A year ago, David Low wanted his 18-year-old granddaughter to see Third World conditions firsthand.
So they boarded a plane from Prince George and accompanied a medical team to volunteer for crowd control duty in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, still reeling from a January 2010 earthquake that killed 223,000 residents. Not only did that two-week trip open their eyes to the hardships faced by a country so poorly equipped to recover from a disaster of that magnitude, but it gave Low an idea of how to put his skills as a debt counsellor to work on a longterm humanitarian mission.
"I've never seen so many poor people who had nothing and are in debt," said Low, owner of AAA Credit Counsellors and Debt Consultants. "They are the givingest people, so if they get 50 bucks they will help their neighbour put food on the table and will give them that 50 bucks. Then they are poor and have to borrow 50 bucks."
Low formed Life International Foundation Inc. to channel donations to Haiti for: education (it costs $30 per month to put a kid through school after Grade 7, when government funding stops); startup-costs for businesses; renovations to build a guest house, purchasing land to establish a business training centre; and the shipment of a donated van from the U.S. to transport guests from the airport to the guesthouse.
Key in getting those projects established is Reg Celestin, an interpreter Low met on his first trip to Haiti. Low and his wife Dorothy, a registered nurse, returned to Carrefour, Haiti a month ago to offer a two-week seminar on how to start up a business, attended by 80 Haitians who Celestin contacted through his church. Before he came back to Prince George, Low left behind his notes translated into French, which outline how to develop a business plan.
Through his partnership with Celestin, Low hopes to instil in Haitians the importance of saving more of their own money to keep their businesses afloat and pay for their children's tuition costs. Patriarchy is ingrained in Haitian society and the male in the household makes most of the money decisions. Low wants to give women more power over the family pursestrings and made that suggestion at his seminar.
"If your wife is gifted in administration and she can manage stuff and you're not very good at that , then it makes a lot sense and you would be a good leader in your home if you let your wife manage the money," he said. "When I said that, the women all clapped."
Lack of business acumen is widespread in Haiti and Low says many people have no idea how to keep financial records and and no concept of the idea of using only net profits to feed their families. Instead of building up a three-month nest egg to cover all their operating expenses, they spend all their earnings and have nothing left to restock store shelves or grow a business.
Low, 64, plans to keep making regular trips to Haiti to continue offering business advice to the people there.
"We hope to cause the city of Carrefour to be a shining example of transforming the economy of a town," said Low. "You transform it by giving the people hope and you hit all the influential people to get the word out that there is hope."