Rose Marie: At Twelve Months

Rose Marie and her husband Sonèl live with their four children in Gad Mamon, a small rural area on the border between Tomond and Ench. Before they joined the CLM program, they got by through hard work. Rose Marie did laundry for wealthier families in Tomond and Mamon, and Jonel worked in local sugar mills, boiling down sugar cane juice to make molasses, which is sold by the barrel to makers of rum.

Rose Marie chose goats and a pig as assets for the CLM program to give her, and she is doing well with both. She now has four goats, and, thanks to her sow’s first litter, she has four pigs as well.And the original sow is once again pregnant.

The couple’s progress is otherwise clear to see as well. Their large three-room house stands right in front of their previous home, and the difference is striking.

When Rose Marie told her case manager Manno that she wanted to build a large, three-room house with a front patio, he was skeptical. Many CLM members want their new homes to be bigger than they can really manage. Though CLM helps them with home repair or construction, they have invest a lot themselves. And the larger the home, the more the CLM family will have to spend. Families can leave themselves unable to finish the job before graduation. Or they can end up spending money that they really needed for other things.

But Rose Marie and Sonèl were determined, and their success is nearly complete. What is interesting is that they have not sold off any assets to manage the expenses they’ve incurred. They sold no livestock, and Rose Marie has added a small new business, not cashed out of one. She now goes to Ench early every Saturday morning and buys 2500 gourds-worth of frozen chicken meat, which she sells the same day in their neighborhood. She makes 500-700 gourds per week.

Rose Marie explains that they have built the new house using the same earnings that they’ve always depended on: namely, her laundry and his work at sugar mills. That part of their lives — their principal sources of income — has not changed. And that begs a question: If they were able to build such a nice house with their own resources, the same that they’ve always had, why were they living in such a wretched shack before they joined CLM? The couple was really struggling. Rose Marie especially talks about the cost of sending children to school. “Sending the kids to school is expensive,” she explains. “You have to pay the school, buy uniforms, give the kids something to eat.”

The did have income, but everything they earned passed right through their hands. They couldn’t get ahead. They even moved backward. Shortly before they entered the program, their youngest child fell awkwardly, hurting his knee. He ended up spending a week in the hospital in Ench. Sonèl had to borrow a pig from his brother, which he sold to cover the medical expenses. Then he had to work hard just to replace the pig.

Rose Marie says that the program’s push mobilized them. Every week, with every bit they earned, they focused on saving as much as they could to invest in the house. And her father decided to help out as well. When he saw the opportunity that CLM was offering his daughter, he decided to give her much of the lumber she would need. That made the undertaking much less expensive than it otherwise would have been. It is something he could have done years before, but he didn’t.

Rose Marie has visions of further progress. She wants to buy a cow. When asked whether she will sell off livestock to do so, as most CLM members do, her answer is surprising. She wants to keep all the livestock she has. She and Sonèl would rather continue to manage the earnings from the hard work they have always done than sell what they’ve come to own.

Four pigs is already a lot to handle. Pigs can demand a lot of attention and some expense as well. But Rose Marie wants more. She explains they when they get to be too much for her, she’ll start giving them to neighbors to take care of. Profit earned from a pig in someone else’s keep, whether it comes through new litters or through simple growth, must be shared with the animal’s keeper. But it could still get to be a lot. And Rose wants to continue to accumulate pigs and goats, and eventually cows, until she can sell them to buy land.

If Rose Marie’s progress sounds remarkable, that’s because it is. And one key is the excellent, supportive relationship she has with Sonèl. Their priorities seem aligned, and they both seem willing to work hard. But we’ve noticed the relationship in another way as well.

Manno has been teaching Rose Marie to write her name. She never went to school. “When my father heard he’d have to buy two books and two notebooks, he said it was too much.” She’s made some progress, but last week Manno noticed something curious. Rose Marie was writing “Marie” in cursive letters.

CLM case managers do not teach cursive. They teach printing. It is generally so much easier. Manno’s first guess was that she actually had been to school, even if only briefly, and was starting to remember what she had learned. We’ve seen cases like that before. But that wasn’t it. It turns out the Sonèl saw his wife’s efforts, and he decided to help. Without training, he simply showed her to write “Marie” in the only way he knew, which was cursive. And he’s been working on it with her ever since.