By Christopher Power
In the Catholic News of January 6, I read: ‘Fr Michel gone but will never be forgotten’. The anniversary of the death of Fr Michel de Verteuil CSSp is a reminder of his legacy that every human being, especially the weak and vulnerable needs a Jesus person who will stand with them and enable them to walk away from their plight and find the space to create a new life for themselves as a child of God.
Late last year, Mayaro Initiative for Private Enterprise Development (MIPED) celebrated a milestone. MIPED was formed in 2002 to transform the (Mayaro/Guayaguayare) area into a model community, creating self-sustaining employment, improving training facilities and developing opportunities for enterprise and achievement, while building self-esteem.
In 2002, BpTT gave the directors of MIPED US $1.2 million to fulfil its mission. From 2003 to 2018, MIPED has given the community of Mayaro/Guayaguayare/Rio Claro, TT $100 million in loans which has improved the lives of many people.
The people MIPED targets are those who cannot access credit facilities from recognised financial institutions as they do not have the collateral that financial institutions require.
MIPED would give a farmer a loan for an acre of watermelon with minimal collateral and the loan would be paid back in four months when the crop was harvested. Other loans would use their household/personal belongings as collateral.
The entire programme is built on trust. At one stage in its development, the farmers in Kernaham asked the financial institutions in the community to make a presentation on whom would be their credit providers. The community listened, deliberated, and gave its verdict. MIPED was always present to them.
What is presence? Presence requires eye-to-eye contact, and the ability to really listen to what people are saying. All preconceived ideas about who people are go out the door. It requires walking a mile in the other’s shoe. There is a lot of empathy and a little sympathy required. To respect, revere and value another brother and sister is a big challenge but absolutely necessary. All of this adds up to one big act of trust from both parties and this did not happen overnight.
Sixteen years later, MIPED has walked the talk of helping people to become responsible human beings. Last year when I visited the office of MIPED, I accompanied the staff on a site visit where I met many old friends and saw both the growth in their lives and deep appreciation for Rory Jitta, Manager of MIPED, and his entire team. They are the face of what MIPED is all about, driven by a value system that has a deep respect for people.
Many stories can be told of the impact MIPED has had on a community: a CEPEP worker got a loan that resulted in her getting electricity in her home and her daughter being able to do her homework; the family who, as a result of the loans they received, were able to send their children to university. A farmer was able to get a vehicle and bring his and other farmers’ crops to the wholesale market and by pass the middle man.
There was the young farmer who, on harvesting his crop of watermelon, was asked why he left a few melons on the ground. He responded, “I have to give thanks to the Creator.” A young couple met the challenge of illiteracy and joined ALTA (Adult Literacy Tutors Association). Many moons later they returned to say thanks after reading their first Mills & Boon novel but, most importantly, that they would now be able to teach their children how to read and write.
An alcoholic who was rejected by everyone received eight loans and repaid every one because MIPED spent time with him and his family. As a result he was able to build a home for his family. A fisherman needed a boat and engine but was scared he could not repay the loan. With much discussion and the support of his wife, son and fellow fishermen, he took the leap.
MIPED is a proven model to empower communities and people. The model is available to all institutions. Atlantic has started a similar project, LEND, in the Point Fortin/Cedros area.
The social teaching of the Catholic Church has all that is required for the MIPED model to become a reality. Many great social programmes have and are currently under the stewardship of the Catholic Church.
Has the time come for the Catholic Church to at least look at the MIPED model, especially the values that are the core of the enterprise and see how it can be implemented in some of our communities?
It would be remiss of me not to say a big thank you to the outgoing Chairman of MIPED, Asraph Ali. During my tenure in MIPED, he was my mentor. He is a very successful businessman with many achievements but knew what poverty was and how people were to be treated, respected, and valued.
The years I spent at MIPED were the most productive in living values that are at the core of each human being. All that is needed is for someone to tap into them and bring them to the surface.
Ali shared his value system with me and the people of Mayaro and he never shrank from being present to staff and clients of MIPED to motivate, encourage and empower people to rise to their true dignity. Thank you, Mr Ali.