“Miss, is there any chance you could give me an advance on my pay this month?”, one of the Zel ladies whispered to me after everyone else had left work. “My family is so hungry. The situation with the dollar is really hard.” She was sheepish with her request but she was desperate to feed her little ones.
Zel Haiti has always taken pride in the fact that it pays liveable wages to its employees, enabling them to support their families with their jobs. They are mentored in the area of financial responsibility and management of their income in order to help them move away from living in day to day “survival” mode. They are encouraged to plan for the future, save for their children’s school tuition and set money aside each month for an emergency. The goal of all of these principles of financial management is to set them up for success in the future so they can not only survive, but thrive.
For the 5 years that Zel Haiti has existed, its employees have been paid in US dollars. This was to their advantage because the value of the dollar was stable while the gourde (Haitian currency) was unstable and rapidly losing value. In 2015 (the year the program began), the exchange rate was 1 USD = 53 HTG. In August 2020, the exchange rate was 1USD = 113 HTG. The Haitian Gourde has lost 50% of its value in the last 5 years. Food prices at the market and grocery stores, school tuition, rent, etc. have all been impacted by this loss in value. Prices in HTG continued to climb as the gourde lost it’s value.
In September 2020, the Haitian government injected approximately 150 million USD into the economy in an effort to bring the value of the gourde back up. Seemingly overnight, the value of the dollar plummeted. The economic short term impact of this move is complex and difficult to explain and the long term impact being even more unpredictable – but what I can say is that for right now, life for the people of Haiti has become very, very challenging. If you are interested in understanding more the economics behind this, I highly recommend reading these two articles: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article246109040.html
In layman’s terms, it means that our employees income only covers half as much as it did 2 months ago. Though prices are beginning to drop, the movement downward has been small and slow. Two hundred dollars a month used to equal approximately 22,000 HTG. Currently it equals 12,400 HTG. The payroll meeting for Zel Haiti employees in early October, was somber and discouraging. The women shared that their children’s school hadn't dropped the cost of tuition, vegetables in the market had not become any less expensive, and a ride on public transportation had remained the same – despite the fact that the gourde now holds more value.
My hope and prayer is to be able to raise our employee’s pay in order to compensate for the loss in value of the USD. As a business whose revenue is in USD, this would not be sustainable. Because of COVID-19, our annual income has dropped and as a business we are already scrambling to make ends meet. To look each of them in the eyes and tell them that there’s simply no extra funding to help them get through this period until either the USD regains value or prices drop throughout the country has been heartbreaking. I like solutions. However, once again Haiti has presented us with a problem with no viable options for solving this unplanned for challenge.
As I’ve mentioned previously, in Haiti we all try hard to focus on the “wins” of life. Sometimes they are hard to find; sometimes we have to squint to see them – but with effort, they can be found. Despite the challenges these women are facing, they continue to be warriors. They consistently show up for work, even when they are hungry and discouraged. They are resilient and persevere. Along with many Haitian citizens, the women of Zel Haiti have learned to endure and survive through some very hard, long years.
Every other Monday, I sit with the women of Zel Haiti while we share our highs and lows of the week and weekend (before diving into our financial training program). 90% of the time, these women describe their high as the joyful experience they had while attending church on Sunday and worshiping the Lord with their family in Christ. So as we gather, we encourage and remind one another of this hope : “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” – Matthew 6:33,34.
Today we celebrate our health. We celebrate our employment. We celebrate our children and families. We celebrate our homes and the food we DO have. We celebrate those who support us. And ultimately, we celebrate with one another the joy and gratitude we have in the Lord, who continues to provide for us each day.