagination to turn that garden into a small business to support her family and send her children to school. She had a market waiting for her product. However, like all other entrepreneurs and Ti Marchan (“little merchants”) in her area, she didn’t have a source for credit or a safe place to put her money – business requirements even in rural Haiti. Pignon, a town (village and area surrounding it) of 30,000 people, had NO commercial bank, and the nearest one in Hinche was a minimum five hour trip for a person on foot – one way. Carrying a lot of money that far in that manner is very risky. And even if the bank was next door, who would lend money to an impoverished, unemployed mother living in a hut with banana leaves for a roof?
Then, in May 2005, the Pignon branch of Fonkoze, with its first year of operation underwritten by Haiti Outreach, opened with a celebration. This bank was eager to lend money to an impoverished, unemployed mother living in a hut with banana leaves for a roof. What’s more, it is a bank that is native to Haiti. Fonkoze, which means “shoulder to shoulder,” is regular commercial bank, but it is also and most significantly, a micro-lending bank.
Worldwide, micro-lending banks loan over $1 billion to help underserved people gain self-sufficiency, develop good credit so they can borrow from regular commercial banks, and avoid resorting to loan sharks with unreasonable interest rates. The micro-lending clientele in Pignon have been very successful, having a 99.8% payback record! Muriel now sells more of the corn and beans that her family grows, makes more money, and has paid back not only her first loan but two additional loans since she started with Fonkoze. She recently bought a pig and soon hopes to get another, so that her family can breed them and start selling them at the market as well.
These loans bought more kinds of seed than just corn. Muriel now has the money to buy clothes and shoes from other vendors in Pignon. She contributes to the salaries of teachers, who, in turn, buy corn from Muriel and clothes and shoes from the other vendors. Her children become better fed, literate and acquire skills to help them get jobs. Among the fruits of Muriel’s garden are the competence and confidence of Muriel, strength for her family, and hope for Haiti.