“Many hands make light work.” In Haiti’s Northwest Department, this is more than just a common saying. This is the principle behind the work that Foods Resource Bank supports through CWS and other partners.
I recently traveled to Haiti and met with some of the cooperatives that the program supports. Through the work of local partner SKDE – translated to the Center for Christian Integrated Development – the program supports 12 cooperatives that reach nearly 5,000 families.
One of the cooperative we visited was called KRCLJ and is in Lamontay, a community on top of a hill in a very remote part of Haiti. Members pay $25 US to join the cooperative, which gives them access to the bakery where they can bake bread for their families or to sell at markets. More importantly, it gives them access to credit. They can receive small loans – generally less than $75 US – for agriculture and for their businesses.
Before the cooperative, families were borrowing from large landowners. One woman shared that her parents took out a loan with a 25 percent interest rate to purchase seeds for planting. When they were unable to pay, they lost the title for their land. You can imagine how important it is to have access to a loan where the interest rate is only three percent.
Another of the co-ops that we visited is KABM, which started in 1998 with just seven members. Over time, it has grown to have nearly 375 members. One of these members is Marcel, who shared his story:
“After God, KABM is father and mother. It cares for me, my children and my wife. KABM saved us. My wife was pregnant, and when she was going into labor we traveled to Mare Rouge. We had no money, so they transferred us from place to place. She had complications and needed urgent care, but they wouldn’t receive us. I called the co-op, and KABM gave us a loan. It saved her life, it saved our family, and without her I wouldn’t have been able to care for our kids.”
Even though they are small amounts of money, these loans make a tremendous difference for the cooperative members, especially in times of emergency or crisis.
The third cooperative that we visited is the Hand in Hand cooperative in the town of Mayonbe, which Acefie Dorestyl is a member of. Even the locals refer to Mayonbe as difficult to access, which I found to be a significant understatement (hint: it involves a two-hour climb straight up a hillside). In addition to agricultural and business loans, this cooperative has a number of community projects. Members have built a school, reforested several acres of land, constructed retention walls to prevent landslides and founded a successful vegetable nursery. They have helped adults learn to read, empowered parents to provide their children with a better education and have even made it possible for some members to send their children to college.
When you visit Mayonbe, you can feel the energy and optimism that people have for their futures. That’s why it has grown from just a handful of people to more than a thousand members. That vegetable nursery I mentioned? It has had to be expanded three times to keep up with demand.
I asked one of the community leaders why the reforestation program had been so successful, and he said, “We raise the trees. We plant the trees, so of course we protect the trees as well. Reforestation works well here because it is ours.”
The same can be said for all of these cooperatives. They work well because they belong to their members and to their communities.
Alex Morse is the Associate Director of Latin American and Caribbean Overseas Programs at Foods Resource Bank.
See more photos from Alex and listen to him talk about his trip here: