Zafèn: a Project in and for Haiti

Zafen 1Pope Francis has chosen the theme, “He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” for this year’s Lenten message.

At the Press Conference on the Pope’s message for Lent Haiti was to be a focus. A married Italian couple, with two children, serving as missionaries sent by Italian Caritas after the earthquake in the Caribbean nation, were to speak at the Vatican news conference along with top officials from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes Catholic charitable giving.Next March the President of Cor Unum will go to Haiti to inaugurate a school in the name of the Holy Father. According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is still struggling to rebuild four years after a devastating earthquake struck Jan. 12, 2010.

The Vincentian Family is working for the development of the Haitian people as part of Zafèn founded by four organizations: the International Vincentian Family, an assembly of people worldwide affiliated with organizations who find inspiration in the legacies of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac; DePaul University in Chicago, the largest Catholic university in America; Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor serving more than 200,000 clients; and the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group, which enables the Haitian Diaspora to foster economic and social growth to alleviate poverty in their native communities. Zafèn is a funding source for growing Haitian businesses and social projects that do not qualify for traditional bank loans and otherwise would not have access to capital. Its goals are to:

1) Enable small/medium Haitian enterprises to expand their businesses, create jobs and transform their economy while building a credit history through interest-free loans, and

2) Support valuable education and community improvement projects through donations.

Zafèn, which means “It’s our business” in Haitian Creole, was established to stimulate collaboration between Haiti-based business owners, the Haitian Diaspora and caring people everywhere interested in developing the Haitian economy. Zafèn accomplishes its mission by presenting businesses and projects to the public that have been screened for their potential viability and likelihood of contributing to Haitian economic empowerment. Due diligence is conducted by business analysts who work for Fonkoze, an alternative bank for the poor with offices across Haiti. The analysts submit the proposals to a committee, which includes representatives of Zafèn’s partners, for final evaluation. Approved projects are posted at to attract funding. Zafèn users select the business or project they want to support and make loans or donations as small as $25.

Donations are disbursed to the beneficiary within two weeks after the funds have been transferred. Within a month the business analyst visits the project to ensure the money was spent as designated. An update is then posted on the project’s page at Business owners have 12 months to repay the loan in monthly installments. Although likelihood of repayment is one of the criteria for which the project is screened, the lender(s) bear all risks in making the loan.

The loans are helping hands to Haitian projects and businesses and to the Haitian people, not financial investments. Neither the lender nor Zafen can make any financial profit on the loans and some of the loans may not be repaid. But the benefits of generosity to Haitian development and the Haitian people know no limits.

Haiti is a country rich in culture, human warmth and entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident in the diversity of businesses and projects that seek funding from Zafèn. They include agricultural, retail and educational initiatives all designed to improve their communities, unlock human potential, and foster sustainable economic development.

“May this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. (Holy Father’s Lenten Message par. 10).