AMURTEL has been in Haiti for over 20 years, partnering with local people to provide children’s homes, schools, clinics, literacy programs, reforestation initiatives, microcredit finance, and women’s leadership programs. In times of disaster, AMURTEL volunteers help with relief efforts.
The AMURTEL Haiti Children’s Home is a place for children needing a permanent home or full or part-time support. The children, having experienced malnourishment, neglect, and abandonment, are thriving due to the loving and supportive atmosphere of the Home. Ties to the families of participating children are maintained whenever possible.
AMURTEL Haiti runs two schools, one in Port Au Prince, and the other in Anse a Pitre. Both schools use a curriculum based on Neo-Humanism, a philosophy that propagates love for all creation. This philosophy seeks to acknowledge the spiritual, mental, and physical aspects of a child through the methods of creative arts, supportive sharing circles, and yoga asanas. This educational philosophy is employed as a way of fostering compassionate caretakers and leaders for our future society.
The AMURTEL organizers also partner with women in the camps and rural areas to develop Self Help Groups (SHGs). Presently 660 women are active in these programs. In SHGs, the women in a community are invited to participate in groups of approximately 20 members. Each week the group meets and a savings program is set up and maintained. Each woman commits to saving a certain amount of money each week, which is then recorded in her own ‘bank book.’
The money is kept with the elected secretary of the group and is ‘withdrawn’ when the woman is ready to use it. Beyond individual savings, each member also gives an amount to the community account. This provides a security net for members and is used when anyone in the group has an emergency and needs a loan. At meetings, the SHG, facilitated by the AMURTEL organizers, discusses the underlying reasons for poverty, and their ability to overcome it. Members support each other in finding options for growth. Collectively they have brought much-needed change to their communities.
Venise is 31 years old and lives across the ravine from the Amurtel Center. She lives in a small shelter with her two young children, watching over her stand of goods outside at which she sells everything from canned milk and rice to cooking oil. She has only participated in the program once – for a loan of 8,000 HTG (200 USD) – and explains that without it she would not have been able to set up her business. Like many other MIKFAB participants, Venise has experience supporting her family by selling small products and needed the economic support of an external loan. In addition, the training provided by the Animators (facilitators) alongside the loan program (including seminars regarding financial management and non-violent communication) helped change her perspective on her children and become a better mother.
One Amurtel Animator shared one of the most moving stories:
It came to one group’s attention a woman was being badly abused by her husband in an area outside their village. The women in the SHG went en masse to confront the man, calling him out on his violent behavior, and threatening him with dire consequences if he didn’t stop beating his wife. He was shocked at the confrontation and agreed to their demands, which included signing a statement that he would no longer beat her.
The woman in turn was so shocked and encouraged by his turnaround that she went down to the village and asked to join the SHG. She is now an active part of the program and reports there is no longer abuse in her home.
After the earthquake in August 2010, AMURTEL volunteers distributed tarps to families whose homes were destroyed. Volunteers also created a Child-Friendly Space. Child-friendly spaces help support and protect children by establishing a safe environment to play and learn. Their objective is to restore a sense of normality and continuity to children whose lives have been disrupted. AMUREL has continued with these and other disaster relief programs through the years as Haiti has faced hurricanes and earthquakes in 2012, 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2021.
Many Haitians in 2010 were forced to leave their homes, to live in precarious settlements or camps. Because of this disaster, other disasters, and economic and
political crises, many Haitians continue to live in displacement camps. Amurtel’s mission is to develop community-based programs and in 2010 we began working with four local Haitian women trained as community organizers. These organizers (or animators, as they are called in Creole) work in the camps helping women organize into committees, performing regular needs assessments, and partnering with the camp leaders to determine relevant interventions.
Following the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Mathew in 2017, AMURTEL was informed by women in the displacement camps that they were interested in starting small businesses. The animators helped to develop a microfinance program (microfinance is a term for financial services offered to individuals who lack access to traditional financial establishments) to create economic opportunities for the women in the camps.
Haiti’s microfinance program, MIKFAB (Micro Kredi Fanm-yo Viktim AMURTEL), invites participating women to work in groups of six. AMURTEL provides training in business skills, non-violent communication to assist women in being successful in their endeavors, and small amounts of financing. About 300 women are participating and using microcredit to finance a pathway to a more sustainable future. This program has been successful; we have 100% repayment from all participants. The local women involved, and our volunteers, seek to expand MIKFAB and continue investing in Haitians’ economic sovereignty.