Itana is excited about having finished building her new home. “It does me good. In my old house, when it rained, I didn’t know where to stand.”
The process was, however, expensive: 7500 gourds for planks, 1700 for nails, 2000 gourds of wooden posts. She agreed to pay the builder 9000 gourds, of which she’s only paid 4000 so far. That’s more than 20,000 gourds, or about $200, and Itana had almost nothing when she joined the program. A lot of that money, like what she owes the builder, is debt. Though the CLM team’s supervisor for Gwomòn still hopes to get the local village committee to convince the builder to reduce his charge, it’s a lot of money. Itala’s husband has been paying the builder 500 gourds at a time whenever he earns some money milling cane for someone the neighborhood, and for now Itana says that the builder seems satisfied.
All this begs an important question, however. Itala contributed more to the house than Fonkoze did — by quite a bit, actually — and she was able to access much of what she needed by taking on debt. She didn’t have to have the money in hand. So, why didn’t she do it years ago? Why did it take CLM to get her started?
Itala has an answer. “CLM pushed me. I never thought I would be able to build a house until they gave me the roofing tin.”
She finished at a good time. Her little family was joined by her nephew, her late sister’s 17-year-old. He had been living and working in the Dominican Republic. But he never got comfortable there, so he showed up at his aunt’s house and moved right in. He now lives in her old house. Itala is glad he came. She likes him and her kids seem to like him too. And having a teenager who is willing to pitch in around the house helps her a lot. When we strolled up on Tuesday, he was digging up the small patch on the slope behind Itana’s home with a pick. It would have been a lot harder for Itana or her little girls, and her husband’s not around very much.
She hasn’t had much luck so far with her goats. Her two goats had a total of three kids, but all three died shortly after their birth. Worse yet, one of the adult females died as well. The CLM program tries to replace livestock that dies in the first three months after it has transferred the animals to the CLM member, so Itana’s case manager helped her collect what she could from selling the meat of the goat that died, and he then used that money, plus program funds, to buy her another goat. Her sheep and her pig are doing reasonably well considering the challenging situation that the long drought presents.
Now that Itana has completed work on her home, she is anxious to begin a small commerce. “I want to sell laundry soap and detergent. Things like that.” But she thinks she needs about 3000 gourds to get started, and she doesn’t have that money lying around. She could easily borrow the money from the Village Savings and Loan Association that the program established for her and the other CLM members in the area, but she is reluctant to add to her debt.
While I am with Itana and her case manager, they work on writing her name. On her legal documents, the name is Serana, so that’s what she is learning to write. The problem is that S is the letter that CLM members find most difficult. The case manager, Enold, spent some time asking her to copy one, but she can’t seem to see its shape clearly. I try drawing a big one, covering about a quarter-page of her notebook, and she’s able to trace it and then copy it. Enold will have to continue to work with her, but coming to understand the shape of an S by making giant ones may give them a way to start.
I ask Enold why they are working on the first letter in her name 12 months into the program. It turns out that when he first started working with her, he would give her the entire name to copy. He then would return the next week to find her homework done and done well. But he never took the time to make her do it in front of him, and it turns out she was so intimidated by the process that she was letting her children do it for her. Once Enold figured that out, they were able to start once again from the beginning.
Wow!! The builders of her house charged a lot!! But I’m hopeful the CLM manager will help bring it down. Gwomon is a very tough area to live and when the rain doesn’t come, it can be a disaster. Actually, it’s also a disaster when it does rain too. I admire the CLM staff and the women they are working with in that area. Itana will make it once she is able to start her little business without any more debts to weigh her down. I look forward to see how it works out for her.