Zaboka has a very different look these days. It’s the main town in Deniza, the eastern side of Tit Montay, the hard-to-access region on the northwestern corner of Boucan Carré. Zaboka is one of the areas where our activities are most concentrated. There are almost sixty CLM members living in close proximity to one another in and around the village.
One of the things that first struck us about Tit Montayn when we started working there was the poor quality of the housing stock. Not just future CLM members, but even some of their wealthier neighbors were living in structures that barely deserved to be called “shacks.”
Often, homes were nothing more than two walls of pressed corn stalks, set to lean against each other. There might be a couple of large, fibrous palm pods folded across the top to help keep the rain out. The triangular back of the house would be made of more corn stalks. More sophisticated homes had walls of woven sticks, covered with dried mud. Palm pods and straw were the standard roofing materials. We regularly heard from women who told us that they would take their children out from under the roof when it rained in order to seek such shelter as they could find under nearby trees. Their homes simply didn’t protect them.
But now the 59 CLM members in Zaboka all have small but solid homes, with good tin roofs. On a sunny day, these roofs shine brightly on all sides, like little mirrors, sparkling in the sunlight along Zaboka’s various steep hills.
The centerpiece to the CLM approach to poverty alleviation is the effort we make to help our members develop reliable income-generating activities. We know that, unless they can earn regular income, they will not be able to address their children’s persistent, health-threatening hunger or to send their children to school. As I often say to groups of our members the first time I speak to them: Every family has problems, but families that have money coming in every day have ways to solve many of those problems. So we provide enterprise training in our members’ choice of two income-generating activities, and we give them both the assets they need to get their businesses started and the ongoing coaching they need to succeed.
But we also know that their businesses will not succeed unless they can stay healthy themselves and keep their children healthy as well. A woman cannot make a steady income if she can’t work, and she won’t be able to work if she is sick herself or is busy taking care of a sick child.
So we also work hard to help our members protect their families’ health. We make sure they have access to free health care at any of the Partners in Health clinics in the region. We provide them with lots of training about health-maintenance and good nutritional practices. We teach them about safe drinking water and ensure that they have everything they need to guarantee that their families’ drinking water is clean. We help them install latrines in their yards. And we help them construct a room that gives them a dry, protected place to sleep.
We have to be careful about this. We never tell our members that we will help them build a house. We can’t afford for them to have an exaggerated sense of what we can do for them. Building a house can be an expensive undertaking. Even CLM members can tend to have dreams much bigger than anything we can satisfy. What we do is very limited: We provide them with enough tin roofing material, nails, and cement to make the roof and the floor of a three-meter square room. If members live somewhere that cement delivery is especially hard, they can take extra roofing material to make a larger house instead of the cement. We also pay the builder who constructs the walls and another who puts on the roof. The members need to scrounge up the support poles and the other lumber that they need, and to provide rocks and sand.
It’s an approach that is hard to implement for lots of reasons. It can be hard to get building materials, even the easier to transport ones, where we need them. Members who don’t own their own land can have a hard time finding a piece of land that someone will allow them to build on or finding the lumber they need to build with.
But the members themselves can also create difficulties. Many of them want much more of a house than we can offer. In Haiti, where mortgage financing is rare, building a house can take years. A family will save up to buy materials sufficient to take one step in the construction process, but then put the process on hold until they’ve accumulated more savings. The version we face in CLM is that members can be unsatisfied with nine square feet, or even with the larger home they can build if they convert their cement into tin roofing. They’ll want to start construction of something much larger, something that they’ll have no hope of completing anytime soon. That might be ok for those who already have a safe place to live, but for CLM members it means remaining in structures that fail to provide even minimal protection from the elements.
Case managers have to argue with the members, convincing them to make the best of what we offer right away, and dream of something greater down the line. It’s not always easy. But in Zaboka, and in almost all the areas where we currently work, it’s a battle we’ve successfully waged. The houses our up, and we’re moving to other challenges.