Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A good way to end the year!

Merry Christmas!  

I had an excellent discussion today with Anna, regional manager for Heifer International.  In short, Anna is willing to explore further the possibility of Heifer's involvement to help the people of Pestel!   This is a wonderful possibility! 

Heifer brings expertise in livestock and agro-ecology (issues related to soil improvement, crop growth etc etc).  The benefits, potentially, to people in Pestel would be
1. Improved nutrition through development of agriculture and livestock  (think:  protein!)
2. Improve economy--think of goats/pigs/etc as bank accounts.  When times are particularly tight they can 'withdraw' from their accounts by selling chickens or pigs etc.  Once their animals begin to reproduce, they can sell these and generate new income.

I am now planning to meet with some Haitian representatives in PAP during my Jan trip  (gonna be busy!).  

You gotta love it!

A BIG thanks to Rebecca and her friends with Variety International who made these connections!

Monday, December 13, 2010

December updates

Merry Christmas everyone!

My next trip to Haiti is scheduled for January 13-16th when I will meet with Dr. Seneque in Port-au-Prince to talk about 2010 as well as to make sure we're on the same page for 2011.  For the first time I'll also be meeting with Dr. John Leininger with whom I have communicated plenty in the past several years!  Dr. Leininger is the man who introduced me to the Chateaux Deaus!  And he helps to arrange their installation in Pestel.  

Patient persistence.  The Chair of my department likes that phrase.  Through patient persistence I am seeing God moving in people's hearts to join in the effort.  This is really good stuff!

We're selling calendars!  Each calendar supports the effort to provide medications to 5 children.  Thanks to Dr. Linda Chambers for her great work on this!  

My friend Stephen Sands is working on developing a website to allow people to give to this work.  If you have ideas or suggestions on how to improve the site (which is in its infancy) please feel free to pass them along!   I'll send the link along in a bit.
Haiti Medical

A few very somber notes:

  • Cholera has struck Pestel.  Dr. Seneque is seeing a lot of cholera.  
  • Violence has mixed with protests in the streets of PAP after the recent Haitian elections.  In short, there are allegations of fraud, and the US has issued a cautious statement suggesting that the will of the Haitian people may have been thwarted.  
  • Sarah Palin and her husband are in Haiti right now with Franklin Graham.  This is not a good time to be in Haiti, frankly.  The airport was shut down on Friday due to concerns over violence.  Please pray for their safety, and that they would use their status to highlight the great needs of the Haitian people.  

On quite a different note:   I was able to contact an organization in PAP that flies helicopters.
I've asked them if they'd consider flying me out to Pestel directly from PAP.   :)    We shall see.   That'd be a pretty cool option, don't you think?

And we are still waiting for word from Heifer International about their possible involvement in Pestel.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Banking in Haiti

This is really cool.   It's called 'mBanking'.  They have been using it in places in Africa for quite some time.  My friend Jon Eager (who went with me to Pestel this past June) told me about it.  mBanking would do Pestel a world of good!  Some of you know my great struggle-and-frustration with getting funds out to Pestel.  VERY challenging.   This could make a lot of that problem obsolete.

The two major phone companies in Haiti:  Digicel and Voila.  Voila is mentioned in the article below.  I also know that Digicel received a grant to implement it as well.


I've Seen the Future (in Haiti)

St.-MARC, Haiti

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

On the Ground

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Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.

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Cash is so 20th century.

I've been experimenting with a 21st-century alternative, using money on a cellphone account to buy goods in shops. It's a bit like using a credit card, but the system can also enable you to use your cellphone account to transfer money to individuals or companies domestically or internationally. And it's more secure because a thief would have to steal not only your phone but also your PIN to get access to your money.

What's really astonishing, though, is the site of my experimentation with "mobile money." Not in the banking capitals of New York City or London, but in this remote Haitian town of St.-Marc.

Mercy Corps, through a United States government-financed program, is providing food for people here in St.-Marc who have taken in earthquake survivors. The standard method would be to hand out bags of rice, or vouchers. Instead, Mercy Corps will be pushing a button once a month, and $40 will automatically go into each person's cellphone savings account — redeemable at local merchants for rice, corn flour, beans or cooking oil.

I took one of these phones and walked into a humble little grocery shop with no electricity — "Rosie Boutique," named for the owner's little daughter — and became the first person to make a cellphone purchase there. I typed the codes into my phone, and then both my phone and the store's phone received instantaneous text messages saying that the transfer was complete. The food was now mine.

"It doesn't get any cooler than this," said Kokoévi Sossouvi, the Mercy Corps program manager. She's right — and the technology isn't just cool, but could be a breakthrough in chipping away at global poverty.

You see, the world's poor face a problem even bigger than being fleeced by bankers. It's being ignored by bankers.

Most poor people around the world don't have access to banks. In particular, one of the biggest challenges for the poor is how to save money. The poor often have money coming in just a few times a year — after a harvest, or after a temporary job of picking coffee beans — but each time they have no way to save it.

Banks typically won't accept tiny deposits. In West Africa, private money dealers accept deposits, but they charge 40 percent annual interest rates on them. So money is more likely to be kept under a mattress, and stolen or squandered.

The poor do establish their own savings accounts in the form of chickens, goats or jewelry that they can buy and later sell. "But what if your goat gets sick and dies?" notes Ms. Sossouvi.

That's why the most powerful idea in microfinance isn't microloans, but microsavings — helping the poor safely store their money. And mobile phones offer a low-cost way to make microsavings feasible and extend financial services to the poor. About three-fourths of Haitians have access to a mobile phone, and similar numbers are found in many poor parts of the world.

