Juslène Vixama 6

Juslène says she’s been feeling really good. And she’s especially excited these days because her baby seems as though he’s feeling good, too. From our earliest visits to the neighborhood, we had expected that he was undernourished, and we encouraged Juslène to get him evaaluated.

But motivating Juslène to do so was challenging. It is not as though she doesn’t care or that she is too lazy to do what she needs to do. Juslène seems to have intellectual/developmental challenges. Her trouble in this case was focus. She didn’t seem able to attend closely and persistently enough to the problem to follow through.

Our nurse’s screening suggested, however, that the boy’s malnutrition was severe, and that added urgency to the matter. Thanks to our close collaboration with Fonkoze’s own health department, it also made funds available to help Juslène with transportation to and from a public health clinic. Even so, it initially took some hounding from her case manager, Titon, to get her in motion.

Then she started to see the difference that the fortified peanut butter that is prescribed for malnutrition here was making in her boy. “He’s gotten stronger. He plays more, and he’s naughtier.” And that was all she needed to see. She’s excited now to go with her boy for his weekly appointments, and is delighted about his progress. She seems to feel rewarded by her sense that she’s taking good care of him now.

She’s still a little behind with her home construction. The new house is mostly finished, and she and her family have moved into its one room. But they need the wood from one more palm tree to close off the second room, and then they’ll need another door. And Juslène doesn’t see yet where she and her husband will get the money. She says they don’t even have a plan. And motivation may be an issue here too, because she is already very happy about where she is. Until they moved into the house, she, her husband, and their boy were living on the floor in his sister’s home. “I feel good now because I don’t live with someone else.”

My translation, “I don’t live with someone else,” doesn’t do justice to the strength of her sentiment. What she said is, “M pa rèt a moun.” The power of those last three words comes from a context in which they are frequently used. “Rèt a moun,” is often used to describe the situation of Haiti’s many restavèk children, who are sent by their parents, who often cannot keep them fed, to live with other families, sometimes as no more than unpaid servants, sometimes subjected to the worst kinds of abuse. It is as though she had classed herself among these modern-day slaves.

Economically, Juslène’s life hasn’t yet changed dramatically since she joined the program. Her two goats are still just two goats. They haven’t yet reproduced, because they haven’t been very healthy, and this poor health is another result of Juslène’s apparent intellectual challenge. Initially, Titon couldn’t understand why they weren’t prospering. Juslène appeared to care about them a lot, and she was always very good about making sure they were tied up in the yard every time he came for a visit. Through long conversations and several unscheduled visits, however, he discovered that she was so fond of them that she kept them tied up close to the house all the time. She wasn’t taking them each day to places where food was plentiful. She didn’t want to let them out of her sight. They were starving.

So Titon had a long talk with her, going back over a lot of the details of goat care that seemed not to have made an impression on Juslène, and he says that she’s getting better. For now, the family still depends largely on what her husband can bring in through day labor, though the couple has already learned how to stretch their money so that Juslène can save money by buying one or two 50-gourd shares in her savings and loan association at each weekly meeting.