This post has been adapted from the blog of CLM Regional Director Steven Werlin.
In each area where our team begins the selection process for CLM, our goal is to identify about 50 ultra-poor families. In Venis, a sprawling patchwork of hilly farmland just south of Mibalè, we easily met this goal, with just over 50 new families who accepted our invitation to join CLM. However, there was one woman we missed.
Roselène, a woman living in extreme poverty in an isolated area of Venis, did not qualify for CLM due to a misunderstanding. Her husband, who was looking after a cow and a horse for another man, told our team he owned them, not wanting the animals to miss out on the team’s offer of free vaccinations. Because families who own large, valuable animals do not qualify for our program, our team moved onto the next house.
Shortly afterwards, we began serving Roselène’s neighborhood. As the members started to make progress towards lifting themselves out of extreme poverty, Roselène could only watch. A couple weeks later, the owner of the cow and the horse took them back from her husband. They were left with nothing.
Thankfully, in every neighborhood we work in, we establish a Village Assistance Committee. Composed of local volunteers, the committee helps us ensure the program’s success in various ways. They support members on days when the case manager is not around, provide an added layer of supervision to ensure members learn to take care of the assets we give them, and bring resources to members who need extra help as they begin to turn their lives around.
The committee in Venis has been especially active, and as the months went by they expressed frustration at the fact that we were doing nothing for Roselène, though they identified her as one of the poorest women in the area.
The committee decided to take action. Committee members pitched in to buy her the roofing material she would need to build a new house, and they contributed the lumber by culling it from their own land. They were managing a small effort to build a community latrine, but took some of the materials they had set aside and built a latrine for Roselène, redesigning what they would build for the community along more limited lines to compensate for the extra expense.
But putting Roselène on the road out of extreme poverty, albeit on a slower track than the one we usually provide our members, would require some investments beyond what the committee members were able to provide, so they asked us to help.
First, we needed to establish that Roselène was as poor as they said. Elvoit, the case manager who works in Venis, went to meet her, and he redid the selection survey. Without the livestock her husband had pretended to own, she qualified easily.
After I confirmed Elvoit’s findings, we mobilized some of CLM’s resources, giving Roselène a water filter and a five-gallon jug. We also found a little money to pay a local builder to start work on her home.
But a woman cannot do much to change her family’s life without assets to develop. Roselène was happy about her new house and latrine, but she needed a way to generate income, too. Fortunately, we had a solution.
Since CLM’s beginning, we have operated with a consistent principle: the assets we give our members are theirs to keep. The program was developed for families too poor for credit, so our leadership decided to base it entirely on grants.>
New partnerships can mean new opportunities, however, as well as compromises. The 360 CLM members in the group I work with right now were sponsored in part by Heifer International. At the core of Heifer’s approach is a practice they call “passing on the gift.” The poor who receive livestock from Heifer are expected to give offspring to other members of their community. This practice ensures that the benefits Heifer provides are shared as widely as possible.
We have generally felt that our members are too poor for such an approach. They need the ability to accumulate their own assets quickly to escape persistent hunger. However, we worked out a compromise. Members supported by Heifer receive four goats instead of two, and then pass two of the offspring on to other deserving families.
Because Venis is one of the neighborhoods where our work is partially supported by Heifer, all 52 members there received extra goats. Now, they are reaching the point at which we can begin to ask them to give some away.
Elvoit worked together with the Village Assistance Committee to organize a small, ceremonial passing-along of the gift to Roselène. He selected Paquese Salomon, a woman who has been particularly successful with her livestock. Though she started with nothing, she already has more than $400 and has set aside almost $150 more to buy another large animal. The minimum standard for graduation from CLM is about $200, and she has a few more months in the program to continue growing. Paquese is doing very well.
So along with CLM Director Gauthier Dieudonné, I attended CLM’s first Passing on the Gift. We sat in a circle in Paquese’s front yard. Nine of the committee members attended, including two who are CLM members themselves. We heard speeches from Elvoit, Gauthier, the Committee’s president, and one of the CLM women who sits on the Committee.
Finally, with encouragement from Gauthier and the Committee president, Paquese shared how she felt in her heart about giving away her assets.
She explained that she was really happy. “I used to live like she was living. I had the same kind of problems. Now, I’m someone who’s able to help.”.
While we are unlikely to make Passing on the Gift a regular part of CLM, the experience of Roselène and Paquese demonstrates the power of the community support our program fosters. Community involvement, through both Village Committees and individuals in the community, is essential to enabling our members to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.