From right: Founding members of Zafèn, The Rev. Robert Maloney of the Vincentian Family, Professor Laura Hartman of DePaul University and CEO Anne Hastings of Fonkoze Financial Services. Not pictured: Katleen Felix of the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group.
By Father Bob Maloney
It is hard to believe that three years have passed since we inaugurated the Zafèn website on April 1, 2010. This new, exciting beginning was the end of a lengthy process. The idea of Zafèn was conceived long before the huge earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, but the project became all the more urgent after that disaster. Zafèn’s principal goal is to help Haitians, through interest-free microloans, start or expand small and medium-sized sustainable businesses that have a community impact. These businesses enable borrowers to support their families and employees in an ongoing way. The site also aimed at bringing about systemic change through education. So far, donations through Zafèn have created 5,000 scholarships for Haitian children and lent $1.6 million to 300 entrepreneurs.
The process began when the international leaders of the Vincentian Family met to decide how to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the deaths of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac (1660-2010). After examining various possibilities, they focused on Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Encouraged by the success of some microfinance websites, they decided to create a website to facilitate micro-loans and micro-donations for Haitians.
We began to dialogue seriously with Fonkoze, and eventually arrived at an agreement to undertake a collaborative venture. As the project developed, the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group joined the International Vincentian Family, DePaul University, and Fonkoze as partners.
My first trips to Haiti after the earthquake were startling. I was stunned by the devastation. On top of that, most of the country’s infrastructure was not functioning, including its government. But during my most recent trip last December (2012), I was encouraged. While things are moving forward slowly, I saw real progress. I am convinced that, through projects like Zafèn and through groups like Fonkoze and Mary’s Meals, the people of Haiti will continue to move forward toward a viable future.
Robert Maloney, C.M., the former Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, lives in Philadelphia, PA. He serves as administrator for DREAM, a joint project of the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Daughters of Charity for combating AIDS in Africa, and is also involved in works aimed at raising the level of education of children in Haiti.
Zafèn loan recipient delivers carnival masks to Montreal celebration
Colorful papier-mâché masks are one of the highlights of Haitian Kanaval. Inspired by politics, history or mystical figures from Haitian fables, the masks may have devilish or animal features that become embodied in the hands of dancers who bring them to life.
That’s what Katleen Felix, former Diaspora liaison for Fonkoze and Zafèn, now general manager of KANPE, hoped for when she ordered six of them from Jacmel artisan Isidor Jocelyn recently. “I remembered he had nice work at Fleur d’Expérience when we selected him for Zafèn and asked to see his carnival collections of 2012,” she said.
“They are alive! When my sons saw them, they tried them on and started dancing around the house signing ‘Kanaval! Kanaval!’ There is something about the character of each of them that inspires you to become part of the party.”
The KANPE Foundation, which supports poverty alleviation programs in rural Haiti, is hosting its first major Kanaval fundraising event next Saturday in collaboration with the PHI Centre and POP Montreal. The masks will take center stage. Some will be used to engage the crowd like street performers would in a Kanaval parade down the streets of Port-au-Prince. Others will be hung on the wall as decorations.
The invitation promises “wild authentic masks, original costumes, and traditional Haitian delicacies all to the beat of Haitian dance troupes and music.” It is a star-studded event with performances by Montreal musical sensation Arcade Fire and other local bands, plus an art exhibition by famed British photographer Leah Gordon.
Felix calls the masks ambassadors of Haiti art and culture. “People don’t know how rich the Haitian culture is. I can’t wait to see the reaction of the crowd!”
Here’s a link to more of the masks that were featured in the Montreal Gazette: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/7980700.bin?size=620x400s
Zafèn is proud to help Save the Children raise funds for projects in the block manufacturing industry because projects that train block manufacturers significantly improve construction practices, resulting in more resistant infrastructure in a country prone to natural disasters.
Over 90 percent of buildings in urban centers in Haiti use concrete blocks, making concrete the largest component used in construction. The tragedy of January 12, 2010, caused major destruction and left hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors. This disaster also highlighted the many gaps facing the construction industry, among which are the lack of oversight of the sector, the inability of the state to monitor and enforce safety standards in construction and laxity in the selection and manufacture of materials used.
Concerned with this problem, organizations like Save the Children and Build Change have organized training seminars for owners and employees of block factories. These seminars stress the importance of following certain rules in the manufacturing process of concrete blocks. Some of these manufacturers, in addition to theoretical training on the strength of materials, have received a vibrated block-making machine that will vastly improve the quality and the production. The vibration of the blocks by the machine allows the components to be compacted and solidified, making the blocks stronger.
While these initiatives have been undeniably useful, there is a strong need to support the sector through additional measures to help maintain and improve quality. Other needs expressed by the block makers themselves include the capacity to maintain stock and the ability to own a sand mill for grinding on location, especially for those whose production or capacity is greater than 2,000 blocks per day.
Why is it important to support this industry?
As a result of the earthquake, Haiti more than ever needs a strong and expanded construction industry to produce bricks, reinforced concrete and other vital materials to rebuild.
Building companies are not common in Haiti, so Haitians usually buy blocks to build their own houses. However, the majority of the people lack the technical knowledge that would allow them to identify high-quality blocks. In addition, as Haitians shop for the blocks, they generally pay more attention to low prices and immediate availability rather than quality. As a result, they often pick poor quality blocks to build (or rebuild) their houses, and they become even more vulnerable to the natural disasters that frequently strike Haiti.
At the same time, block manufacturers strive to meet the increasing demand with their limited resources and capacity. Some of them, in an attempt to overcome capacity and equipment constraints, try to speed up the process by skipping a few important steps. Others may be tempted to let the concrete dry out under strong and direct sunlight, making it weaker and more likely to crack under pressure.
Needless to say, many of the initiatives undertaken by overwhelmed producers—although driven by good intentions—greatly alter the quality of concrete blocks made available to consumers.
Both demand and supply characteristics increase the likelihood of poor quality concrete blocks ending up in new shelters and buildings at a time when Haitian infrastructure needs to be more resistant to natural disasters. Supporting improvements to the construction industry greatly helps the Haitian people; in this post-earthquake era in particular, it allows them to build the solid foundation for a fresh start.
You can finance block projects sponsored by Zafèn, Save the Children and Build Change and make a difference in the following ways:
To learn more about the projects, feel free to visit https://www.zafen.org/ or follow the direct links: