Crisis in Haiti unfortunately is nothing new. Tragedies both natural and man-made have plagued the country through much of recent history. The most recent tragedy occurred on August 14 when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula.
In the town of Les Cayes, about 25 miles from the epicenter, cinderblock walls buckled and cement floors crashed down upon one another. FINCA client Norvelie Fontaine will never forget the day.
“It took me a second to realize something was odd,” remembers Norvelie. “It felt like the house was dancing with me so I grabbed my two children and ran outside. But even in the streets I did not feel safe. I was so scared my children would get hurt. So I held them in my arms. That’s when it happened again.”
A second tremor pushed Norvelie upwards, and she distinctively heard her bone cracked. “Still, I was holding my babies. Then the earth opened, and I got trapped with my kids. Luckily we were saved by my neighbors who found us and pulled us out” whispers the 33-year-old mother.
On Norvelie’s trip to the hospital she recalls seeing chaos on the streets with motorcycles and cars running into each other. “A propane refill station exploded… I really thought I was going to die that day.”
Norvelie and her children survived. But the earthquake killed at least 2,200 people, injured more than 12,000, and put an estimated 650,000 people in dire need of assistance. It was truly a day of crisis in Haiti.
The earthquake is only one in a string of crises buffeting Haiti. As everywhere else in the world, COVID-19 is causing tremendous suffering. Haiti has not had many confirmed COVID cases, but the pandemic worsened an already weak economy. According to the World Bank, sixty percent of Haitians now live on less than $2 per day.
Many Haitians, however, view the pandemic as a minor concern. Their primary concern is an escalation in violence since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021. The assassination remains unsolved, and powerful gangs have stepped into the power void created by the President’s death.
Kidnappings of rich and poor are rampant making people afraid to send their kids to school or to leave their homes for work. And gangs are setting up roadblocks to extort payment from travelers and truck drivers, making food and other goods scarce and expensive. The earthquake only added to this misery.
In the face of the earthquake, FINCA responded immediately. We quickly ascertained that while the FINCA office in Les Cayes was damaged our staff was unharmed. We sent local staff cash assistance to tide them over until emergency relief arrived, distributed what canned food items and hygiene supplies we had on hand, and began the massive task of getting in touch with our 5,000+ clients in region.
Through in-person visits and phone calls, we learned that Norvelie’s story was far from unique. Some clients had died or lost family members, hundreds had been injured, and more than 800 had their business and/or home destroyed by the earthquake. Concentrating our efforts on helping these most affected families, FINCA International launched an emergency appeal just days after the earthquake hit.
The response has been overwhelming. To date FINCA International has raised more than $250,000. FINCA Haiti is using the donations to forgive loans made to women like Norvelie who lost so much. The Emergency Response Fund also will ensure that when the doctor takes off Norvelie’s cast and authorizes her to return to work that she can receive a new loan to restart her business.
Meanwhile to combat the violence that is plaguing Haiti, FINCA is further ramping up its mobile banking and agent banking. By allowing people to do transactions from the relative safety of their home or business, we’re able to keep our clients and our staff safer.
Norvelie’s life is still very difficult, but with her immediate needs met, Norvelie already is thinking of that future. As she told us recently, “I can start over. I’m not afraid of that.” FINCA’s clients have proved their resilience over and over again. And with support from FINCA and the donors who make our work possible, Norvelie certainly will have the chance that she needs.