Letter From Haiti: Your Credit Line is a Privilege!

Letter From Haiti: Your Credit Line is a Privilege!

Your credit line is a privilege!

For the last six months, I have been living in a small clinic in Haiti, called Thomassique. After spending several years living in fast-paced, extravagant New York City, I moved to the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere.

Thomassique is an area of Haiti that receives very little government support. Our clinic provides the only available health care in the entire region. Since arriving, I have been learning to take everything in stride.

Forget the clinic’s chronic difficulty keeping electricity and water systems in place—one of my biggest struggles has been learning to appreciate the financial structures that Americans (and other citizens of developed nations) enjoy.

In particular, the availability of credit is a crucial need. Credit is a privilege. Here in Haiti, it is practically impossible for a person to receive a loan or pay things off in installments…much less own a credit card. There have been dozens of times that people have come to me asking for a loan of $10 or $25 dollars, simply because they don’t have the cash in hand.

It’s not just a matter of poverty: In Haiti, there is literally no bank the way that we have at home! Unwittingly, I became a local bank for a few of the employees here at the clinic. All of a sudden, I had to determine whom I could trust to pay me back—a difficult task for which I am very unqualified.

So now, with a few outstanding debts owed to me, I have taken on the role of a collections agency—asking people when they will pay me back and not feeling confident that they ever will. I have realized that, in the end, credit is all about trust. After this experience, I have never been more grateful for my ability to borrow money and pay back later. Furthermore, I actually sympathize with the agencies charged with the responsibility of making people accountable for their personal finances. It’s not an easy job.

So, from the perspective of a New Yorker-turned-lender: Don’t abuse your credit. It’s a sign of trust, and one of the many privileges of being born in a wealthy country. In the US, if we want to buy a home, we can go to a bank for a loan. We can pay it off for 30 years, all while living in that same home. Here, building that home could actually take 30 years, since you have to have the money in hand before you can spend it.

When I think of people in Thomassique who make it work, I’ve got to give them credit.

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Kathleen O'Neill, a friend of LearnVest, is living in Thomassique, Haiti, for the year-long Medical Missionaries Post-Baccalaureate Fellowship in Global Health, where she works alongside co-fellow Kavita Vinekar (pictured above) to create and manage community programs such as a childhood malnutrition project, a school lunch initiative, and a microfinance project to bring fortified salt to the mainstream market. Additionally, they are working to begin an HIV/AIDS treatment program in Thomassique.

How You Can Help: Donate to specific programs run out of Medical Missionaries' St. Joseph's Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti. Alternatively, demonstrate your gratitude for your own credit line by lending to entrepreneurs in Haiti via non-profit Fonkoze.

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