KOFAEL [ko-fi-el]
(KOdinasyon FAmn Endepandan Pou Avansman Lakay)
Cordination of Independant Women for Advancement of the Home

What’s in a name?

I want to tell you all about KOFAEL. Let’s start with the name. In case it bothers you (as it bothered me at first and has seemingly bothered others who have already gone out of their way to point it out), the acronym KOFAEL only loosely follows the Haitian definition. We have decided not to make an acronym out of the English translation which would have begun with “COW…”. Thank goodness I was able to squash that idea by saying that the acronym COW representing a womens organization wouldn’t go over too well with English speakers! So let’s just roll with the Creole version! Loosely following and adapting is what Haitian Creole is all about. However, because I am an English major and prefer to at least loosely follow rules of grammar (and because we strive for a little professionalism), I double checked to make sure we were doing that with KOFAEL. Low and behold it isn’t just a Creole issue. Here’s what I found. “Some acronyms are formed from the first few letters of a word, instead of just the first letter. All initialisms are acronyms, but not all acronyms are initialisms.” Great. KOFAEL passes. No more issues there. But how did we choose the name? We had a list of potential names that went along with the purpose of the organization. KOFAEL was one of several names on the list that the women had suggested at Saturday meetings. These names were turned over to the ASSAIRES (social affairs office) with our application to become an official organization. Social affairs declared KOFAEL as the winner when the paperwork came back to us. We are official! If you understand Haiti even a little, gaining official status through a government office is often quite the ordeal. We are so thankful for the special guy who worked very hard to get this done. 

How did KOFAEL get started?

KOFAEL was birthed in an effort to help women affected by the January 12th, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Julienne Pierre, a young Haitian university student, began praying about a way to improve the lives of the women she knew would be most vulnerable after the earthquake destroyed their livelihood. She knew many of the women from her church, and from contacts at another church nearby. Her desire was to see these Haitian women come together as the body of Christ to help meet one anothers needs. Julienne began seeking out and visiting with women that were found to have the greatest need. She spent several months collecting data in order to gain knowlege as to where these women were before the earthquake and what they were doing there in contrast with where they are and what they are doing now.
Some of the paperwork collected on the KOFAEL women
Julienne began this process in January of 2011 (one year after the earthquake) when it became evident that promised progress to improve the lives of women like these was going to be tragically slow. The women were desperate. They needed hope to keep going and they needed it NOW. Julienne recruited Franz Osier to help. Frantz also has a huge heart for these women and others in severe poverty situations. He has devoted his life to serving those who are poor and oppressed. Frantz and Julienne don’t have much, but I have watched them give of everything they have because of their love for the Lord and people. I first met Frantz at an orphanage where he works as a pre-K teacher five 1/2 days per week. I know the pay isn’t much, but I’ve seen him spend it on others who have even less. Frantz is a talented young man and speaks four languages well. He has translated for us many times, has tutored us in our Creole lessons and now also tutors our girls in ESL after he finishes teaching at the orphanage each day. We have so enjoyed getting to know Frantz and have learned so much more about Haiti from him as well. If you have come to visit us in Haiti, you have probably met Frantz. He is part of the family now and has informed us that he might have to just move in with us next year after his roomate gets married. We are also plotting how we can bring Frantz back to the states with us for a few weeks so that he can share about KOFAEL and Haiti with others…which he can do so much better than me! 
Frantz and Julienne officially started meeting with the group of KOFAEL women collectively on June 18th, 2011 after collecting information about the women for six months. There was a school drive held October 5th, 201l to benefit the children of the KOFAELwomen. 
Some of the school supplies given by leaders to KOFAEL children on October 5, 2011
Presidential orders did not allow Haitian schools to commence until October in 2011.
We might call it a “drive” but really it was Frantz and Julienne that spent their own earnings to purchase the items for the children of KOFAEL women in order to give them a dose of hope that they would be able to send their children to school. Many are often inclined to just take care of themselves (and for some that is truly all they can do) in this survivalist society. What an encouragement to see two young people like Julienne and Frantz spending their free time and limited personal resources to care for many others. 
Smile of hope after receiving items for her children to use at school.
Frantz and Julienne asked me if I would come to the first November meeting to speak to the women of KOFAEL. Frantz used this as one of my Creole lesson assignments as my first public speaking engagement in Creole. I began to ask many questions about the KOFAEL womens organization and soon began to love these women too. 

