Out of the Mouths of Babes
Morgan Nelson, a 17-year-old “rising senior” at Key West (FL) High School who is the daughter of dear (and, by the way, quite entrepreneurial!) friends of ours, joined Emily and me on the first week of our trip to Haiti. She more than “earned” this trip by starting a club at her high school – “Microfinance Matters” – that raised money for and awareness about this exciting and evolving poverty reduction strategy. (I was thrilled that Grameen Foundation, which has given me the sabbatical to work on this book, was the beneficiary of the grant from the club.) She also earned the money for her airfare to come here through baby-sitting and waiting tables throughout the year.
It certainly weighed on me that she is just a few years younger than I was when, in 1987, I wrote a letter to Professor Muhammad Yunus, asking him to take me under his wing to learn about how to be a force for helping to create a poverty-free world. And if SAT scores are any indication, Morgan has more raw talent than I did at that age. How could I refuse?
Morgan had quite a learning experience during the last week. Physical discomfort and sadness mixed with exhilaration, deep insight and, naturally, confusion. She was a trooper throughout, trying to wring every bit of learning possible from her time here. She was courageous enough to confront her own strong emotions when she came face to face with poverty that was not going to be erased quickly, if ever. She was honest and candid enough to occasionally be critical of Fonkoze – an organization she clearly admires – and then open enough to hear others’ views. On several occasions she asked questions of Fonkoze staff or clients that elicited much more interesting answers than my own questions — and her photos were a real gift to this project also!
On this mostly overcast Sunday in Port au Prince, as I look over my notes from a long brunch with Anne Hastings where she told us the story of Fonkoze’s frantic efforts during the ten days after the 2010 earthquake (more on that in a day or two), I want to let Morgan speak for herself in three videos that are each less than 90 seconds long.
In the first, below, she talks about what was most memorable about the week. Not surprisingly, she focuses on two borrowers – one an old hand at being a Fonkoze member, one about to begin – and then on Father Joseph Philippe, the founder.
In the second, she responds to a question probing something she wrote on facebook, about seeing some “hard things” here. You can see her struggling to articulate the reality of entrenched poverty.
In this third segment, she shares a message to other students around the country and around the world, who might not have had the chance to visit Haiti or any developing country and see microfinance in action, but who have an impulse to help.
There is clearly a new generation of talented, idealistic young people who want to do their part to confine poverty to history books and museums. Morgan Nelson is one of that generation’s leading lights. I was pleased to play a small role in her learning process this past week.
And she is coming back here in July to do a service project with some fellow high school students. When Anne Hastings heard that, she gave Morgan her business card and said she’d be willing to do anything to be helpful to facilitate the learning of Morgan and her friends. Clearly, I am not the only person working to support the next generation of anti-poverty activists.