When I last wrote about Marie, we weren’t sure how we could help her. She had sold not only the three goats that we had given her, but a fourth that she had bought with savings she had scratched out of her weekly stipend as well. She did it, she said, to pay an old debt. Although, she was telling us that the small commerce we had helped her establish was functional, we couldn’t tell whether to believe her. There were aspects of her explanations that weren’t matching up with the other information we had. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose her from the program. Her family’s need was too clear. We felt trapped.
But as our director, Gauthier, is fond of saying, CLM always finds a way. And we were determined to find one for Marie Paul. The first thing we needed to do was establish as accurately as possible what her situation was.
We asked her to bring the cash and merchandise that are in her small business home and to allow Edrès, the president of Mannwa’s Village Assistance Committee, to establish how much of the original 1500 gourds we had invested was still there. She had just finished selling the charcoal she made, so she had no merchandise, but she brought the money. Edrès counted 1350 gourds. She had been making money, but also living from the revenue. Her expenses had begun eating into her capital, but hadn’t done much damage just yet.
We next needed to figure out whether she had really eliminated her debt. If we helped her pull herself back together, but she felt forced to hand over whatever she earned to the loan shark, we would have helped him, not her. So we sought contact with the deputy who had, according to Marie, accompanied the loan shark and convinced the shark to declare the debt paid. Though we could not find him, Edrès managed to talk to him for us. He confirmed that Marie was clear.
So it looked as though Marie was in shape to start over again. We would need to find a way to help her replace at least some of the goats she had sold, and to protect her commerce from further deterioration. And we would need to do so without appearing to provide her with additional resources. It could hurt our relationship with the other members in Mannwa if they saw that the one of them who breaks our rules receives more support than those who follow them do.
But her case manager, Martinière, had a resource available that could help. Since entering the program, Marie Paul had been receiving an income replacement stipend of 300 gourds per week, just like all members do. We provide the stipend for the first six months of the program, and the logic is simple. Before we start working with a family, they are doing something to earn a living, however minimal that living is. They may be malnourished and wretchedly poor, but if nothing at all had been coming in, they would have died already. In order for them to spend time protecting and developing whatever new assets we give them, they can have to give up some of the other stuff they were doing before. This leaves a new gap in their livelihood before their new assets are able to earn them anything. That gap could force them to think of liquidating their new assets right away. To protect those new assets, we give them a very small sum, only about $1 per day.
Marie had been ducking Martinière for weeks, so he had not been able to give her this stipend. When he first re-established contact, he refused to give her the money. He wanted to be clear about how we would help her resolve her problems first. As a result, he had more than 4000 gourds of her money in his hands. That could go a long way towards replacing the goats if we wanted to use it that way.
But we still had a problem. The money was hers. As a CLM member she was entitled to it. But we couldn’t afford to hand it over to her and create even the appearance that she was receiving extra help. It was critical that both she and her fellow members understand that we were taking money we had already assigned to her, the same money that they had been using to supplement their own household incomes, and were proposing to help her use it to start herself back on the road forward.
So Martinière held a meeting about Marie with the CLM members of Mannwa. Edrès attended as well. Martinière wanted their input about our continuing to work with Marie. Assuming that they would agree with that much, he wanted explain to them that he planned to buy her new goats with money that is already hers. She was not getting extra help, except in the sense that Martinière would help her spend her own money.
Apparently, there was quite a discussion, but most of the women felt strongly that we should do what we can for Marie. They understand the 300-gourd stipend well, so they were able to recognize what Martinière wanted to try to do. He decided to move forward.
Friday, he bought Marie two new goats. They are bigger and better developed than any of the three we had originally given her because he bought two goats instead of three. He felt that she had already lost too much time, that she needed her goats to start producing for her right away. The two her purchased should be ready to become pregnant very soon.
Marie also reports that the father of her children has promise to buy her a third this summer, after he harvests his latest crop of beans. That would do a lot to get her ready to make progress again, but we’ll see. She’s gotten herself into trouble before by counting on beans.
Martinière gave her the remainder of the money he was holding for her so that she could invest it in her business. The last time I crossed paths with her she was hiking down from Mannwa with a load of avocados on her head. One of her smaller boys was in front of her with a smaller load on his. Avocados are heavy, and the road from Mannwa to the nearest market is long, rocky, and steep. So there’s no question of her willingness to work hard. She has about a month of her weekly stipend left, as well.
So maybe things will turn out all right. It may be troubling to feel as though we aren’t certain whether we’ve gotten to the bottom of things. But we just have to take a chance.