Me, Julienne, and my friend Audrey who came to my first meeting with me serving refreshments

Frantz, Julienne and I began to discuss more concrete goals and direction for the future of KOFAEL and the paperwork process that remained to become an official organization in order to better serve the women. We sought wisdom from business professionals who have worked sucessfully in Haiti for decades and began to write a business plan for KOFAEL. We formed a board and got busy to complete the paperwork process for the organization. We included the women in decision making during meetings discussing potential options with them and listening to their critiques which told us which roads they had been down before and what they were for and against…basically what was going to fly and what wasn’t. We didn’t have much to start with but decided we needed to just start. So we started with prayer.

KOFAEL meetings always start with prayer request, praise, and worship.
The women gather for meetings 2 Saturdays per month.
They are required to be present at meetings to remain in the organization.

Next we started with the direction we felt the Lord was leading…with small business loans. The women of KOFAEL are hard workers. Each had her own small business before the earthquake that would provide for her family and pay for her children to go to school. Even though they were poor compared to other standards, they lived with dignity and contentment with the work of their hands. These women really just want to be able to achieve that dignity and contentment once again doing what they already know how to do well. For most of these women it looks like this.

This KOFAEL woman’s trade is to sell bananas.

She also sells things for a living.

In case you are wondering how in the world someone could provide for their family and pay to send their children to private school (there are no public schools in Haiti) by selling bananas and odds and ends on the Haitian street market, you are not alone. I have asked this question many, many times. I know it is difficult to comprehend, but the answer I always get is…”They really can!” I probably wouldn’t believe it if we didn’t personally know street vendors who have been selling things like sodas on the street for years and who never seem discontented, and couldn’t believe we didn’t own a television when they have two in their modest but functionable homes. 
We did throw around the idea of teaching the women a new trade (like making jewelry…but found some of the women actually do already make their own jewelry and sell that too), but that idea was met with much opposition as the women already felt strongly that they were skilled in their trades and didn’t want to start a new thing, just wanted to be able to do the thing they did before the earthquake. They only want to be able to continue to work and grow their business in order to improve the quality of life for their families…most of which are living in deplorable conditions among the thousands still in tent cities. 

So how can we help them?

The last thing my white American self wants to do is try to sweep in and “help” these brave, strong women who I respect so deeply. The last thing I want them to think is that I am going to bestow American blessings upon them to improve upon their lives I couldn’t imagine living. They asked after the first meeting if the blan (foreigner) would be back? I’ve come back and the women may be starting to trust me a little. Other than helping Frantz out with some of the paperwork costs when he comes up short with a deadline approaching, I have contributed very little other than time, counsel, and prayer. I’ve told the women that I will share their stories and that others around the world are now praying for them too. I’ve also encouraged them to trust the leadership of Frantz and Julienne because I’ve seen how hard Frantz and Julienne strive to help them and because I know how much they truly care and intercede on their behalf. I know some of them have asked when the blan is going to do something (because they are desperate) but we have asked them to be patient as we seek the Lord for the best way. We believe the best way to proceed is through small business loans. 

These are among the 18 selected for our first round of small business loans. Here they are filling out the paperwork and signing the contract agreements for receiving and paying back the loan.

Why small business loans?

