Marie Jean is a young market women from the hills outside of Marigot, a small coastal town in southeastern Haiti. She’s been in business for less than a year. She walks to the various markets in the region to sell groceries: little bags of cloves, bouillon cubes, macaroni, vinegar, and the like. Now and then she’ll buy plantain from farmers in the countryside to sell them in nearby towns as well.
A few months ago, Marie Jean heard about Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution. Thanks to support from Plan International, Fonkoze was able to open a branch in Marigot last year. Marie Jean heard that she could borrow money from Fonkoze without collateral and without a co-signer. All she needed to do was get together with four of her friends to take a loan together. The five guarantee repayment for one another. Marie Jean’s group got its first loan a month ago and already has made its first repayment. “Things are going really well,” she says.
When Marie Jean heard that Fonkoze would offer literacy classes in her credit center, she was excited. She never had the chance to go to school as a young girl.
Fonkoze has always known that Haitian market women need more than loans to lift their families out of poverty. They need education as well. An additional grant from Plan is making educational programs available to clients at the Marigot branch. The classes meet twice a week, and are taught by another market woman, a member of the same credit center Marie Jean belongs to.
“I’ve already learned to sign my name,” she says. And she explains what a difference that makes: “I never wanted to go to community meetings before. They would ask everyone to write their name, and if you can’t they don’t see you. It’s as though you’re not there. Now I can write my name just like everyone else.”
She’s also excited for Keny, her four-year-old boy. “He’ll start school in September. I’ll go to parents’ meetings, and have to sign my name. My boy will not be ashamed of me.”
Thanks to support from Plan, over seven hundred women in the Marigot area have been able to participate in educational programs this year. Next year, they’ll be more than a thousand. But for Marie Jean, such numbers are not what matters. What matters is the improvement that these classes enable her to make in her life.