I attended a meeting this morning with members of 5 different microcredit groups being served by N a Sonje’s program. One of the groups called themselves “Ansanm Nou Fò,” which means “together we are strong.” N a Sonje practices group lending where each group is collectively responsible for the loans of its members and members go through the loan process together. Lerece, who has 8 years of experience in micro-credit in Haiti, runs the program and provides training and management. The ultimate goal though, is to pass the responsibility for managing the program onto the women themselves.
The women welcomed me and answered some of my questions about what these loans can do for them. N a Sonje makes credit much more accessible to them because it is based in their neighborhood. To get a loan from another organization they would have to go into the city every month to deposit their payments in their accounts. Many other organizations also have a higher requirement for a savings account as collateral on the loan, and many also ask for them to have a cosigner for the loan.
In addition to all these logistical benefits, N a Sonje also charges less than half the normal interest rate and doesn’t charge any fees. In my meeting with Lerece the other day he explained to me that he makes every effort to charge women as little as possible; for example, if a woman can pay her loan off ahead of time, she doesn’t have to pay the interest on the rest of the time period for her loan. He is able to be flexible with these issues to make the loans better fit the women’s needs and abilities.
It was also very encouraging to hear the women talk about how useful this credit program is to them. It is difficult for them to find another source of credit to fund their businesses, and other sources would always charge more interest. The main complaint the women had is that the fund isn’t big enough to fulfill the demand. They would like to be able to take out larger loans, and there are plenty of people who are left out now simply because there isn’t enough money to go around.
The program isn’t perfect though; there are always people who run into difficulties repaying their loan, and this is an issue they are facing now. Because they are working with a set fund, any default will decrease the amount of money available to loan. The women are aware of this issue and are working with Lerece to find a solution.
There are other problems the women face as merchants as well. They don’t have the means to buy a spot in the marketplace; so many of them sell on the street in Petion-Ville. The police have started cracking down on this practice and it has become common for them to throw merchandise on the street or put it in their car and drive away with it. When I asked the women what they do to avoid losing their merchandise, one of them replied that she grabs her stuff and runs away.
Here are a few of the women I got to meet today: