An interview with Gauthier Dieudonne, director of Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM), Fonkoze’s ultra poor program in Haiti.
People living in the most severe forms of poverty need everything to be addressed, starting with their most basic needs. Can you imagine somebody who is completely isolated, lost, shunned by the community? Those people live day-by-day just to get the meal for the day. Nothing else matters. There are other things they could do for themselves, but they don’t see them because they are focused only on getting the meal for the day.
So, CLM case managers have to learn a whole lot of things because we don’t have any government programs to accompany the ultra poor. We have to look at every aspect of their lives because you can’t leave anything out…They don’t have any confidence in themselves. They believe that whatever they say doesn’t matter. So, they just hide themselves and people abuse them, too, because they cannot defend themselves. They survive as day laborers sometimes. Sometimes they work, but don’t get paid. Sometimes all they get is a bushel of something and they take it home so they can feed their kids.
The most important thing is to try to get them to believe in themselves, to build confidence, so they can begin to move out of poverty. If not, they’re not going to succeed. This is the most difficult part of the program: to have them start thinking differently. They’ve been living this kind of condition for so long, it’s second nature to them. So, to get them out and show them that they can live differently takes a lot of work. But we do get them out!
We start the program by transferring some basic assets to them to help them generate revenue. We ask them to choose two assets from the list we have. A lot of times they will reply, “Choose for me.” They can’t make up their mind, so we help them to choose, based on the environment they are in. Before we hand them the assets, they have three training days for each before the transfer.
Once the training is over, we start with the case manager’s visit, once a week. At that time, the case manager will go to their house and continue with the training, with the accompaniment and problem solving. The case manager is a key in getting them out of the situation they are in and will work closely with them until they start moving forward. You begin to see some changes around six months into the program.
At six months, we do a “Fast and Slow Climber Evaluation,” so we can see the people that are responding quickly and the ones that are lagging. You can separate them, so you can see where you can concentrate your efforts because some people do move faster than others. One thing we realized is that you have people that fall into extreme poverty because of shocks in the family—somebody has been sick for a while, they had to sell everything, they lost everything. Those are the people who move faster because they are in the habit ofhaving things before they fell into extreme poverty. Other people have been in extreme poverty for so long, for generations, [that] it takes them longer to adapt and to accept the fact that we are there to help them move forward.
In the CLM program, we organize it so the clients can send their kids to school. For many of those kids—10, 11, 12 years old—this is the first time they’re going to school. There’s a particular case: this kid was 15 years old and he always wanted to go to school. He used to hang around to watch the kids go into school, but he himself couldn’t. But, once his mother got into the program, we had this guy going to school and that was one of the most exciting things for him. So, he became everybody’s friend. It really did something for him. Kids adapt to their environment. They are molded into it, but they change quickly. They are ready to go do new things because they realize, automatically, it’s better for them.
There is a definite lasting change in the mentality of CLM clients. During the first three months, they are somewhat skeptical since nobody ever did anything for them. So, now you’re telling them you are there for them, you’re going to help them—but they’re a little skeptical until they realize that you are there for real. And, then, they start spilling all their problems on you, for you to solve it.
But, we are helping them solve [their problems] by teaching them how to solve their problems. And they begin to realize they are human beings and people do care about them. So, they begin to care about themselves.
When people don’t care about you, you don’t care about yourself. So, we make them think that “you are something. You are worthwhile. You are somebody. You can accomplish anything like anybody else.” That begins to make them think, “I can do this.” And, once they do something positive and you reinforce that, they realize, “Oh, I did this.” And, each time they do something, they realize that they can do more. And they begin to think they can move forward. They begin to look at the future and that puts hope in them. They realize that their children don’t have to follow the same path they did. They begin thinking, “Yes, my kids can do better.” Hope is restored where people were hopeless, and they tell you how other people are coming to them for advice. That’s really tremendous.
Visit Fonkoze’s website to learn more: http://www.fonkoze.org/.
Photos 1 and 2, Credits: Fonkoze
Photo 3, Credits: Sabina Rogers
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- Reaching Fewer
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- The Psychology of Scarcity
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