by Mackenzie Keller, Communications Intern
When we see a line of 15 other CLM case managers pressing on in the rain, however, it’s decided: we’re going to make the summit tonight. Encouraged by our companions, we continue, carefully crossing a slippery waterfall, picking our way down craggy paths, and then up, up, up.
Night descends, but Ellien doesn’t need a flashlight; instead, he passes his light to me. (Night vision: another requisite for the CLM case manager.) Just when I feel like my legs might give out, we hear the dull roar of a generator and see the lights of the school building where we’re spending the night. Euphoria.
Surrounded by boisterous male case managers, I feel like I’m intruding on a secret brotherhood. The vibe is one of kids at a campout, sleeping for only a few hours before waking early to laugh and joke with one another again.
As the graduation draws closer, however, it is clear that this is more than a brotherhood: this family extends to each one of the CLM members and to all the friends and family that have accompanied them on this proud day. We make our way to the graduation site, a neighboring church, and Ellien makes the rounds. He greets the guests, prepares the graduates’ certificates, and as the ceremony starts, entertains the crowd as the day’s MC.
In his suit and tie, he puts Cassidy and me to shame. I can’t quite believe he trekked through the same downpour that seems to have left everything in my pack with the scent of mildew—another indication that Ellien, like the other case managers who regularly make solo treks to Zaboka and beyond, is superhuman.
But to label them “superhuman” would be to deny the case managers the credit they deserve. Their driving force—a desire to improve the lot of these women—is unmistakable, from their presentations of the individual members called to give testimony to the way they ensure that each person in the room receives a hot meal before they will even consider eating (and several don’t get the chance).
“It comes down to determination,” says CLM Regional Director Steve Werlin. He describes the way one case manager, Martiniere Jasmin, couldn’t keep up with him during his first hike on the job. “Now,” Steve says, “you get the feeling he could do all his routes while carrying me.”
It’s not just a feeling. Martiniere has literally carried a sick CLM member down the mountain—after running to the peak, the only place with cell service, to call for help. Once he got her to safety, he climbed back up to be ready for work the next morning.
No single anecdote can quite capture the reality of CLM case managers, who perhaps understand better than any other Fonkoze employees what it means to accompany women out of poverty. A glimpse into their world is a glimpse at one of the aspects that makes Fonkoze successful: the exacting personal attention we give our members. Watching the case managers pose with their graduates after the ceremony, I think, “Who else could have accomplished this?”
In the end, it’s not a superhuman experience at all. It is the human element—the hands-on, 18-month long process, with innumerable trips up and down the mountain to literally reach women wherever they happen to be—that has made this day possible. It is a humbling and inspiring picture of what Haiti is capable of.