Haiti Earthquake: Thanks to a CARE Microsavings Program, Mireille Is on the Road to Financial Stability

Haiti Earthquake: Thanks to a CARE Microsavings Program, Mireille Is on the Road to Financial Stability

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Interview conducted by David Rochkind

Milton, Haiti (January 2013) – Three years ago, a massive earthquake destroyed Mireille Henry’s home in Haiti, killing her mother and trapping her daughter under the rubble for five hours.

The mother of four lost everything she owned. Mireille didn’t even have a spoon to feed her children, she says, or a blanket to keep them warm. She relocated to a field with her family. On the luckiest days, they got to sleep under a tree.

It’s been a challenging – and chaotic – journey for Mireille, 44, since the earthquake that affected millions of Haitians and left hundreds of thousands in displacement camps. But Mireille has rebuilt her life, through the help of her community and an innovative microsavings program.   

In 2011, CARE introduced a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in Haiti and Mireille’s community. The program serves the poorest of the poor – people who do not otherwise have access to the types financial services much of the world takes for granted. 

Every group of 20- 30 women receives intensive financial training. And the group’s members contribute a minimum of roughly $2.00 each to the group’s savings fund every week. The women can borrow from the group fund to invest in small businesses, pay for seeds and fertilizer or cover important family expenses, such as school fees and doctor’s visits. 

The loans are repaid quickly, with a low interest rate, set by the group members. The interest is then shared with everyone in the group as profit, distributed as “pay-outs.”

Today, there are nearly 5,000 VSLA participants in Haiti, and 81 percent of them are women. These groups have saved a total of $179,646.00!

Mireille received three loans through the VSLA program, which she used on her children’s schooling. And she plans to use her next pay-out to restart her fabric business. 

Before the earthquake, Mireille purchased fabric in bulk and then resold the material at the market near her home. When the earthquake destroyed her home, she tried to salvage the fabric that was left. She stored some at the market, but it was all stolen, leaving her with nothing.

Eager to start her business again, Mireille says the VSLA has taught her how to save funds that will bring her fabric business back to life.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of money, we now have a way to save,” she says. “We don’t have to go to a bank. I’m very proud of that, and I want to see this continue in the future.”

Mireille, like many others in her community, are making strides since the tragic earthquake. Today, she lives in a small home with walls made out of tarps and a ceiling of aluminum. Her new home sits right next to the foundation of her former home. 

With hope and determination, Mireille continues to participate in VSLA in order to increase her income and strengthen her financial planning skills. She also volunteers as the group’s treasurer, and the group admires her strong-willed and serious nature. 

Mireille is responsible for keeping track of money – counting and verifying it at each weekly meeting – and for keeping the cash box safe. 

Her VSLA group has lots of big ideas, Mireille says. They’ve thought about opening a bakery together or starting a sewing studio.

Mireille says she especially enjoys showing other women, who are not part of VSLA, how much the program has helped her. She has encouraged many of these women to participate, and use it as an outlet for their voices to be heard within the community. 

“I know that women can be strong leaders,” she said. “I really believe that. I want to become a better leader, a stronger leader, myself.”

Read more about our work empowering women in Haiti >

Mireille Henry, 44, sits where the foundation of her home used to be on January 7, 2013.   Mireille lost everything during the earthquake of January 10, 2010. One of her daughters was trapped under the rubble for 5 hours and her mother died when the house fell on her.