I wanted to say something more about the ways the texts we are creating for topic-focused Wonn Refleksyon activities are working. What I wrote most recently (What Conversations are About) seemed to be too unclear. A second opportunity for reflection came this week, as I traveled to Belladere, on the Dominican border, to work with Fonkoze credit agents there.
I’ve been to the Belladere area a couple of times now, both before the new Fonkoze branch there opened and since. (See : Almost Belade.) It’s a lovely part of the country: green and mountainous, a primary coffee-growing region. Trade between Belladere and Elias Pina combines with poor roads between Belladere and Lascahobas, the nearest larger Haitian city, to make Belladere a little bit isolated from the rest of Haiti. There’s very little phone service there, no electricity, and no cybercafe.
I spent two days and visited four credit centers, but the conversation we held in the first of those centers, a relatively new one in a place called Do Batis, or Baptiste’s Back, has a lot to say about what we are achieving and what, perhaps, we can achieve. The center is almost two hours by motorcycle up a deteriorating mountain road from Belladere. Delva, the credit agent responsible for recruiting and serving clients in the area makes the trip several times a week. When his business involves loan disbursing loans or collecting repayments, he must make the trip with a substantial amount of cash. A center might have 30 members of more. A single reimbursement for an entire center might require him to return to his office with over $1000 dollars in cash. A disbursement would involve several times that. He travels unarmed through a region with no law enforcement presence to speak of.
The topic of the first story in the collection we are creating is, therefore, credit center security. 100% of a center’s security depends on the prudence and discretion of the members it serves and of the Fonkoze staff members who visit it. It is thus important to make security a topic of reflection.
The story I wrote is easy to summarize: a credit center member named Mariz is frustrated because she has to come to meetings. She complains to a friend, and he agrees to go in her place. The center’s members accept him without questioning his presence, as does the Fonkoze credit agent. After attending several of the meetings for Mariz, he comes to understand how the center works and he arranges for the credit agent to be robbed after collecting a reimbursement.
After listening to the story, credit center members are asked to meet in small groups. One is asked to talk about Mariz’s responsibility, others are asked to talk about the centers’ officers and their responsibility, and one is asked to consider the credit agent’s responsibility. After about ten minutes of small group reflection, the groups come together to report their thoughts to one another. After that, there is a short general conversation about related issues.
In Do Batis, the conversation went much as one might have expected it might. Attendance at the meeting was small – only ten women – but those who were there got right to the point about their security. They spoke both about Mariz was wrong to send someone to the meeting in her place and how the center’s officials, its members, and its credit agent were all wrong to accept her replacement when he arrived. With respect to the content-based objectives, the meeting got off the ground quickly, and the conversation raised the issues we hoped it would raise.
But the conversation really became interesting when I asked the women whether they had security experiences they wanted to share. One older women, who had been quiet so far, took the floor right away. She explained that a man had attempted to rob her just about a week before the meeting. She lives in an isolated house with only a young boy. The man broke into the house late one night, and tied her up. The boy fled. The man demanded the money she had made for selling a substantial amount of coffee that day.
She immediately realized that he had been following her. He saw that she had left that morning with a large load of coffee beans, and knew she had returned having sold them. What he did not know is that she stopped on her way home and left her cash in the hands of a small savings cooperative she participates in. She had no cash on hand, so she offered the thief the large stock of dried beans she had prepared for sale that week. He wasn’t interested. By this time, the boy had contacted her son-in-law, and his had arrived raising a racket. The thief fled.
She spoke to the center about how worrisome it is that the man had been keeping track of her that way, and how important it was to make sure she had only minimal cash on hand. After hearing this story another woman, I’ll call her Janoz, spoke up. She reported that her older sister had just recently heard through a neighbor that Janoz had been spoken about by a group of young men. The young men referred to Janoz as a important businesswoman. They had, apparently, been noticing her progress. This, Janoz said, could not bode well. She would need to take more care to conceal her efforts.
Another women soon spoke up, explaining how she never sells all the merchandise she leaves her house with. She doesn’t want anyone to think she might have a large amount of cash on her. In addition, she’s given up traveling to the market in one nearby town where she doesn’t trust the residents.
At this point, the conversation was among the center’s members. They were sharing their experiences and offering one another advice. Their credit agent and I had nothing to say. Though I cannot know whether the women in the center in Do Batis, or in other Fonkoze centers where we establish our work, will improve the way they speak with one another – the Fonkoze version of Wonn Refleksyon lacks our usual emphasis on group evaluation and the texts it uses may be too closely related to members’ lives – it is a promising approach if it can create opportunity of conversations like the one in Do Batis. Such conversations will serve the credit centers well.