Kenya has been a leader in mobile money, but many other developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas are now jumping on board as well. For the poor, mobile telephones could have as profound an impact on finance — on banking the unbanked — as they have on communications.

One terrific poverty-fighting organization in Haiti, Fonkoze, is also expanding into financial services through mobile phones. It is implementing a system whereby Haitians in America will be able to use cellphones to send unlimited remittances to the phones of relatives back in Haiti. On the Haitian side, the recipient of the money would be able to go into any Fonkoze branch and cash out — or, better yet, use the remittance as the start of a savings account.

Nothing goes as planned in the developing world, and that's true of mobile banking. Many people in the program here in St.-Marc are illiterate and have trouble mastering the codes, and the first time I tried a transaction I lost a cell signal. Central banks and regulators are sometimes wary of telephone companies engaging in finance.

But Robin Padberg, the chief executive of the Voilà cellphone company that Mercy Corps is working with, says that early in the new year the mobile money system will be expanded so that anyone will be able to make purchases, put money into a mobile phone account or take cash out. That'll be a milestone in the inclusion of the poor in the world of financial services.

And some day, I'm pretty sure, I'll engage in as sophisticated a financial transaction as Haitians — say, walking into a deli and buying a pastrami on rye with my BlackBerry — without even leaving Manhattan.

Haiti Blog

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pestel and Cholera

Hi all,

I wanted to make you aware that it appears that cholera has spread to Pestel.  Both Dr Seneque and Sister Fidelis have now mentioned this.

Please pray for wisdom.  And pray that somehow the issue of cholera would resolve quickly in Pestel.

Dr. Seneque emailed me today to ask that the workers be allowed to continue working through January (you may recall that we have the workers taking a break until March 2011).  He wants to use them to spread the word about cholera up into the mountain communities, and to do community education.

This is really good news, in my opinion, because it indicates that he sees the value of having built a 'network' of workers from the various sections.  It is also important because it allows the workers to take on a new level of responsibility related to health.

The challenge here will be in developing something rather rapidly to respond to the cholera issue--a worker education program to address hygiene, keeping safe, responding appropriately to illness.  This is no small feat.   There is also the added challenge of treating sick people with very limited resources (i.e. lack of IV fluids in Pestel).   These are not insurmountable, just challenging.

The workers have served important purposes in 2010:  they have done a fantastic job of delivering the medications to 12,000 children WHILE obtaining crucial baseline data.  Beyond this, they were instrumental as an early warning system for Hurricane Tomas, and now they may be used to combat an epidemic.    The last two efforts go well beyond our expectations.  

My next trip to Haiti will be in January--this was confirmed today.   I'll meet with Dr. Seneque in PAP.  Please be praying about that meeting also. 



Thursday, December 2, 2010

Haiti updates--early December

Hi all,

I'm seeing reports that cholera is making its way out to the southeastern part of Haiti which is where Pestel is located.   The UN and Red Cross are deploying folks to Les Cayes, and there are suspected cases around Jeremie.   Also, I heard back from Dr Seneque yesterday and he indicated that he is very busy with cases of cholera.  I am hoping that these "cases" are not truly cholera.  That would be awful.

I will not be making a trip to Haiti this December, but will be exploring a quick trip to meet with Dr. Seneque in January (in PAP).  

Haiti is in a bad way right now, as I know you know.     The elections were held this past Sunday and the results remain up-in-the-air.   Until a new government is established the foreign donors are unlikely to release the funds that are waiting.  The US, for example, has $1.3 billion already approved.  Realistically, from what I learned from others today, the new govt is going to be established as early as February.  But then there is a ramp-up time for them.

I have received some very encouraging news though!

Several individuals have expressed their interest in using their skills to help the people of Pestel, whether here in the US or on-the-ground in Pestel at some point.   This is a HUGE blessing and gift.  
We were up in NH the past couple of days for my grandmother's funeral, and in talking with many of my relatives it was clear to all of us that this effort on behalf of Pestel is at the point where it is ripe for others to come on board, take over established efforts, help with the 'management' aspects, and so forth.
And these folk are starting to appear    :)    
Others are giving financially and through words of encouragement and prayers.   I am keenly aware of how important these are.   Thank you.

A few other neat notes:
1.  Rebecca is pursuing a key contact with Heifer International.  We will see if they might become involved in helping the people of Pestel.   Their investment would be HUGE!
2.  Johnny is now looking into options for folks in Pestel to make their own soap.   This would be a fantastic local solution.    We'll be trying out his CharRocket stove and Solar Fruit Dryer in March when we go out to Pestel.   
3.  We have enough funds to purchase 3 more Chateaux Deaus for Pestel.   One will be attached to the brand new clinic in Abricot (which, btw, the villagers there built after receiving a grant!!  Love these people!).   In light of the cholera epidemic, the need for water is most apparent to everyone these days.   
4.  I calculated out the cost to treat the 2000 (or so) kids on the island (Section 6) for anemia with iron therapy.   I'm pretty sure we can do it cheaper, but the initial cost appears to be $6000.  That's $3 per kid per year.   We'll combine that with the Vitamin A & Deworming campaign to get some cross-benefit.  So the true cost will probably be somewhere around $2 per kid per year.   We'll pilot the effort on the island first, work out the bugs, and then extend it to the rest of Pestel in 2012, most likely.   

Please continue to pray for wisdom, prudence, patience, and persistence.