how to break the cycle of poverty in haiti with art

haiti, artist, microloan, help one now

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

September 10, 2012

haiti, art studio, microloan, help one now

I wonder what went through his mind when he got the cash in his hand the first time. After all, the $500 microloan that he got was the equivalent of about 3-4 months worth of typical income for a man in his position.

But along with this huge influx of cash came a great deal of responsibility. When Chris Marlow of Help One Now gave him the money, he also asked for something in return. This was Help One Now’s first venture into microfinance, and they wanted to leverage the opportunity to benefit others well beyond this first offering.

Richard, the recipient of this loan, is an artist. One of the requirements for this little experiment would be that Richard would produce 50 paintings that Chris could bring back to the U.S. with him, and it’s not because he has a big house with lots of empty walls.

Chris took the 50 paintings when they were completed, and hosted an art show. The supporters who descended upon the Benelux Cafe in Raleigh, NC admired the work of this talented young man from Haiti. But more importantly, they bought the artwork. Suddenly, as paintings starting flying off the walls, this little fundraising activity was giving an experiment in microfinance some real life.

art show, microfinance, microloan, haitian art

Fast forward about two months, and I’m standing with Chris and the rest of our team as we meet with Richard to give him an update on how things have gone with this project. He pulled some of his recent artwork out of the studio that takes up about a quarter of his 330 square foot home where his wife and son live with him. The paintings contain a distinct style often seen in Haitian artwork. It reflects not only who he is, but also where he lives. And as we gather for our little meeting after the Sunday church service, I stand in awe of the beauty of this man’s work.

I can’t help but to think that he was meant to do this.

As things settle, Chris and Richard’s pastor (who is acting as an interpreter) explain to him what was done with the artwork that he provided months earlier. Chris tells him about the art show and how people came to see his beautiful paintings. He describes how many people purchased his artwork on display in a coffee shop in downtown Raleigh.

I can see the anticipation building in Richard’s eyes. He tries hard to contain the excitement. I can also see how honored this man is that people, and not just any people, but American people, liked his art.

Chris explains that with the proceeds, as part of their agreement, enough money was raised to offer three more microloans to other entrepreneurs in his community. Now these others would have the same kind of opportunity that he did to build something special and improve their situation in life. Nobody knew more than Richard what it meant to be given an opportunity like this.

Then he was informed that the art show also raised enough money to pay back his loan in it’s entirety. Whew! That $500 is now free and clear! I could see the relief in his eyes at knowing that he was no longer indebted to anyone. If nothing else happened with all this, Richard would already be a blessed man based on what he was able to do to establish and expand his painting business with the help of that loan.

Then he was handed the envelope. During that awkward time when both sides held the envelope while its contents were being explained, Richard’s hands were visibly shaking at the thought of what might be inside. I couldn’t understand a word of the explanation he was given because it was in Creole, but it was obvious when he was told that we were giving him an additional $1,000 profit from the sale of his artwork. I think I just saw the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life.

haiti, artist, microloan, help one now

Boom… now we just dropped 6-8 months worth of income on this man and his family! If the initial microloan was life-changing, then this event caused him to be triple-blessed.

I don’t know for sure what Richard will do with all of that money, but there’s some talk of possibly expanding his studio so that he can begin to offer art classes to help others develop in the craft that he’s been able to earn a nice living with. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see how a small loan strategically implemented can cause huge ripples throughout a community.

The eventual goal is to make opportunities like this succeed without relying on the outside help of sources like art show buyers in the States. It’s better to work towards plans to become completely sustainable within their own communities. With the right counsel from his pastor, who is also a successful businessman, Richard is on the path to becoming an outstanding provider for his family, and a successful businessman in his own right.

As I lingered after our little ceremony to buy a couple pieces of Richard’s art to bring home with me, I couldn’t help but to think about coming back on future trips to witness the results of the three other microloans that were also now being given as a result of this one success story.

How far can this ripple go?


  1. Marcus Goodyear

    I love this article, Dan. It feels like The High Calling in so many ways–especially at the end when you talk about wanting his work to be self-sustaining within his own community.

    With globalization turning everything upsidedown in our world economy, I wonder if that is as true a statement as it used to be.

    And I also wonder… where are the pictures of his paintings!? I want to see them!

    • @bibledude

      I’ve been thinking along the same lines Marcus… when I was standing there in his house (which is literally next door to the church), I couldn’t help but to think about how his work and his faith/ministry are interwoven. What he did (and will continue to do) benefited so many more than just his own family.

      And pictures of the paintings… you can see some of them on the wall in the background of the photo of the coffee shop window, but here’s some more from that show…

  2. Amy

    Is it at all possible to buy this artwork anymore? I love it! Is it still in Raleigh?


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how to break the cycle of poverty in haiti with art

by Dan King time to read: 5 min