It was the day of the first mobile money disbursement in Saut D’Eau, a small town in Haiti known for its waterfalls and voodoo folklore. Thanks to a grant from USAID/HIFIVE, 100 beneficiaries had been selected to receive their unconditional cash grants via cellular phone. The beneficiaries had been identified, mobilized and trained to use cell phones as a futuristic wallet. Mercy Corps Haiti's Economic Recovery Team knew, however, that true understanding comes when people actually begin to use a new technology.
The first day of mobile money use in Saut D’Eau was chaotic. Nearly a hundred people crowded in front of the two stores where Mercy Corps staffers stood available to help them make their purchases. It was a slow, crowded process. Amidst the chaos, I decided to visit the participating vendors who didn’t have a Mercy Corps presence at their shops. The first two were empty, indicating that recipients felt they needed the extra support that our staff was providing. Then I arrived at Blanc Martine Guerda’s shop and was pleasantly surprised to find Marie Saint Juste and her daughter Benaria shopping with phone in hand.
When Marie first attended mobile money training, she didn’t understand how the money could be on the phone and would have preferred to be given cash directly. Now that she has seen mobile money in action, she believes that buying things is “very easy with the phone.”
Marie Saint Juste explains that she is old and has never gone to school, so has brought her daughter to help with the new technology. Benaria is jolly. She practically dances around the vendor’s stall, picking up various items and piling them into a bag. Within no time at all, she has pulled the Mercy Corps training pamphlet from her bag and begins to plug the purchasing code into her cell phone.
By the end of the day, Benaria had helped a number of other beneficiaries purchase items using mobile money.
The next day Saut D’Eau was calmer, as everyone began settling into the new technology. There is no doubt that the quick learning curve was in part due to people like Benaria, who mastered the technology quickly and then took the time to help others.