Zafen, the Vincentian Family project in Haiti, is responding to needs as articulated by members of the Vincentian Family in Haiti. This entails a shift from micro-finance of business ventures to an emphasis on more basic skills of human development. This shift was implicit in the Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM), or the Road to a Better Life project but now will become more central.
The challenge, according to board chair Father Joseph Agostino, is that “Zafèn gives loans to entrepreneurs with business skills, but the Vincentian service population in Haiti is not ready for this.” Meetings Fr. Agostino held in March with Haitian Vincentian organization leaders clarified that Haitians served by Vincentians need rudimentary survival skills, such as proper nutrition, adequate housing and sanitation before they will be ready to participate in business ventures.
As a result, the board decided to expand its efforts in Haiti by drafting a strategic plan that employs a more diversified approach to its development work there. Regine Theodat, Vincentian Family project director in Haiti, is researching options that will focus on meeting these basic needs and creating jobs so families can sustain themselves.
The board reviewed a first draft of that plan at its meeting in early May in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), where it endorsed three efforts:
1) creating social projects that assist in the human development of each individual; thus rendering the ability to ensure personal success,
2) reinforcing current projects on the ground in Haiti to increase their success, and
3) investing in social businesses that employ a large number of individuals.
Theodat said a country cannot exist exclusively on entrepreneurship because some people are well-suited to run a business, while others prefer to work within an enterprise rather than operate it. “There also is a serious saturation in the market of small commerce –individual street-side vendors selling items like water and crackers. The profits are too low to support a family,” she noted, adding that pay in a larger business would generate a more sustainable income.
The Haiti project is already working with Fonkoze, its partner on Zafèn, to deliver additional basic skills-building programs for Haitians who need it. The Vincentians are currently supporting about 300 families participating in Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM), or the Road to a Better Life 18-month program that empowers women-headed households to take the first steps that will help them emerge from poverty. The Vincentians will work more closely with Fonkoze to customize and expand this training to members and beneficiaries of the family in Haiti.
Current projects underway by Vincentian organizations will be explored for additional support. They include the Daughters of Charity sewing shop in Cité Soleil and a Congregation of the Mission bakery in Tabarre.
The social businesses remain under discussion, but would be larger operations that could employ many Haitians who are not interested or able to launch their own business.
Zafèn is the micro-credit program the Vincentians helped to create to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the deaths of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.