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3/8/03 - Miami Herald

Rice helping Haitian women reap success
by Jacqueline Charles

Gertha Bathold never thought she would one day be hawking rice to her friends -- telling them how well it cooks, and why her brand is better than another.

But that's what the retired tomato packer does several times a week, at church, at home and around her Miami neighborhood as she tries to sell 50 to 100 pounds of rice a week.

''It's difficult," Bathold said. "But because I have a need, I have to find a way."

Bathold, 68, is one of several low-income Miami-Dade County Haitian women who are chasing their dreams one grain at a time. They are doing it through an economic development program designed by Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami Inc. or Haitian Women of Miami Inc.

One of several community-based initiatives funded by Miami-Dade County's Office of Community and Economic Development, the program helping poor Haitian women start their own businesses or supplement their income.

The women purchase the rice from FANM at a discount, then receive $1.50 profit for every 10 pounds sold.

The amount may not seem like much, but for someone like Bathold, whose only other income is $500 a month in Social Security, it counts for a lot.

''I can buy juice, soap, whatever I need", she said.

And that, says FANM's chief operating officer, Juvais Harrington, is what the program -- and FANM -- are all about.

''The objective here is to give folks some skills so they can, preferably, start their own business, or get a heads-up on another career opportunity," Harrington said.

For instance, of the 27 women in the program, eight received training in bookkeeping, inventory controls and cash flow and then a $4,000 stipend.

Though the program now focuses on rice -- a mainstay in the Haitian diet -- Harrington said plans are to include beans, tomato paste, cornmeal and evaporated milk.

Ultimately, FANM wants to help the women accumulate inventory and build a client base.

''What my management team likes about this initiative is that they could have utilized these dollars for social service activities, but they chose to utilize these dollars to support local-based female entrepreneurs," said Bryan Finnie, director of the Office of Community and Economic Development, which initially funded the program for $75,000 and this year is providing $100,000.

Since its founding more than a decade ago, FANM's focus has been to strengthen Haitian women and families through community economic development, immigration advocacy and citizenship service, and family intervention and empowerment.

It's a challenge that has been difficult at times, said executive director Marleine Bastien, a leading Haitian-American activist who this evening will highlight her organization's successes and challenges during its $80-a plate 11th anniversary dinner gala to be held at the Biscayne Bay Marriott, 1663 N. Bayshore Dr. in Miami.

As in years past, the banquet's goal is to raise about $50,000 in unrestricted revenue, money that FANM can use to keep programs such as culturally sensitive parenting and mental health programs afloat when grants run out, and to help individuals whose needs can't be supported with grant money.