A “Poster Child” for Mercy Focus on Haiti
As our brightly-painted school bus groaned through the rutted dirt-and-stone path leading to a riverbank outside of Gros Morne, Haiti, I reflected on the last three days. A new cohort of 200 women and their families had passed through our medical clinic as part of their initiation into Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) – Pathway to a Better Life. Those women – handpicked for the dubious distinction of being among the most abjectly poor of Haiti – were taking their first tenuous steps in an 18-month empowerment program that could forever change their lives. Having completed our medical assessment of over 1000 patients as part of the Mercy Focus on Haiti initiative, we had a “day off” and the opportunity to visit a few of the women who had just completed the previous 18-month CLM program.
The bus jerked to a stop at the water’s edge, and my attention returned to the present. Around us were sheets and shirts stretched out on the rocky bank, baking dry under a hot sun, and a handful of families still scrubbing their laundry in the shallow river.
“We cross right here,” said our guide. After a brief vote among us on the relative merits of removing shoes or protecting our feet from the river stones, we linked arms and waded across the wide, shallow river.
The far riverbank unveiled its natural beauty as we approached: a flat, lush-green pasture at the foot of a network of scrub-brushed rolling hills. As a chorus of bleating sheep grew louder, we stepped onto dry land. We could now trace the sound to a dozen sheep tethered along the hillside, some nursing their lambs as they grazed. A simply-dressed, elegant Haitian woman approached us with a confident smile. “My name is Lucienne, and you are all welcome!”
There were warm embraces with several members of our group who had shared this woman’s journey over the last year and a half. This was one of the CLM graduates we had come to visit! My next surprise? ALL of the sheep within sight were hers! Two years ago, this woman could not afford to feed herself or her children every day, and now she owned a dozen sheep and a cow! Her joy was contagious, and she exuded both pride and dignity as she led us up a steep, narrow dirt path to her home.
She introduced us to a neighbor, another recent CLM graduate, who had also transformed herself from a life of desperate poverty to self-sufficiency. Her CLM-guided empowerment path had led her to become a small-scale businesswoman, buying items in bulk that she could then sell in the market for a small profit. The homes of both women had several things in common – a metal roof overhead, a separate latrine, a water filter, and a handful of curious and playful kids with none of the tell-tale signs of malnutrition that we had seen in our medical assessments of the new cohort earlier in the week. The older children all attended school, another indicator of improved prosperity.
After a brief visit, we carefully retraced our steps down the path to the riverbank. This was a challenging hike not just because of the steep incline but because we were sharing the narrow path with joyful children running ahead of us, leading a few tiny, galloping lambs by a thin rope.
“If anyone ever asks me if CLM and the Mercy Focus on Haiti programs make a real difference,” I thought to myself, “I will just describe this scene.”
– Kathy Gauthier, June 1, 2019