Sometimes, deciding whether someone qualifies for the CLM program is easy. You come across someone who has little or no assets they can rely on, they have almost no income, and they have no direction. When long-time members of the CLM team meet such folks, we call them “originals.” I think it’s because they resemble the cases that the program’s founders had in mind when they established it.
Yesterday I met Nana, a single mother of a three-month-old girl. She lives in a room in a shack in her cousin’s yard because her late mother’s house, where she lived alone for most of her pregnancy, was deteriorating so badly that her cousin feared it would collapse around her.
She earns whatever she earns by helping out neighbors during harvest or when they are doing laundry, but she can’t do much right now with an infant on her hands. Talking with her leaves you wondering whether she has developmental issues as well.
An “original,” as CLM staff members tend to call such obvious cases of ultra-poverty. Nana clearly belongs in the program. But many cases are less clear.
Roseline and her partner live in a house they built in a yard that belongs to a cousin who moved to Pòtoprens. The cousin gave them permission to use the land.The couple has a single child. Roseline’s first child lives with her mother.
Their income depends entirely on the man. He works as a day laborer in their neighbors’ fields, making 100 gourds on a day when work is available. That’s a little more than they need for a minimally-decent meal. Right now there are just over 90 gourds to the dollar. Occasionally he finds work chopping up a tree for a neighbor making charcoal. That work pays a lot more money — many times the hundred gourds — but he can’t find it very often.
Their little boy has an asset: his uncle gave him a very small pig. As expensive as livestock has gotten over the pat couple of years, it may be worth 1500 gourds or more.
Despite her husband’s earnings, and despite the pig, I qualify them for the program. Their housing situation is unreliable. People change their minds about such arrangements all the time. Though they have a pig, since it was a gift, it doesn’t represent their own capacity to build an asset, and the mortality rate for such piglets, especially unvaccinated as it is, is high. Finally, Roseline’s complete dependence on her partner leaves her vulnerable. She’s already had one man leave her with child. So, I approved the family.
Margueline lives with her husband and their three children. Two of the three are school-age, and the couple sends them to school by selling plantain out of their garden. They are, however, behind in their payments.
The family keeps a couple of chickens in their yard. They also take care of a very small goat that belongs to Margueline’s aunt. She will be paid in kids if the goat has young while under her care.
Margueline generally makes coffee for the family in the morning. She’ll make a large meal later in the day. She was preparing cornmeal porridge the afternoon I passed by. The family had eaten cornmeal the previous day as well.
Since I knew that for two consecutive days they had eaten a good meal, I was inclined to disqualify the family. She also told me that they find much of what they eat in their own garden. So apparently hunger wasn’t really an issue for them.
But when I disagree with an experienced case manager’s opinion, I usually try to talk. I questioned the case manager who initially selected the family for the program, and he told me that things were quite different the day he met them. He saw clear evidence of their hunger. When he went by, they were trying to stifle their hunger by chewing on gleanings from a neighbor’s peanut harvest. The whole family — adults and children — were sitting in a circle, making the best of a couple of handfuls’ worth. So I approved the family on the case manager’s appeal.
Venicia lives in her house with three children. She has two other children who live with other family members who send them to school in larger towns. Venicia stays in touch with them, and they sometimes visit. But when she asks them if they’d like to return home, they say they are happy where they are. That’s how she knows they are treated well. The two school-age children who live with her are in school, but she owes the school money.
Her husband crossed the nearby border into the Dominican Republic about a year ago because the couple saw no opportunities for him near their own home. He hasn’t been back since, but they are in touch and she says that he plans to visit in April. He occasionally sends her money, but not often and not much. He is struggling in the DR without any legal papers, and even when he has some extra money, he must wait until a friend will be visiting Haiti in order to send it to Venicia. Without papers, he can’t use money transfer services.
Venicia gets by on those transfers from her husband and on the couple of hundred gourds she makes now and then by sorting and bagging charcoal for producers. They pay her 25 gourds per sack, and she can bag as many as six in a day when there’s enough charcoal.
But Venicia manages the little bit of money that she has well. The couple put up the frame for a new two-room house two years ago, and when her husband left the house was still just a frame. Over the past year, however, Venicia has purchased the necessary palm-wood planks to enclose one of the two rooms, and she paid the builder to enclose it. She covered the house with the palm seed pods that families who can’t afford tin use as roofing material in the Central Plateau. The one enclosed room now stores almost enough palm wood to enclose the other room and five hardwood planks that she will give a carpenter who’ll make her front door.
So, though I don’t doubt that Venicia has very little, I could not approve her for the program. Her life is very, very difficult, but she has the smarts and the discipline to make it — very slowly — without us.
This is an excellent article, Steve. It really describes well the difficulty and importance of the decisions you have to make all the time. I would love to see one on the same difficulties when it comes round to graduation time. I’ve always been a bit suspicious about the high high graduation percentage — especially when you go back to them several years later. But this article really clarifies how tough it is to make those decisions, especially when it can make literally the life or death of the participant. Thank you for writing it and describing in such beautiful detail how “on the edge” all of these women are. Of course, if we still had a tikredi element, maybe that would make the decisions easier. Obviously they ALL need some type of intervention to help them climb their staircase.