Fonkoze’s approach to its educational programs distinguishes them from other adult-education programs I’m aware of. Even their objectives are unique. It sees providing educational programs as a route towards helping its members improve their lives. That might sound conventional enough. But for Fonkoze, the route depends, first and foremost, on effective microcredit programs that help members increase their financial independence and security and to become less poor. Fonkoze’s educational programs are designed to complement and even serve microcredit. The institution is not, after all, a school that lends money. It’s a bank that offers education.
The educational programs serve microcredit in a number of ways. Most directly, and obviously, are the ways that Basic Literacy and Business Development students acquire skills that help them make better use of their loans. Keeping track of inventory, expenses, and sales is much easer for women who can read and write. And these are all skills specifically covered in the Business Development class. Health Education students can reduce sickness – their own and their families’ – that can drain their resources.
But these direct effects are, in a sense, less significant than another that is, perhaps, less obvious. Educational programs strengthen microcredit by strengthening the centers that the credit works through. It strengthens these centers by bringing their members together for more frequent meetings.
Centers without educational programs generally meet every two weeks. Every four weeks, they meet to make loan repayments. They have a second meeting each month for discussions. Centers with educational programs, however, meet once or even twice each week. The women end up working with one another more closely, more regularly, and so a sense of community, of solidarity, develops among them.
But credit centers can have forty members or more, too many to participante effectively in a single class. So Fonkoze has been developing an approach one might call “Inivèsite Fonkoze”, or Fonkoze University. Credit centers are organized to offer two or three classes simultaneously. Women can sign up for the class they want. It is as though they are university students choosing from among elective offerings.
Here are some photos from one Fonkoze University, at a credit center in Zoranje, a rural community in the mountains outside of Jakmèl.
The center is located in the yard behind one of its member’s home, under a cluster of trees:
One important aspect of the new approach is the Fonkoze no longer hires outside professional educators to run the classes. They are instead taught by credit center members who receive a week of training to prepare them. This not only develops a sense of solidarity within the centers, as participants teach and learn from one another, but it also develops leadership skills in the women who take on the task. Here are the three member-teachers at the center in Zoranje. The woman on the left teaches Basic Literacy, the one on the right teaches Business Skills, and the woman who’s seated teaches Reproductive Health.
Participants in the Basic Literacy class felt strongly that they should be able to pose to have their photos taken. Here are two of them:
The Business Skills class uses a book that Fonkoze created. Here is a participant at the board, working out a problem:
Here, some of her classmates watch:
The instructor works it out at the table. She is learning together with her students:
The Reproductive Health class is based on wide-ranging conversations about stories that were collected because they raise important issues. Here, the teacher leads the discussion. Her young daughter looks on:
The more Fonkoze is able to provide these programs to its credit centers, the stronger those centers will grow. They will gradually become long-term associations of women who meet to learn together. Leadership skills will spread and strengthen among them, and so their communities will move forward as well. It is hard to imagine a more certain means towards progress in rural Haiti.