Starfish : an update & opportunity to give

by Kayla Raymond

We are well into the year with our Starfish program up and running. We have been ministering to 35 women for the last five months and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be partnering with Courtney and Jimmy, who founded Ansamn (meaning Together in Haitian Creole). Courtney and Jimmy, along with their two staff members, Fefe and Daniel, have completed trainings in small business/micro-financing and parenting. They have also been trained to teach a 12-week spiritual foundation course, which they taught the first 3 months of the program. They have been using their trainings and knowledge to teach and invest in the women these last few months. It has been so great to show up every Tuesday and know the lessons they are teaching are applicable, appropriate and well done! With their help, I have personally been able to focus on other areas on the ministry (like writing and fundraising) and not worry about the week-to-week details with Starfish.

Last week, Daniel presented a lesson about the brain and how it develops from birth through childhood into adulthood. He talked about the importance of the brain’s development and how its development effects our emotions. A thirty-minute discussion occurred after the lesson and I loved seeing how the women were interacting and asking great questions! Be reminded, most of the women we are ministering to are illiterate and most of them have never had schooling pass grade school. The most basic of lessons dealing with parenting, hygiene and health are very important as most of them will be hearing this information for the first time in their lives.

As I mentioned above, I am beyond thrilled to have Ansamn and the resources they have as part of our program now! It has been a huge answer to prayers!

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We have also had a single middle school student and a VBS group from Iowa raise money in the last few months allowing us to buy rice, beans, oil, and spaghetti all locally and prepare packages of food to send home with the women each week. I love knowing that we are helping stimulate the local economy by purchasing locally and sending the women home with food their families will enjoy.

Courtney, in the past, had never sent the families she was working with home with food and she mentioned to me how much she loves that we send our women home with food because it gives them a hand-up and a way to get a bit more ahead. For example, if a woman has just started a small business in her home and is trying to save every little penny she makes to save up and pay off debts or pay a medical bill or whatever it may be, the food packs allow the woman to feed her children and use her savings in other beneficial ways.

Women will often comment and tell me how their children “eat their businesses” and that’s what makes them unsuccessful. So, another reason why sending them home each week with food becomes important is having the hope that we are giving them the resources to build a foundation to a successful business. We recognize the day will come when they are no longer in the program, so we hope that when that day comes, they’ve built up a good enough business that will not only generate enough income but also allow them to feed their children without the children “eating” into all their profits.

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It’s hard for me to still wrap my mind around the fact that these families are surviving off only dollars a day, so while we don’t believe in hand-outs and have worked really hard at not creating a culture of dependency, we recognize how aid with food is playing a crucial role in the success of these families.

Each week when we meet, we also serve everyone a hot meal. Because of this ministry opportunity, we have been able to hire a woman part-time to do all of the cooking. Her part-time job has provided a stable income for her and her five children as well!

As we are quickly approaching a new school year, we are beginning to register and help all the women pay their school tuition fees. One of the commitments we make to the women in the program is that we will help with the school fees for their children. This year we expect to pay school fees for 80+ students and we firmly believe that paying these fees alleviate a huge burden from the family for the year and allow the women to focus their energy on small business start-ups or other activities in order to start saving for the following school year. One of the largest debts most families have in Haiti are school debts, causing much stress and unknowns to the family. We love knowing that we are taking care of this for them and believe this investment helps us move toward our ultimate goal: a stable foundation and a future where families stay together!

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Lastly, back in May, we did our first business seminar with ten women and all ten have now received their first small business loan. We have women selling everything from gallons of gas for the motorcycle drivers in the village; to cleaning products for the home; to fresh produce in the market. We hope to do at least one more seminar with another group of women and give an additional 15 to 20 loans.

An area I have failed in the past with small business loans is the follow-up. Last year we gave 22 loans and today only 8 of the women are still running businesses and consistently repaying their loans. With our new partnership with Ansamn, they have made the commitment to do follow-up visits with all the women who receive the loans and we expect with these visits and more accountability, our “success rate” will only increase!

So…To sum it all, because Oofta! That’s a lot of information right there!…I love the direction Starfish is headed. At the beginning of this year, I was feeling nothing but discouragement and complete burnout when it came to this ministry. However, no matter how badly I wanted to quit, I knew that at the core of what I believe is everything the Starfish program is. It’s hard work and sounds good on paper, but lived out and hearing the personal, constant struggles and problems of these women is too hard some days, yet I wholeheartedly believe it’s right where Jesus would be if He was here. He would be all about the home visits and the sitting in the tattered huts. He would be all about loans because he was a carpenter himself and said multiple times in scripture how important it is to work with your own hands. I know He would be all about sending little ones to school and investing in their futures. I know that when He calls us to serve, love and take care of the least of these, He’s talking about the women and children in this program. These people truly are the ones who are going long days without food, sleeping and living in some of the worst conditions, and just trying to survive each and every day.  I know He would also be on the front lines fighting to keep families together.

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I also know that each Tuesday when Filane leads worship and the other leaders share their lessons, the Holy Spirit is alive and working in that space. Ultimately, beyond meeting the physical and financial needs, we pray these women always leave feeling seen, known and loved by our Heavenly Father.

So, that’s the work we are doing! Now, for the part where you come into play! Here are the needs that we hope you will prayerfully consider meeting…

We need thirty-five people to make a one-time donation of $150 to help us pay all of the school fees for this year. This money will also help us buy the appropriate uniform material for all the students and pay a local tailor to sew all the uniforms! If you choose to be one of these thirty-five people, we will send a picture of one of the women in the program with her story and how many children she has, so you will know exactly whom your donation went towards!

We need twenty people to make a one-time donation of $100 to help us give out more small business loans. If you choose to be one of these twenty people, we will send you a picture of one of the women with her business and what she intends to do with her loan, so you will know exactly what your investment went towards!

{to make a one-time donation simply CLICK HERE and you can donate through PayPal}

Lastly, we would love to raise $5,000 so we can continue purchasing food locally and preparing food packages to be sent home with the women each week.

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Thank you for taking the time to read and thank you, thank you to those of you who choose to give. Your giving is never wasted and you can trust we are putting it right where we say we are putting it! We can’t wait to share more stories and how the Lord is working through this program.

Love from Haiti,

Kayla

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