Marilyn’s Story

Yesterday was quite a day. We began with an interview with one of the heroic tellers at the Marigot branch, Beatrice Fleurant-Fils (see photo below). She and two colleagues worked day and night for a month to process remittance payments and savings withdrawals for four branches, since they were the only local branch with consistent electricity and internet access. They did all their work outdoors, exposed to the elements, since they were afraid of going inside the badly damaged building (which is across the street from their current office). Steve Werlin did all the data entry on the computer; in Beatrice’s recounting, Steve claimed that as a “dumb foreigner” he didn’t know any better than to feel safe enough in the building to go inside for 8-10 hours per day!

Here I am with Beatrice, the "heroic teller", after we interviewed her. (Photo credit: Emily Wainwright)

After that, we had a long interview with the regional manager, Beauliere Francois, and the Jacmel branch manager (or director in Fonkoze parlance), Pierre David Dorval. It was very dramatic to hear them talk about their life journeys and how they came to work in Fonkoze. We talked a lot about the earthquake and its aftermath, and after the interview we went to see what remains of the building they used to work out off – one that I remember changing money in during a visit in March 2006. They recall their first instinct was to send the credit agents to the field to let Fonkoze clients know that Fonkoze was OK and committed to providing service to all of its clients within a short time (even though they were not exactly sure how they would do that!).

Lastly, we travelled to a slum area of Jacmel to interview Marilyn Bayonet. Her story is quite dramatic – I’ll try to resist telling all of it here. She had taken and repaid loans of US$90 and $120, and was paying off a loan for $200, when the earthquake hit. Her businesses included selling fried food and soft drinks on the beach, and also selling suitcases, used clothes, and tennis shoes. She is quite entrepreneurial, shifting her product mix based on the seasons and fluctuating demand. In the earthquake she lost her home and most of her business assets – and what was not lost was stolen in the immediate aftermath as lawlessness reigned. With her five children, she first sought out shelter in a local park, and then on a soccer field that became a tent city – where she remained for five months in horrifying conditions. She would get food from the group that set up the tent city on occasion, but she sensed there was a lot of corruption.

Walking through a narrow alley in a Jacmel slum on the way to Marilyn's tent (photo credit: Morgan Nelson)

She re-established contact with Fonkoze after a month, when a credit agent located her in the tent city and, seeing her condition, immediately gave her $1.50 from his own pocket. (Somewhat later, Linda Boucard from the head office – who has been wonderful in arranging my trip here! – gave her and the other members of her center $13 each, from her own pocket also.) In May 2010, her situation reached a turning point of sorts. She moved into a tent that was constructed by the international charity Med Air on the site of her original home (where she still lives now), and receive the $125 payment from Fonkoze that was part of the insurance they all received retroactively (and also the balance of her $200 loan was repaid for her). This enabled her to buy clothing and other essential for her children and travel to Cap Haitian to see her sister, since she had lost contact with her.

Marilyn Bayonet (photo credit: Morgan Nelson)

Then she borrowed $200 from Fonkoze to restart her business.  Her various ventures have generally gone well, except that she still experiences occasional theft from her tent. All her children except the oldest, her 14-year old son, are back in school (her son helps her with the business).  She has one chicken; she bought six with her profits and five died unfortunately. She just paid off her loan and is gearing up to take one for $400 to expand her business further. Clearly, not having a stable home (i.e., living in a tent) is hard for her — particularly as she had previously worked hard to set aside the money to build a modest house on this land that was owned by the grandmother who raised her.  Now that house is but a memory. 

On the drive back to our hotel, we were all reflecting on Marilyn’s situation. One person on our group said she felt that she clearly lacked the charisma and optimism of the women we met the previous day on the mountain, and said that it was unfortunate that Fonkoze could not help finance a new house for her. Another characterized her mental state not so much as pessimism as “grim determination.” I am thinking of making Marilyn a major character in my book, along with Iliamene whom we met the day before – together they represent two different ends of the spectrum of Fonkoze’s clientele. I’d need to return here in July to re-interview them to get their complete stories. Figuring out how to spend my time here in July is one of the many challenges I have before me.  I welcome reactions and advice from any and all reading this blog!

  1. margi Sirovatka
    February 8, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Hi Alex,
    I found your site while researching content for a course in International Business that I will be teaching at a university in Jeremie, Haiti in April. I was a JPMorgan BwB volunteer in Tunisia (enda) in 2010 and was honored to give a brief speech at GF’s annual gala dinner last year. I am looking forward to Haiti, although it is all new to me. The university director has requested that I address the topic of microfinance for the students. I’ve reached out to Anne Hastings to request if Fonkoze staff might be willing/able to speak at one of the classe (not heard back from her yet). Any other ideas you may have for my visit there are welcome.
    Best regards,
    Margi Sirovatka

  1. July 21, 2011 at 11:15 pm
  2. July 23, 2011 at 11:33 pm
  3. July 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

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