May 27, 2009
Alex and Yeardley Smith at Fonkoze education meeting with Myriam Narcisse, Fonkoze education director
On our final day in Haiti, we visited a literacy class, conducted by microfinance clients for microfinance clients. Fonkoze’s path-breaking adult education program, modeled on the work of Brazil’s educator and visionary Paulo Freire, involves training clients to deliver four-month modules – on topics as diverse as basic literacy, children’s rights, maternal and child health, and environmental stewardship – to their peers. This approach represents social self-empowerment that, when coupled with economic self-empowerment through savings and loans, can propel women faster than either can alone.
The day we visited, the “literacy monitor” (trainer) was leading the group through valuable, and valued, information about sustainable agriculture. Clearly moved by what was going on before her eyes,Yeardley asked whether she could share some of her own knowledge. Everyone was thrilled when she jumped in to demonstrate some knitting techniques that were relevant to that day’s module. Yeardley seemed to bask in the glow of being useful to the poor women of Haiti, after observing so many other people – almost all Haitians – successfully serving Fonkoze’s clients through themicrofinance process. I am sure it will not be the last time that Yeardley will feel like she is adding value to the process of poverty reduction through microfinance . I can already envision an exhibit, in Dr. Yunus’ “poverty museum,” that centers around Yeardley’s mini-lesson that we luckily captured on film.
A short time after she was done, Haitians were back training Haitians with our delegation in the background. However, our collective memory ofYeardley jumping in remained fresh, as it does almost a week later. Hopefully her small but meaningful act will prompt others to do what they can to supportmicrofinance, whether they find themselves in a classroom, a living room, their place of worship, or in a poor country like Haiti.