In the first of my four-part series profiling Anne Hastings, the CEO of Fonkoze Financial Services and the driving force behind all things Fonkoze for the last 15+ years, I related a story that included reference to her “kidnapping” the wife and children of a person who stole about $50,000 from Fonkoze. (In truth, she asked them to come with her for their safety while the thief was pursued, and they agreed.) I can’t remember whether Anne actually used that word in our interview, but I can say that she reviewed and approved of a draft of blog post.
Once it was published, Anne reported that she was overwhelmed with messages from people who objected to my use of the word “kidnapping.” While I was heartened that enough people read the blog to raise so many objections, I felt bad about how it was received and quickly revised the post, removing the offending word.
Perhaps I should have anticipated the strong reaction, since real kidnappings have been critical and traumatic chapters in Fonkoze’s history. As I have written elsewhere, the beloved Fonkoze employee Amos Jeannot was abducted in 2000 and was later found tortured and murdered after Anne refused to shut down Fonkoze – which was the kidnappers’ only stated demand. Later, one of Fonkoze’s most dynamic leaders, Gauthier Dieudonne, was kidnapped, though it apparently had nothing to do with his work at Fonkoze. (Gautier is mentioned in this blog where I reported from the Microcredit Summit in Spain last fall. To view the plenary session he spoke at, click here.)
Gauthier’s story has a better ending than Amos’. He improbably escaped in the middle of the first night of his captivity by getting loose from the ropes that bound him to a chair, and then gingerly walking past his kidnappers after seeking guidance through prayer. Within a day he left the country and grew a beard (as a kind of disguise), but returned a few weeks later to resume his work – which continues to this day. He heads Fonkoze’s widely praised CLM program that gives intensive support to destitute women for 18 months to prepare them for mainstream microfinance – something that was adapted from BRAC while drawing on other similar initiatives including Grameen Bank’s struggling borrowers (beggars) program.
What I was trying to convey in the blog post, and why I could not resist the temptation to use the offending term, was Anne’s personal courage, tenacity, and conviction that she can convince people to turn over a new leaf if she can only sit down and talk to them. (The idea was that the thief would come to rejoin his family and return the money, and that the matter would be forgotten and forgiven. As it happened, he never came for them so Anne took them home after four days. The thief was later arrested, jailed, but ultimately escaped jail only to die a violent death in the streets. The money was never recovered.)
Working in Haiti is clearly not for the faint of heart. I think I have learned an important lesson about using rhetorical flourishes that can hit a nerve in this complex, courageous and fragile institution operating in such a hostile environment.