The Trial

Sherley is a case manager in Bay Tourib. She and her fellow Bay Tourib case managers have been working feverishly to buy assets and transfer them to the CLM members they’re responsible for. Purchasing and delivering assets, like livestock and construction materials, is time-consuming, and the worst thing about losing that time is that it interferes with the regularity of weekly visits to members’ homes during a phase in the process that is especially fragile.

Members have been trained to take care of their goats, the first income-generating asset they receive, but that training needs regular reinforcement, reinforcement that can only come through weekly visits. Many of our members are unaccustomed to having their own goats to look after. And their poverty makes caring for those goats even harder than it would otherwise be. The goats require grazing, and for families that have little or no land, ensuring proper pasturage is no easy matter. Unless they receive support and direction regularly, many members incline to the easiest solution, free grazing. They simply let the goats loose to fend for themselves.

The problem is that the goats get into people’s gardens — they are especially fond of pigeon peas — and do a lot of harm. Farmers who catch goats in their gardens can react harshly. They throw rocks to chase them away, or do much worse. In the areas where we work, we encourage farmers to capture the stray goats and get payment for their return. That’s one common Haitian solution to the problem. But it’s not always what happens.

Chape is the husband of a CLM member, Elimène, and a farmer in Bay Tourib. Elimène has being doing well so far. She received two goats from us, and they are both pregnant. She’s taking good care of them. She also bought a third, with money that she saved up from her weekly stipend, and it is pregnant as well. Chape planted a small garden with pigeon peas and sorghum, and they were looking forward to the harvest. Things were looking up.

Then one morning, Chape got to the garden and found it ravaged. Livestock had devoured almost all the sorghum. In the middle of the garden, he saw several goats and assumed that they were the culprits. Enraged by the loss of a yield that he had been counting on to feed his children, he reacted badly. He caught four of the goats and killed them. This, too, is a common Haitian solution to free grazing. All four goats belonged to CLM members, two to Marie Rose and two to Milouse. Two of the four had been pregnant, one with two little kids. So the total loss was seven goats: a huge setback for our members.

When Sherley heard the news, she reacted swiftly. She spoke to members of the village assistance committee (VAC) for Fonpyèjak, where the incident occurred. We establish these committees as a vehicle that permits community leaders to play an active role in CLM. By doing so, we bring a range of men and women on board who know the communities we work in and the communities’ residents better than we do and who are, what’s more, in those communities all the time. They help us support our members by extending our reach in several ways, such as adding emergency contacts and field supervisors to our team by putting a community’s own resources to work.

Sherley went to see all three members affected with Emonès, a leading member of the committee, and the two CLM members who serve on the committee as member representatives. They made a preliminary decision to confiscate the assets we had given Elimène, pending a decision. Some of the committee members had wanted to insist that Chape and Elimène pay for the goats he had killed, but Emonès pointed out that, if the couple had had that kind of money, they wouldn’t be in CLM. The committee members went to the couple’s home, and led away all three goats. They also took away the roofing material we had given them for home repair. The members’ initial thought was that we should consider removing the family from the program entirely.

Killing the goats, even under serious provocation, seemed to them a very grave offense, especially since Emonès concluded that the goats had not done the real damage to the garden. He observed the damage done to the sorghum, and concluded that it had been eaten by animals taller than goats — horses or cows — and also noticed that the pigeon peas — which larger animals don’t feed on — had been left alone. As the dry season continues, owners of large livestock sometimes let them loose to feed at night, not knowing how else to get them fed. This is a crime against the neighbors in whose fields they graze, but it is one that is very hard to uncover.

The committee didn’t want to make a final decision, however, without a hearing. They thought that it would be better to let a few days pass so that cool heads could prevail, and they also wanted CLM’s leadership to have a say. So we scheduled a hearing for Tuesday evening. I got to Bay Tourib Sunday afternoon, so I would CLM’s representative.

On Monday night, I had a long talk with Emonès. He said that Marie Rose and Milouse were very different victims. Both had obviously let their goats roam, but Milouse was known to have done so regularly. Marie Rose never had. Her goats had gotten free because she had rushed to the hospital in Tomonn with her husband, who had been suffering with prostate problems. The person who had agreed to look after her goats had failed her.

I told him that I wanted to avoid removing Elimène from the program. She was in it because she needs it. Kicking someone out solves nothing. I proposed that we return the roofing material to Elimène and ask her to give a goat to Marie Rose and one to Milouse. That would distribute the harm that had been done. Emonès agreed.

But we had the hearing the next night, and that’s not what we finally decided. We started a hearing with a report from Sherley. We asked her for a general summary of the facts, as she understood them. Then we asked Elimène, Marie Rose, and Milouse each to respond. Milouse defended herself against the claim that she habitually lets her goats roam. Marie Rose explained how unhappy she was that her goats had gotten free. Elimène talked about how much she and Chape had counted on their harvest and how little they had to show for all their farm work now.

When they were finished talking, I announced the decision I had made, but I framed it as a proposal. I asked for their feedback.

At first, everyone agreed. But then Emonès spoke up. He had, he said, been thinking about the matter constantly since he and I had spoken about it, and he wasn’t quite comfortable with what I had proposed.

He had not previously known Elimène. He met her when he went to her home with Sherley and the other committee members to seize her assets. He had been very much impressed by the way she conducted herself: polite and helpful. His original thought when he had heard about the incident had been to remove her from the program, but when he visited her home he realized that she was just the sort of person the program had come to Bay Tourib to help.

Though he could not condone the killing of the goats, he had been thinking about ways to minimize the damage all around. He knew that the two women had sold meat from the slaughtered goats. This is common. If it’s sold quickly, it can bring in some money, though not much. He suggested that Elimène be asked to give each of the other women only the difference between the money from the sale of the meat and the price of a goat. He had done a rough calculation. Elimène might still have to sell a goat to generate that money quickly. She probably didn’t have it on hand. But she’d still lose only one goat instead of two. We all agreed that this seemed like the best solution, and left it in Sherley’s hands to help the women make it work.

Emonès was, obviously, the star of the evening. His patience, first as an investigator, then as a sheriff, and finally as a juryman and a judge, brought us to what was perhaps the best solution of an unhappy case. And it went a long way to helping us through the process without rancor, too. He exemplified the role we try to give to leaders in the communities we work in. If we could help such leaders establish themselves everywhere that we work, that would go a long way towards guaranteeing the success of the members whom we, and also those leaders, serve.