March 23, 2017

L-R: Mary Ellen Holohan, SNJM and Province CFO Vicki Cummings in Haiti.

The 34th General Chapter Acts call on the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to both “open wide our doors” in welcome and to respond to those who beckon for others to come through their doors. A recent insight trip to Haiti with the microfinance institution Fonkoze provided an opportunity for two people from the SNJM family to encounter a powerful example of what happens when this call is put into action.

Mary Ellen Holohan, SNJM, who is part of the Sisters’ Congregational Leadership Team, and U.S.-Ontario Province Chief Financial Officer Vicki Cummings participated in the February trip organized by Fonkoze along with church groups from Florida, New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. In the region around Mirabelais, Haiti, they had an opportunity to meet several participants in a Fonkoze program designed to help ultra-poor women in rural areas become financially self-sufficient. Fonkoze  – its full name is Fondasyon Kole Zepòl, or the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation –  is among the programs the Province supports through loans.

Using a process adapted from Bangladesh, Fonkoze leaders select a rural area and hold community meetings open to all. They identify women at the meetings who lack subsistence food and viable shelter. Each woman who agrees to join the 18-month program is visited weekly by a case manager, and for the first six months she receives a subsistence stipend. As soon as she can construct an enclosure, she is given goats or pigs as assets. Gradually, through the weekly meetings to assess the past week and plan the next week, these women are able to achieve minimal food security, to put concrete over their mud floors and tin roofs on their tiny homes, and have their livestock multiply. They also get together monthly with other women participating in the program in the same community.

“We had opportunities to meet women at varied stages in the program and their progress was tangible,” said Sister Mary Ellen. By the final months, the women had increased confidence, were able to send their children to school and had dreams of how they could become more self-sufficient through small commerce projects. Almost all of the managers and leaders of this program are Haitians who are deeply committed to rebuilding their nation one person at a time.

Fonkoze supports the program through donations. It costs $1,500 to support one woman through the entire process. Through its financial support, the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province is a vital participant in the mission of Fonkoze and its multiple microfinancing projects in Haiti.  To learn more about Fonkoze, please visit their website at