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Haiti: Canaan residents join together to overcome economic challenges

Roseleine Leoma, a clothing dealer and mother of four children, lost her house during Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Like thousands of victims of that devastating quake, she decided to leave her neighborhood in Port-au-Prince and settle in the suburb of Canaan—a previously uninhabited stretch of land about an hour’s drive from the capital city.

This October, Roseleine resolved to take control of her economic future by joining one of Canaan’s community savings and credit associations. Named “Tèt Ansanm,” Roseleine’s association brings together 30 of her neighbors, who each pool money to help one another’s businesses thrive.

Here’s how it works: groups of neighbors—mainly women—pool their money together on a weekly basis. Each member can borrow from the savings fund up to three times the amount of their contribution. The loan, which can be used for a variety of business needs, has to be reimbursed to the group within three months, plus 10% interest. Although the American Red Cross has helped the neighbors set up and manage their association, the pool of money—and the interest—comes from the group’s members and belongs to the group’s members, not the American Red Cross.

In the past, Roseleine has taken care of children with income earned from her clothing business, but it’s not always been easy to make enough money to feed them. “When I did not have the economic means, I could not find anyone here in Canaan to lend me money and buy the goods needed. So I had enormous difficulties to renew my [clothing] stock. Today, thanks to this group of savings and credit, I cannot only borrow but also I can save money,” she says with a smile on her face.

Indeed, Roseleine has already taken her second loan from her savings and credit association. She is very happy to see her business grow day-by-day and her income stabilize.

Another Canaan resident, Jean Claude Cherestal, broils chicken for a living. Thanks to his participation in the community saving and credit association, his small business is booming. “Before, I would buy a single box of chicken for 1,500 gourdes [roughly $22 USD]. I could not do better. With the loans I got from the group, I can now get three boxes every eight days—and I think I will increase the amount soon."

The American Red Cross has been instrumental in establishing these organizations across Canaan, thanks in part to its partnership with Global Communities. With funds contributed by the American Red Cross, Global Communities trains association members on group management, savings, credit management, and leadership. In addition to the trainings, association members receive administrative materials to help them achieve their goals, such as lock boxes, cases, calculators, notebooks, and seals.

Canaan has played host to 39 of these social and economic structures over the past year. More than 1,100 Canaan residents have participated in the savings and credit association project—which aims to make Canaan residents economically self-sufficient and resilient. Like Roseleine, the first beneficiaries of these structures are typically women, since they make up the majority of association members.

To date, the assets of Canaan’s savings and credit associations amount to 2,483,826 gourdes [roughly $37,000 USD]. An amount of 1,871,041 [roughly $27,000 USD] has been granted to nearly 42% of members, as loans, in order to create or strengthen income-generating activities in Canaan. At the end of the one-year cycle, the interest will be shared among members of each association. The individual contributions may be withdrawn at any time for a purchase or an investment. In Canaan, these savings and credit associations can also serve as a guarantee fund in difficult times.

The American Red Cross has supported more than 170 savings and credit associations in Haiti, including in Carrefour-Feuilles—an area badly hit by the earthquake. Read more about the businesses benefiting from that infusion of capital here: For Haitian entrepreneurs, start-up capital from neighbors.

For more information about American Red Cross’s work in Haiti, visit redcross.org/Haiti.

About Canaan:

Canaan was completely unoccupied before the 2010 earthquake. After the quake, the government made the land available for people to live. Average Haitian families have invested more than $100 million of their own money to settle there and develop the neighborhoods they want to live in. The American Red Cross is investing more than $20 million USD to ensure essential urban planning, basic services (such as water, electricity, and roads) safe construction, job and entrepreneurship opportunities, disaster risk reduction, health, environmental awareness, re-introduction of thousands of trees, and development of public spaces.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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