Women are making a significant contribution to improving the lives of their families in Haiti. They account for 52% of the country’s population and are involved in economic activities and participate in a variety of social initiatives in their communities. At home, women are responsible for their children’s education, the management of the household, and have their share in various decision-making processes affecting family members and neighbors.
|Mother Leader - Marie Guerline Ostine|
Women are also the backbone of the Haiti Nutrition Security Program (NSP). Much of NSP depends on Mother Leaders - women who have completed or are in the process of completing a 15-month “learning by doing” training program in nutrition and health education. Each Mother Leader is responsible for taking what she has learned and communicating it to her neighbors and other mothers in her community. NSP has chosen to highlight one of the Mother Leaders through a typical week in her life, seeing the role that the program has on her daily life.
Marie Guerline Ostine is a Mother Leader living in Carrefour, one of the four districts in the greater metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. Carrefour means “intersection” in French. And true to its name, Carrefour connects people commuting to and from the four Southern departments of Haiti. Many residents of Carrefour are migrants from the South of the country and struggle to assimilate to their new community.
As a Mother Leader, Marie is responsible for visiting 10 to 12 households twice a month for a face-to-face conversation on diet diversity, food groups, and best practices related to nutrition and health for children under five. She is committed to visiting her neighbors and having these important conversations. Some neighbors are available only on Sundays and they are happy to dialogue with Marie about health and nutrition. On Sundays, Marie takes her three boys, ages two, six, and ten, to the local church where she is an active member. She is well-known in her community and her neighbors respect her dedication to teaching her children and motivating them to participate in different activities organized by the congregation.
|Nutrition counseling card used by Mother Leaders|
Throughout the week, Marie continues the visits with the neighbors depending on their availability. To help facilitate their training, she uses counseling cards provided by NSP to deliver nutrition education to the families. Marie walks her kids to school early in the morning - classes start at 7:30 am and end at noon. Her oldest son walks home by himself but she goes to pick up her younger son and then ensures they both take a bath and eat a hot meal. After that, she hits the road with the goods she offers all the way to the market. On school days, Marie sells clothing but she shifts to toiletries over the summer because there is more consumer demand during that period. Marie prefers selling toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soap, because they have a rapid turnover of stock. Additionally, the wholesalers who supply her business are located at her market and so this avoids the transportation costs of traveling downtown.
After 5:00 pm, Marie makes another new round of visits to other neighbors.
On Tuesdays, she joins other community members to learn and study religious matters at the local church.
On Wednesdays, Marie resumes home visits and provides counseling in hygiene, nutrition, and health and supports other community members.
|Marie and her sons|
On Thursdays, Marie takes time to worship, and fasts along with other members of her church. In Haiti, Tuesdays and Thursdays are often days observed by various religious groups to worship, fast, or go on home or hospital visits.
Marie’s mother lives with her family and watches over the children while Marie goes on her Mother Leader visits, and also when Marie goes downtown to restock for her business. Marie’s husband Millien Pierre-Louis is also a salesman and leaves home early to sell his flashlights and electronic accessories for cell phones at a very busy intersection. He doesn’t arrive home until nightfall.
The Nutrition Security Program uses a cascade model to train the staff on infant and young children feeding. Sites supervisors regularly train the promoters to support the Mother Leaders responsible for teaching their neighbors. Marie spends two Fridays every month attending refresher classes or training sessions on new lessons with the promoters. Some of the other trainings she has participated in cover topics such as savings groups and vegetable production, and soon, capacity-building in malnutrition screening using a tape to measure the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC).
|Training of Mother Leaders|
With the time she has left, Marie makes additional home visits and counsels the neighbors of other Mother Leaders who can’t cover their area or have unanswered questions.
Two neighbors enrolled in Marie’s group migrated recently: one to the countryside and one to Cité Soleil, a neighborhood in the metropolitan area. This is not uncommon as Carrefour is a hub of people moving to and from the region but Marie is particularly worried about the neighbor who moved to Cité Soleil. This woman is pregnant and did not show much interest in her health and nutrition lessons. Marie continues to visit the woman’s family and teaching other family members about best practices for nutrition and hygiene. Marie hopes that some of these family members will be able to help the woman when they visit her in Cité Soleil before and after she delivers her baby.
With her three boys, 11 neighbors to visit twice a month, cooking demonstrations, and other community-based activities, Marie Guerline Ostine is a great resource and a leader for her community. She provides engages with her neighbors, leads by example through the education of her children and a good family relationship with her husband, and delivers counseling on nutrition to neighbors and people in need in her community.