Louneda vs. extreme poverty
This remarkable story, told by Chemen Lavi Miyò regional director Steve Werlin, captures a special case of extreme poverty and the spirit of Fonkoze’s program for Haiti’s poorest.
Louneda was never selected as a CLM member. She’s only thirteen, and, thankfully, has no kids. It was her mother who qualified for the program. The mother was pregnant at the time, and she and her five children had been abandoned by her husband.
She was living with Fanfan, her eldest, who is a seventeen-year-old boy, and his four younger sisters. Louneda, as Haitians say, “passed for” the second oldest child. A girl born between her and Fanfan had died. The family lives in Gwomòn, an agricultural region in the mountains along the border between Boucan Carré and Thomonde.
Then disaster struck. The mother gave birth to twins, but died in labor. The twins survived. Fanfan, the closest thing to an adult in the house, felt responsible. He knew he would have to look after the four girls already living with him, but decided he was unable to do anything for the infant twins, so he took one in each arm and hiked a couple of hours through the mountains to the Partners in Health complex in Cange, where he gave them away. “I just didn’t know how I could take care of them,” he explained.
Fanfan was left to do his best for his little sisters, and CLM could not help him directly because we only work with women. Instead, we took the oldest of the girls, Louneda, in their mother’s place. She is nothing like an adult in the household. Fanfan is the only one of the children who is ready to play that role. But she was willing to stick with Fanfan and her sisters, willing to try her best as long as Fanfan would agree to help.
He, for his part, promised to help her protect and develop her assets so that they’d be able to take care of each other and the three younger girls.
Louneda chose goat raising and pig raising as her two enterprises, and attended six days of training, hiking two hours to Boucan Carré each day to participate. She’s received her goats already, and Fanfan is helping her take good care of them. She’ll be getting her pig soon.
But not everything is going smoothly.
One of the keys to helping CLM families get started on the road out of extreme poverty is a small weekly stipend — about $1 per day — that we provide for the first six months in the program. It is designed to protect their assets by reducing the pressure they might otherwise feel to convert the assets into cash right away.
Louneda was getting her stipend, just like other members, but it wasn’t helping her family. As soon as she would get the money, neighbors would come by and borrow small sums until there was nothing left of it. Louneda knew that they would never pay back these loans, but she didn’t have the strength of character she would need to say “no.”
Fortunately, Louneda told us about the problem. We asked her whether it would help if we gave the stipend to Fanfan, and she leapt at the suggestion. She said that if he got the money, it would go towards making sure they had something to eat. It is clear that she trusts him deeply. So we’ve arranged to give it to them together. We won’t just give it to him, but we don’t give it to her without his presence. In other words, we make sure she can get it into his safe hands.
We’ll see whether this works.
They need some cash because they haven’t finished getting themselves and their younger sisters into school for the year. The last time we saw Louneda, she was running to the market with one hundred of the gourds we had given her. She was going to buy new underwear for her youngest sister so that the little girl would be able to start school the next day. That’s what her thirteen-year-old mind told her she needed to do.
The kind of personal attention and guidance that Louneda receives along with thousands of other families is expensive, but it’s the first step out of extreme poverty. Fonkoze is in the midst of a special campaign to support the CLM program so that 1,000 Haitians can change their lives for the better. Any donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar through a generous gift from the Vincentian Family. In one month, Fonkoze supporters have given $12,000. Help us reach our goal of $100,000 and visit our web site to donate now.