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Bearing fruit

"Bearing fruit" Continued...

Issue: "Bright or rotten idea?," Oct. 5, 2013

Mervilus says the teaching is critical for some Haitians who have valued aid from outside groups but “never believe they have their own potential. That they can do many things.”

Benita Bien-aime aims to do many things in Belladere. The 30-year-old pastor’s daughter lives with her parents in a modest home next to the church she attends with her family. 

On a warm afternoon on her front porch, Bien-aime arranges a collection of items on a small table with a blue cloth to sell to passers-by: Small bags of pasta sit next to tiny stacks of canned foods, while a handful of magazines and packaged salami hang from a line across the porch.

Like many in town, Bien-aime is a self-employed merchant, but she’s also the president of a savings group for young people at her church. She says she joined the group because “I knew I needed accountability and discipline.”

The group offers both. Members say they find that meeting and praying with people they know—especially fellow church members—encourages them to continue to participate and motivates them to pay back loans. (Most members do pay back loans, and groups work with those who need more time.)

Though most members have little money, Bien-aime says she’s saved about $75 in six months. She’s used some of her savings to buy a goat and a pig to sell in the market—a common practice among members who use savings to increase inventory to earn more profits.

Bien-aime has used her savings to help her family, and she’d also like to save money to help start a family of her own. But when she talks about personal goals, Bien-aime mostly talks about other people. “They say young people are the future of the church,” she says. “So if the church has a need, we should have the maturity and the economic ability to meet it.” She says her group has learned: “Once you have faith and you apply biblical principles to goals, you can achieve them.”

Pastor Delmond Rondo says his congregation has learned the same lesson. Rondo serves a church nearby and grows animated when he talks about how savings groups have helped members learn to trust and support each other. “Everybody has a little something in their hands, and we’re doing something,” he says. “We’re moving.”

Like most pastors in Belladere, Rondo works outside jobs to support his family. He sells beans and builds steel doors and bed frames. He smiles widely when I ask if he’s in a savings group: “Of course. … If I’m telling people to move forward, I have to be in front.”

The next morning, Dieula Arince is near the front of Belladere’s packed local market. As the hot sun rises, streets fill with merchants selling pigs, goats, soap, toothbrushes, T-shirts, and flip-flops.

Arince is just arriving at 9 a.m., but she’s been awake since 4:30. A member of the Tuesday night savings group, she’s joined her husband in the dark morning hours to harvest bananas from a tree at their home. She strapped the sacks of ripening fruit to a mule and made the hour-long walk into town down the winding, rocky roads.

The mother of three also sells clothes, and she’s used the money she’s saved to purchase more merchandise, allowing her to earn more profit. She says she uses the extra earnings to buy food for her family and pay school fees for her children. (Mervilus—the Haitian overseer—says many Haitian families say their savings enable their families to eat more than one meal a day.)

Arince says she’s learned more about prayer and trusting God during the meetings, and she’s also learned to trust her fellow church members. “We learn how to put our heads together,” she says. “When I am weak, they help me to be stronger.”

Marie Pierre—a member of another savings group in town—sells cold drinks a few stalls away. It’s a smart business in a crowded outdoor market with high temperatures and little shade. Pierre has used her savings to increase her inventory as well, and her son now runs a second stand on the other end of the market.

“I’ve learned about the importance of transparency and doing things honestly,” she says. “And I’ve grown deeper in understanding the Bible even more.”

Though the savings projects operate in a collection of small groups in Haiti, HOPE maintains a big budget to run other savings group and microfinancing projects all over the world. 

From his office in Pennsylvania, HOPE president Peter Greer says he realizes the group’s rapid growth demands close oversight to maintain quality on local levels. (The organization posts audited financial statements online and Charity Navigator has given the group a four-star rating.)

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition and vote for the ministry you believe deserves the 2013 award .

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