Haiti: Innovative savings scheme helps women rebuild their lives

Mireille stands where her house used to be. She now lives in a temporary structure next door but is rebuilding her life with community microfinance.

Three years ago, a massive earthquake destroyed Mireille Henry’s home in Miton, Haiti, killing her mother and trapping her daughter under the rubble for five hours.

The mother of four lost everything she owned. Mireille didn’t even have a spoon to feed her children, she says, or a blanket to keep them warm. She relocated to a field with her family. On the luckiest days, they got to sleep under a tree.

It’s been a challenging - and chaotic - journey for Mireille, 44, since the earthquake that affected millions of Haitians and left hundreds of thousands in displacement camps. But Mireille has rebuilt her life, through the help of her community and an innovative micro-savings programme.  

Savings and loans

In 2011, CARE introduced a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) to Mireille’s community. The programme serves the poorest of the poor, people who do not otherwise have access to the types financial services much of the world takes for granted.

Every group of about 20 to 30 women in the community receives intensive financial training. Each week, the group’s members contribute a minimum of roughly £1.20 to the group’s savings fund. They can borrow from the group fund to invest in small businesses, pay for seeds and fertiliser before the planting, or cover important family expenses like school fees and doctor’s visits. The loans are repaid quickly with interest. The interest is then shared within the group as profit, distributed as “pay-outs”.

To date, there are nearly 5,000 members of VSLA groups in Haiti, and 81% of them are women. The groups have saved a total of £111,464.

Restart her business

Mireille has received three loans through the VSLA programme for her children’s schooling. And she plans to use her next pay-out to re-start her fabric business. Before the earthquake, Mireille purchased fabric in bulk and then re-sold the materials at the market near her home. When the earthquake destroyed her home, she tried to salvage the fabric that was left. She stored some of the fabric at the market, but it was all stolen, leaving her with nothing.

Eager to start her business again, Mireille says the VSLA has taught her how to save funds that will bring her fabric business back to life.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of money, we now have a way to save,” she says. “We don’t have to go to a bank. I’m very proud of that, and I want to see this continue in the future”.

Making strides since the earthquake

Mireille, like many others in her community, is making strides since the tragic earthquake. Today, she lives in a small home with walls made out of tarps and a ceiling of aluminium. Her new home sits right next to the foundation of her former home. But with hope and determination, Mireille continues to participate in the VSLA to increase her income and strengthen her financial planning skills.

Mireille also volunteered to serve as the group’s treasurer. The group admired her strong-willed and serious nature. She is responsible for keeping track of the money and the cash box safe. During the weekly meetings, Mireille counts the money and verifies the accounts.

Mireille says she especially enjoys showing other women in the community, who are not part of the VSLA, how much the programme has helped her. She has encouraged many of these women to participate. She finds it to be an outlet for their voices to be heard in the community. Her VSLA group has lots of big ideas, she says. They’ve thought about opening a bakery together or starting a sewing studio.

“I know that women can be strong leaders,” she said. “I really believe that. I want to become a better leader, a stronger leader, myself.”

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.