May 22, 2009
Yeardley Smith with Fonkoze client
Hi. Yeardley Smith, here; actress, author, and generally good egg. I’m just back from a trip to Haiti with Alex Counts, Prez and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and his colleague, Kate Druschel. I’d say of all the things I’ve done in the past 5 years, (and I’ve been busy), this trip --three days in Haiti—seems to have piqued all my friends’ interest more than anything else. So…
A LITTLE BACKGROUND: I became enamored of micro-finance in 2006. I was on the treadmill one afternoon, watching Oprah. Prof. Yunus had just won the Nobel Peace Prize and he was her guest. His story of how he became Banker to the Poor, goes to the heart of what I believe with every cell of my being: that nothing is more generous than helping people help themselves. Empower them to become self-sustaining and you change the world.
An internet search of micro-finance led me to the Grameen Foundation (GF) in Washington, DC and I made a donation. A series of events lead me to a GF meeting in San Diego where I finally met Alex Counts, and his staff. While I’ve given generously to many charitable organizations over the years, I’ve never really offered my time and energy in any meaningful way. Now I was bursting at the seams to use whatever clout I have as a celebrity to get the word out about the benefits of micro-finance.
I pitched the idea to Alex who gave me a small smile and said, “Why don’t we get you out into the field, first. Then you can see what you think and what your role might be.”
“Done,” says I.
Three weeks later I was in Haiti with Alex and Kate observing the extraordinary work of GF’s partner, Fonkoze, do what they do best: helping the poorest of the poor work their way toward a better life.
I kept a journal of my trip in the form of letters to my friend, Zibby. Why letters? Because it helps me tell the story better when I picture someone I know and love in my head as I write. So I’ve decided to leave my entries in that format and offer excerpts for my blog. I think it maintains the intimacy of the experience and puts that intimacy in context.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
The flight from Los Angeles to Miami was uneventful (YAY!) and I’m now settled at the Four Season’s by the ocean for one night. It’s elegant, sweet smelling, and quiet. Everything is pressed and pristine. Since I am the original Princess and the Pea, I like it very much. I have no idea what to expect when I get to Haiti with Alex and Kate tomorrow, but I know it won’t be anything like this.
I’m a nervous about going. Not so much about the conditions I’ll see, because everyone keeps telling me it’s “unimaginable,” which has actually worked to release me from any expectation. But because I suddenly feel like a fifth wheel. I wish I were an expert on Haiti, or micro-credit, or statistics, or brilliant out-of-the-box ideas. Indeed, despite my pitch about how I can’t wait to saturate the media with my enthusiasm for micro-finance in general, and Grameen Foundation in particular, I worry that I’ll end up letting Alex and everyone down.
I know, I know, I’m going on this trip to learn. I keep reminding myself that for once in my life I don’t have to know everything before I take the lesson.
So let the adventure begin.
GF extends our thanks to microfinance partner Fonkoze for hosting Yeardley, Alex and Kate.