Juslène Vixama 5

Juslène is still struggling. Her pig died, as did one of her goats. And she hasn’t been able to collect the money she’s owed by those who bought the meat. She and her partner planted corn, and they’re waiting for the harvest. They have access to other land that they could have planted with beans, but couldn’t afford the investment.

The two of them and their toddler still depend heavily on her sister-in-law, her partner’s sister, for much of what they eat. They’ve been living in the older woman’s home for some time now, ever since their own house was destroyed by a storm. Their new house is nearby, and it is almost finished, but they don’t have the nails they need to put the palm wood planks that the walls will consist of into place. The only nails that CLM provides are the ones used to attach the tin roofing to the frame.

Juslène had saved some money to buy the nails with, but it disappeared. She says it was stolen, and she probably believes that it was, but we have our doubts. We know from experience that she has trouble keeping track of things. It is part of whatever her developmental issue is, and it is affecting her ability to progress in various ways.

One of her two goats died, and the other is failing to flourish, and we think it is mainly due to her lack of care for them. Normally members keep their goats tied up, but they move them around during the day, making sure they can find food and are out of the sun. But Juslène’s case manager, Titon, discovered that Juslène hardly moves her surviving goat at all. He had always complimented her for making sure that the goat was in her yard whenever he came by. We ask all our members to do this so that their case manager can have look each week. But when Titon went by once on an off day, he found the goat right where it always is when he comes by. A little tough questioning – and a short conversation with the sister-in-law—revealed that Juslène had just been leaving it in one spot, so it wasn’t getting enough to eat. She knows, in some sense, that she needs to move it around, but she just doesn’t think of it. Titon decided to enlist the sister-in-law’s support to help Juslène focus on what she needs to do, and the woman seems willing.

But Juslène’s problems enter other areas of her work as well. I watch a case manager hand her a 250-gourd bill to pay for the nails, and when he asked her what the bill’s denomination was, she couldn’t tell him. She just hid her face in her hands. As Haitians say, Juslène “pa konn lajan.” She doesn’t know money. We regularly find such women among those who join the program, and we have to work with each on strategies that help them adapt.

And here is where Juslène showed us an encouraging sign. After hiding her face in embarrassment at her inability to identify the bill, she ran up to a neighbor, who is also a CLM member. She showed her the bill, and asked her its value. Then she pulled down the neckline of the other woman’s jersey, and stuffed the bill into her bra.

It was a striking scene. There were a couple dozen of us there: two case managers, a bunch of CLM members and their husbands, and I. The case managers were vaccinating the gathered members’ goats, and we all had to giggle. But what we all saw is that Juslène has found a friend whom she trusts to guide her and, in a sense, to protect her from herself. She asked the case manager to explain to the other woman what the money was for, and seemed relieved to get the problem out of her own hands.