Family Ties with Chemen Lavi Miyò

Deep in rural Haiti the commitment of CLM is clear

By Kristian Partington

I wake on the morning of April 16th to my first glimpse of where the long, rough road from the day and night before finally led us, and a timeless beauty spreads out before me. I’m at the end of the rocky trail after three hours of driving northeast from Mirebalais in Haiti’s Central Plateau. Not far from where we’ve stopped is the village of La Hoy, where a school is hosting Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program and 150 new members for a series of six training sessions.  

Kristian posing outside in Haiti with Anne, a CLM member
Village Voice Writer Kristian Partington with Anne Ilama, one of many 
CLM members who welcomed him into the family during five days in Haiti.

This is rural Haiti. There’s no electricity here along the banks of the Artibonite River, which flows south to Lake Peligré and the dam that feeds hydroelectricity sporadically to the populations in the south. There is tobacco, however, and all along the road huts are teaming with drying leaves, their pungent, sweet smell hanging heavy in the air. Every Monday, the empty stalls of the market deep down this rough trail are teaming with buyers and sellers moving tobacco across the border in unsanctioned trade with the Dominican Republic. When the tobacco harvest ends, peanuts will grow; for the most part it seems the people here are able to work hard and make a life themselves in this nest of agriculture.

Not everyone, however.

This is new territory for CLM and for months they’ve been interviewing community members and more than 1,000 women to find 150 who are scraping by each day living in the most extreme of poverty. Many are poor here, but they have a roof over their head, perhaps a goat or two and some chickens, and their children are able to eat every day. CLM’s job is to find the women who don’t have that and offer them support, training and confidence as they work their way down the path to a better life.

On this trip I’m offered deeper insight into what it means to be part of the CLM team supporting some of the poorest of the poor in the rural countryside. The case managers live in a house up a ridge from the road that is central to all the families they serve. They’ll live here together for at least five days a week spending their time visiting ten families a day, coaching them in how to make the most of the tools CLM provides. I’m here in La Hoy to see the first steps of this coaching process during the initial training for the new cohort, and the dedication among the team becomes all the more clear when I consider the effort it takes to make this program a success out here.

I sleep on a concrete slab alongside CLM supervisor Wilson, trusted driver Willfaut and the man who oversees the entire CLM program, Gauthier Dieudonné. We wake with the sun and meet the case managers and new members at the school, where a hot meal for 200, cooked by three older women over open fires, is waiting. Gauthier is there, speaking to each woman as they come to receive their meal.

“The first thing I tell them is they are part of a family now, the family that we call CLM,” Gauthier tells me. “Whenever they have a problem, whatever the problem may be, we will be there for them; I tell them they are no longer alone.”

The impact of his words is visible, for in them he places all the new members at his level; they aren’t beneath him, but alongside him.

Throughout the day, as the hot Caribbean sun beats down on the rolling hills and valleys filled with banana trees, the CLM team goes through the training. There are times of serious discussion and others filled with laughter and song as the case managers build trust with the women they will walk alongside in the coming 18 months.

It is a huge family, CLM, and it’s growing every day with the support of donors large and small. For the past four years, Schlegel Villages has been part of that family through its Hand up for Haiti 5K Walk/Run fundraising events. That support will continue into 2016, as the organization intends to send a new team of ambassadors to Haiti to learn more about CLM. It’s an amazing family to be part of, and I’m so thankful that this week I was able to spend time getting to know it better.