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Empowering Women in Rural Haiti STORY AND PHOTO By MARLENE CHABOT

With a background in economic development, Barb Grove set up a program providing microcredit loans to women in Haiti.

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mid a host of pines and oaks in a quiet corner of Emily sits an old farmhouse overlooking Roosevelt Lake, full of memories of by-gone-days. Barb Grove, who has lived there many years, enjoys telling visitors about the history of the area and her quaint home.

One morning I joined Barb at her kitchen table, just a stone’s throw from the farmhouse, and listened to spellbinding tales about her home and stories of a much deeper nature, involving her love for humanity. “For the past 25 years,” Barb began, “I’ve had a strong commitment to rural women in Haitian villages - Limbe, Cap-Haitien, Pignon, Jeremie and Port-Au-Prince -- making their lives better through the aid of micro loans.” 42 Fall 2016 | her voice

Surprised to learn Barb’s involvement with a foreign country had been going on for such a long time, I asked what took her down this path. “I’ve always gravitated toward diverse cultures,” she shared. “It’s always been a part of my various careers.” The journey to Haiti in her middle age was simply an extension of what she’d already been doing here in Minnesota, helping others as a Red Cross volunteer, an economic developer bringing jobs to poor Minnesotans, or an instructor at the Heart of the Earth Indian Survival School. Minnesotans are lucky to have this remarkable lady in our backyard. If her parents had remained in Colorado, where she was born, we would’ve lost a precious commodity. For the past and present positions held by Barb, here and abroad, have heavily influenced others and greatly empowered them. So, what drew this woman with a major in intercultural health education and a master’s in education, to Haiti in 1991? “I had read that Dr. Severson, a surgeon from our area hospital, had been taking a medical team on missions to Pignon, Haiti, for some time,” Barb explained, “and I asked if I could go along.” The doctor didn’t know what she could do since she had no medical background. Determined to go despite the doctor’s disappointing words, Barb responded, “I’ll know before I leave Haiti.” And she did. You see, even though Barb didn’t have the necessary medical training required for the trip, her years of expertise in other areas served her well upon meeting poverty-stricken Haitian women: a background in program development and six years of involvement with a three- county microfinance loans project. “I wasn’t prepared for what I found,” Barb softly reflected, “Too many slums and tremendous poverty. The primitiveness of the place was hard to take in: no electricity, transportation by burros, water for a whole village collected from rivers and streams with gourds made from trees.” It wasn’t until Barb had spent a considerable amount of time at churches, clinics and schools in Pignon that she realized she’d found her purpose for traveling to Haiti. She’d provide microcredit loans so poor rural women could start small businesses. The program was based on economist Muhammad Yunus’ work, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner whom she’d met in 1997. The first group of women to make up the loan club consisted of 10 mothers who had brought their malnourished babies to Pignon’s hospital. Each mother received a $40 Mothers Clubs loan

Her Voice Magazine Fall 2016  
Her Voice Magazine Fall 2016  

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