Several weeks ago Jill and Steve and I had the privilege of following Gauthier and one of his caseworkers to visit three CLM clients, or sisters, as Steve Werlin has suggested. The case manager, Shirley, was one of the rare females willing to perform this job, which demands the ability to maneuver a motorcycle along Haiti’s back roads (substitute creek bed for road here).
After two hours of being knocked into one another in the back of an SUV, our delegation arrived at the outpost that serves as the caseworkers’ home for much of the week. Feeling giddy over our safe arrival, I was trying not to think about the drive home, and one dicey precipice in particular, where I had wondered whether it might be useful to our driver if I screamed.
Once landed, we climbed the footpath leading up from behind the small school, and arrived at the home of the first CLM client. She came out to greet her Fonkoze team with a graceful welcome, obviously at ease with the relative invasion of Americans, I presume this was because her beloved Gauthier had brought them. She wore a t-shirt, a hand-me-down from the States, created no doubt for an American teenager, but its message seemed to sum up with perfect precision the way that Gauthier and his team view their sisters in the program. The shirt read, “as a matter of fact, the world DOES revolve around me.”
This woman was doing well in the program and showed us the work that she and the Fonkoze team had so far performed on her new home, a dwelling that was to house her family of ten.
The second client/sister was waiting for us in front of her newly completed house, two of her children sat on the front stoop, her husband helped to hang the laundry. She had a sleeping one-month-old baby in her lap. Shirley and Gauthier spoke with this pretty young mother, joked with her, asked how she was dealing with her new her goats, her new ceramic water filter. Before we left, Gauthier asked what she thought of the new tin roof on her home.
“Before, when it used to rain, the house would fill with water.” She answered. “But now, when the rains fall at night, we lie in our beds and sing.”
The third sister we visited that day had several children, one of which looked to be about nine, and who had been born with a correctable but untreated condition that affected her vision. Gauthier and his team had managed to save some of her sight by taking her to a distant hospital for surgery. This young girl stood folded in Shirley’s arms as Gauthier told us her story.
At one point during our visit this girl’s mother proudly brought out a small workbook, which revealed her own carefully rounded cursive. She was learning to write her name for the first time.
We asked if we could take a picture of her. She nodded yes, took a deep breath and froze in a half smile. The photo was snapped, and she released her tense shoulders, letting go a suppressed puff of air.
It was at this moment that I understood how brave these women must be. Imagine allowing someone, some organization to enter your life for evaluation. Imagine taking them through your home, peering into corners, sifting through your finances, relationships, gathering all of the information needed to turn your life in a sustainable direction. Bettering your lives and the lives of your children, yes, but how brave you must be to take this first step. Like tensing at the sight of a needle, you understand that it may save your life, but still, you gulp, wince, and then, whew, … begin to breathe again. You do this for your children and your children’s children. You suffer this scrutiny for those you love.
And now imagine the one who scrutinizes. Imagine the delicacy required of Gauthier and his team. Imagine one who possesses the tenderness to carefully pry open a life of chronic poverty in order to offer help, one who can intrude without being intrusive. This is a rare variety of human being, a highly infrequent specimen found occasionally in the remote back hills of Haiti’s Central plateau. This is Gauthier and his remarkable family.
I wish all of you in this room could have the opportunity to follow Gauthier up into the hills to visit his CLM sisters. I know it would give you hope, and courage, like a new tin roof. So that when the rains fall in your own lives, you too might lie in bed and sing.