When we first began to discuss that small business loans would probably be the best fit for this ministry, it was hard for me. It was hard mainly because Eric and I spent many years on the Dave Ramsey plan climbing our way out of financial debt and the word “loan” doesn’t sit well with us now. So it is hard to imagine how giving a loan to women already in slavery to poverty could possibly help them. The last thing we want to do is enslave them further. The next last thing we would want to do is to create dependency. So we started small with a very small 0% interest loan just to see how this would go. Frantz took out a loan himself that would provide 18 of the KOFAEL women with a small business loan equivalent to about $65 U.S. While this amount is more than these women make in a month, it is only a fraction of the $250 it would cost for purchases needed to fully re-start their small businesses. But $65 for 18 women was all we had, and we had to start somewhere. 

Julienne helping some of the women fill out the paperwork for their first small business loan. 

Frantz (standing) and explaining for the 15th time exactly how the loans will work.
The man seated is one of our helpers at meetings. 

How will the loans work?

The women will have 5 months to pay back the $65 loan they received in January 2012. They will not be charged interest on the loan, but are expected to fulfill their payment on time each month. They will use the money to purchase items for their small businesses. They need to show that they can do something with their little and be trusted to pay back their loans before they are given more. This is the agreement. 

Frantz handing out the loan money.

Lifting their loans in praise for this great provision.
I saw many tears of joy on this day.

What’s the next step?

February meeting came and all 18 women who had received the loans made their first payments! There are 40 women in the program and the 22 who did not receive loans have been waiting for their turn. We have set aside the money received from the first round of payments and are ready to use that to grant 10 more women their first $65 loans. Next month Frantz will need to save all the money from the payments to begin payback on the loan he took out in order to begin this process. We are praying for a way to provide beginner loans to the other 12 women. The women who have been coming to monthly meetings at KOFAEL the longest and the ones in the most dire need were the first to receive their loans. 

The first round of women will have paid back their loans in full by June. Our hope and prayer is to be able to provide them with a real business loan of $300 U.S. at this time. $300 x 40 women is $12,000. This is A LOT of money to Frantz, Julienne, and for our family. But we do not believe it is beyond our God, and we believe He cares deeply for these women. We have thoroughly discussed how this could possibly be accomplished and have come up with the following idea. We do not claim to be experts in this and are open to questions and better ideas. Here is our idea. 

40 individual ONE TIME sponsorships of $300 each raised for the women. $250 of this will be to start/improve her small business. The other $50 will be a gift to help her family and encourage her in her new start. The $250 sponsorship will not be a gift for the women, but another 0% interest loan they will pay back within 6 months time. However, it will be a “gift” to the ministry of KOFAEL as a whole. We will recycle the monthy payments made by the women to grant others loans and pay for the minimal operating costs of the ministry so that Julienne and Frantz can also make new starts in their own lives. Our operating costs are minimal, but we do have to pay partial rent on the small building used for meetings as well as continual paperwork fees for the organization. We also spend money on copies for the women, tap-taps (transportation), and drinks (sometimes snacks) for the women at meetings. We will cash flow the sponsorship money to keep KOFAEL going without taking out more loans or continually asking for more money. We will also hold a school supply drive once a year that will benefit the many children represented among the KOFAEL women. We want to continue to encourage the women in their hard work and make sure the children are able to stay in school. Sometimes expensive school supplies are the only thing keeping a child home from school and we see no good reason that this has to happen. We will gladly accept donations of school supplies, backpacks, and shoes for the children to be given out at the fall family meeting/party in August. 

How can you help?

Pray for the KOFAEL women and their families.
Pray about sponsoring 1 or more of the 40 women.
Share about these women with your friends and family.

Current Needs?

We are in need of a person that would have the talent and time to help us create a website or blog for KOFAEL. We have photos and bios on each of the women in the organization and information for the website. I can do the update post as they come for the website but I am looking for someone who can help with this project. If you are interested please contact me by e-mail at eeream@hotmail.com as soon as possible. 

Our other need is to raise awareness and sponsorship commitments before June comes. We are waiting to see what God will do in answering the fervent prayers of the KOFAEL women. Will you be part of that answered prayer that could truly change the life of a woman and her family?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please take a few more minutes to pray for these women and the future success of the KOFAEL ministry.

By His Grace,