Many of you remember a woman we’ve been working with for a while now, Madanm Zaniyes. She’s a charcoal maker that lives on a dusty hillside in Fond Parisien with her 8 children…under a ripped tarp…set up a ways away from the road so whoever owns the land won’t see her out there and send her away…and rainy season has just begun again in Haiti.
I think about this woman often. I think about how painful it must be to wonder every day if and what you will feed your children. To wonder if she’ll sell much charcoal that day. To wonder if her children will become ill, or if they’ll all make it to adulthood. To wonder if it will rain that day…and if it will be bad enough that they’ll have to beg a nearby neighbor to allow them to take shelter in their home until the storm passes. To wonder if her sticks and ripped tarps will have weathered that storm, or if the wind and rain made new holes and knocked over the precariously positioned support sticks. To wonder if life will ever change or if it will always be this way. I think about her even more whenever it rains here in Oregon. I think about it from my warm, dry home while sitting on my comfortable couch curled up with a hot cup of Haitian coffee. It makes me feel sick.
A short while back, a nearby land owner offered his land up for community use for chicken farms. We agreed to partner together to make this happen if we could use a small portion of that land to build a small home for Madanm Zaniyes and her kids – nothing fancy, but something significantly better that her current housing. There was a verbal agreement. I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. But most of all, I was hopeful. I was hopeful that this would be the first step in the direction of breaking the cycle of poverty for this family. Right now, when I see her children I see more charcoal makers, a bleak future, and very little hope. I see her children growing up, having their own children and struggling to survive just like their mother did. How can a woman change her situation when she is living day to day – when there are no opportunities for a hand up – no opportunities to change her situation?
So she carries on and makes it to another day. A poto mitan – the central pillar, as mothers in Haiti are often referred to as. But when it came down to making the plans to measure how much space we’d need to build her home, and figuring out how much money we’d need to raise to make it happen, the land owner changed his mind. He no longer wanted her home to be built there. My hope was crushed. At first I was angry. Then I was frustrated. Then I was sad…really really sad. I actually sobbed for this woman. I take my work in Haiti very personally – you can’t help it. You either care or you become jaded and calloused over the years. Then I became numb. In my thoughts, I questioned, “Why, God?!!” I felt that by the time we found other land, secured it through the legal process, and raised money for the entire project, we’d be through another rainy season.
In the meantime, we’ve been working hard to secure a home we’ll be renting to house our groups that come to Haiti and others needing lodging near the Port-au-Prince airport. This guesthouse will save us on costs for our groups’ lodging as well as be able to fund more of our community projects when others come stay at the house. Our operations manager, Osner (Oz), and two other friends went down to do a run through of the property, give their thoughts on it, and negotiate a fair price.
Osner called me, “The place looks great. It needs some work, but I think it’s going to be great…Oh, and did you know there’s a back house?”
“A back house?” I wondered.
“Ya, like a couple of bedrooms in a separate house in the back.”
I gasped, “Madanm Zaniyes!!”
Oz almost laughed…”I was thinking the same thing.”
We plan to offer transitional housing to Madanm Zaniyes and her kids in these rooms and hire her to help with upkeep of the guesthouse. In addition to having a roof over their heads, a gate around the property, food, and unlimited clean water access, we will offer her a stipend, part of which we will save for her. If she went to a bank to try to save money, they would turn her away because she has no birth certificate – Haiti doesn’t even know this family exists, and even if she could access a bank account, the concept of savings is foreign to her. I mean, when has she had the privilege of having enough to even be able to save?!! At the end of the to-be-determined time frame, we’ll pull out that money from her savings and help her transition into a rented space nearby while we continue to employ her. The guesthouse is rented so it’s not a permanent space for us necessarily, so we don’t want her to become dependent on it either. We will reach out to the social workers at Haiti Mama to help with this transition to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Beyond the obvious benefits to her family, she additionally wouldn’t have to leave her littlest ones at home while she works like she’s had to do with the charcoal business. I’ve wandered out to her home several times, only to find her littlest 3 there all alone. It breaks my mama heart. And what choice does she have? Leave her kids or don’t sell any charcoal, which equals no money and no food for anyone that day. With a new job, a fresh start, and her basic needs being met, I hope this mama can start dreaming big. Her youngest kids will now have the opportunity to go to school (if we can figure out getting them birth certificates this late in the game), and the cycle of dependency on charcoal making will be broken. This is so huge. This is empowerment, dignity, and the very beginning of breaking the cycle of poverty for this family. My hope has been restored.
BUT, getting this guesthouse off the ground takes money. We have lots of start up costs to get this property cleaned up and ready to welcome guests in. Would you please consider a small donation to get us going? Thank you for your love and support – for us and for Madanm Zaniyes and her kids and for all the community projects this guesthouse will help fund! Check out more and donate here: gofund.me/ehtguesthouse