Haiti (MNN) — Haiti is notoriously the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The CIA World Factbook says over 58 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. Poverty is only worsened by the natural disasters that keep coming.
In 2010, an economy-crippling earthquake struck. Just a couple years later, Haiti was severely flooded with intense rain from Hurricane Sandy. Last year, droughts brought on by El Niño caused crops to fail in some areas. Last month, destruction came in the form of Hurricane Matthew.
Jeff Boshart serves as vice president on the board for FARMS International. He recently visited Haiti and was updated on one of their two micro-loan projects in the Central Plateau of Haiti.
He explains, “FARMS works through local churches with a program of providing micro-credit, micro-loans to help believers start small businesses. The program is run by local volunteers — a completely Haitian volunteer, leadership group.”
These micro-loans are interest free with a small service fee. Loan holders agree to tithe from the profit they receive from their business. This is a unique model for loans because it instills the value of “paying it forward” in those who are helped.
The types of businesses these micro-loans go towards vary from country to country. In Moldova, these loans help farmers buy greenhouses to increase growing seasons and crop output. In Haiti, some of the projects result in business owners buying bulk necessities like oil, gasoline, and food to distribute them.
Boshart says, “The kinds of projects we really like — and that have really been most helpful and beneficial — are animal raising projects and projects such as carpenters buying wood and making furniture, basket-makers, so those types of projects.”
Finding sustainability and stability
Natural disasters prove just how small the margin of error is for most Haitians. When businesses are destroyed, there is no back-up plan. When last year’s crops failed, it was devastating.
“One of our volunteers in the Central Plateau was telling us, he said, ‘These [FARMS] loans and the small businesses these people have, actually, have been the difference for some of the holders who are older, who are widows. They have made the difference between life and death, literally, for some of these families, because their crops failed and their small businesses were the only thing keeping them going.’”
Agriculture in Haiti is extremely susceptible to weather conditions like hurricanes. Boshart, who also works for Church of the Brethren in some of the cities further south, says the damage from Hurricane Matthew was much more widespread than the immediate area of impact. High winds and heavy rains damaged crops and killed animals hundreds of miles away.
In Haiti, much of the farmland is on steep hillsides. Because nearby forests have been cut down, the farmland is largely unprotected from the elements of wind and rain. Crops don’t stand a chance during heavy storms.
Church of the Bethren is doing long-term relief aid in Haiti (to help with that, click here), but they’re also providing agricultural education on things like soil conservation and sustainability. This will help establish a long-term safety net for farmers.
FARMS is helping on the financial side of things — for families and for the Church. Boshart says there is a deep-seated mentality of dependence for churches in Haiti. Many of them rely wholly on international support to function. FARMS is one of the few working to change that.
“The vision for FARMS is to help come alongside and support ministries of local churches. We work through local churches and the hope is these churches will have increased tithing. Through the increased tithing, these churches would be better able to support their pastors.”
And when they ask loan groups how they are using that tithe money — there’s good news for the Gospel.
“We find out a lot of these congregations have choirs and women’s groups that like to go out and do evangelism work, and this helps support that.”
Churches can afford to travel to other communities. They are able to hold special services at night to impact the immediate community.
The gift of giving
Boshart explains one final impact of their micro-loan program that isn’t necessarily obvious. In poverty, it is a rare thing to be able to give someone anything. But part of the agreement of this program is that loan holders give back to the church.
Because of this, Boshart says, “once people actually begin to tithe — and many of them for the first time in their lives — they experience the joy and blessings of giving to others. So that goes beyond just the support for the Church’s ministries, but people feel personal blessings in their own lives.”
Consider having your small group or church missions committee learn more about this micro-loans model. Contact Joe Richter, President of FARMS International, to learn about availability for a speaking engagement.
Boshart asks you to pray for FARMS International. They work in many countries, even some where being a Christian isn’t necessarily safe or comfortable. He also asks that we pray for those who risk their lives to follow Christ.