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In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, Oxfam supported more than 200 women to open community canteens (small cafés) to provide hot meals for free to those who are in the greatest need in their neighborhoods—while making a profit on meals cooked for the general public. After receiving business management training, many of them will receive secure, waterproof shipping containers to use as stalls and storage areas for their goods, along with grants of $130 to help them recapitalize their businesses or buy more stock. Over the next few months, Oxfam’s livelihoods grant program will reach 30,000 families, or roughly 150,000 people. Oxfam staffer Julia Gilbert met with one of the participants in the program, Marie Carole Boursiquot, at her market stall in Carrefour Feuilles, and asked her how she was getting on.
“Things were difficult right after the earthquake, but we’re Haitian, so we have to get up and move forward,” says Marie Carole Boursiquot. “There was the community canteen, and that work really helped me; I was able to set some money to start my business back up. Now I have my own stall again. Every week I had the canteen, I would put aside some of the profits—1,000 gourdes here, 1,000 gourdes there—and I would send the girls out to buy things for my shop. I also borrowed a little money so that I could buy the rest of the stock. Now I am selling all kinds of things: rice, sugar, beans, pasta, coal…”
I ask her to show us her stock and she is happy to oblige. She shows us the beans and grains first, lined up neatly to one side, in canvas sacks. She scoops up little handfuls of each for us to inspect; kidney beans, black beans, little green beans she calls French beans, Miami beans, wheat, corn meal, and corn kernels. (The corn is for chickens, she specifies, not people.) Then she delves into a box on the floor and pulls out blue sachets of coal, little bags of washing powder, and sugar that she has wrapped in little plastic packages—two sizes: one worth 5 gourdes and one worth 10. For such a small stall, there is an impressive variety of stock.
Food for the family, and a dry place to sleep
She puts the boxes back in place and sits down. “I went all the way down to Croix Bossales to buy the stock at the market there. My brother came with me and helped me. With the canteen and now this stall, at least we can all eat. There are ten of us still living together since the earthquake, in the same shelter with a metal roof. But now we have some plastic sheeting—some from Oxfam and some that we bought—so when it rains we don’t get wet like we did before.”
We are momentarily interrupted by the arrival of a customer, a little girl of five or six years, sent to Marie Carole to buy some snacks—chips or crackers of some kind. She is a little shy around us and rushes off without waiting for her change. Marie Carole laughs and lines up the coins on the counter—the little girl will be back.
Next step: secure the stock
"The problem now is that this shop is not mine. I have an arrangement with the owners; they have let me set up shop outside the bottom floor [of the building behind us] because they can’t use it anymore, since the top floor collapsed in the earthquake. But the ceiling is cracked and leaks so some of my stock got wet.”
"People from Oxfam [the market support team] came to inspect the site of my old shop. They saw that it was destroyed, and they are going to provide me with a shipping container that I can use as a shop and to store my stock securely. That will be much better for my business. I will be able to buy more, and I will be able to manage my stock better then.”
Life will get better
I ask her what her biggest needs are now, but she is reluctant to answer. She shrugs.
“Oxfam is the only organization helping this whole community. Many things would help me, but I don’t want to ask for too many things. You can’t constantly ask for others to give and give. I am satisfied with what God gives me. But with more money or the container from Oxfam, I would be able to get on even better than now, expand my shop, sell more, and make more money to improve our shelter and to improve our life.”
“There are always needs, but as long as we are healthy, and we have two hands and two feet, we can find things to do, and we will continue living. Things will get better.”