Hope takes many forms—a smile, a laugh, the helping hand of a neighbour—but in Haiti, it takes the shape of a furry four-legged friend that shines opportunity on the community. Here, the goat is the gift that keeps on giving.
BY WANDA O’BRIEN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT RAMSAY
Pierre Oleus is the goat godfather.
He needs no introduction at the Granmoun Tèt Nou meeting, a weekly solidarity group for parents in Marialapa, Haiti. The 72-year-old is the reason the group exists.
Pierre’s goat was the inspiration for the group. Well, technically, it was the gifting of his goat to WE as thanks for the school they built in his community. At the time, he didn’t know that the goat would galvanize parents’ groups and better the lives of more than 1,000 people. He just wanted to say thanks.
After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, WE doubled down on its efforts in the country, focusing inland in the region of Hinche. The population in the land-locked province increased after the natural disaster, and the need for schools was even more acute than before.
The community of Marialapa, in Hinche, had no school building. Twelve students took classes in a room made from palm leaves and branches. WE provided a tent, which caused the school’s population to jump to 96. The spike in numbers showed just how much the community wanted access to education.
Pierre was a motivating force. Even though the community leader only has a Grade 1 education, the father of 13 wanted better for the community’s children, including his own. So, when WE committed to building a school, Pierre committed to giving WE a goat—a great gift that would take months of saving—to show the community’s appreciation.
True to his word, at the school’s inauguration in 2014, Pierre presented a goat to WE’s staff. WE gratefully accepted the honour, with one caveat: Could the goat remain under Pierre’s care? Pierre dutifully agreed.
But within six months, Pierre had an update: the goat had a kid, and was pregnant with more.
Pierre and his wife, Lerice, met with WE to discuss the baby goats’ futures. “I told them, I will nurse your goats without any problem,” Pierre remembers, “and in return, I have a child that I would like support with.” Enrollment at the new school had increased to over 350 students, but parents, including Pierre, struggled to send all their children to school because they couldn’t afford school fees.
WE agreed to help—but pushed it one step further: Could they create a program so other parents could afford to send their kids to school too?
Pierre would take permanent ownership of WE’s goat, and would then be able to sell the offspring to pay for school fees, but first he would need to give a healthy female goat to a neighbour, who was also struggling to pay school fees. There would be three rules for a person to be eligible to receive a goat: 1. You need to have a child registered in school; 2. You need to commit to an 18-month program, to provide sufficient time for animal husbandry training; and 3. You need to agree to pass it on—to give the first female of your goat to another eligible community member.
Granmoun Tèt Nou was born.
In Creole the name means “Our Adult Heads.” Pierre explains it as “self-independence”—the independence for parents to provide for their children.
“This is how we found our dignity,” he says. “We are adults, but this is what makes us be real adults. We can provide for our children. We can take care of them.”
Goats are purchased to kickstart the parent groups (there are now 11 in Marialapa) and members always give the first offspring back to the group, to distribute or sell as per the group’s discretion. Each member grows their own herd, with the ability to sell additional offspring for income when needed. The solidarity groups are a staple of WE’s opportunity programming in Haiti, but the groups do more than provide an income.
In addition to animal husbandry training, the formalized 18-month program teaches communication skills, leadership, and conflict resolution. Receiving the goat is a major highlight, but the other significant moment happens at the end of the program—graduation. Parents participate in the program dreaming of their children’s graduation. They never imagine they will be the ones graduating.
This is true for Sourine Ciceron, a single mom from Dos Palais. It’s the second community to start the Granmoun Tèt Nou program. Her 16-year-old daughter Nadia heard about the program at school. Nadia saw it as an opportunity to guarantee her future education, knowing her family’s economic struggles. Sourine, who had never received any formal schooling or training, immediately signed up for the program.
“Hope is what motivated me,” the mother of five says. “A goat will generate money, it will provide an income, it will let me pay the school fees for my kids,” she pauses. “I was hoping for a goat.”
Her mom never missed a meeting and was all smiles at her graduation ceremony.
“I felt very proud of her,” Nadia shares, “because it happened because of me. I was the one going to the school, and that’s how my mom found out about the program. And then she took it on herself to follow up to do all the trainings until she graduated.”
Sourine’s goat is pregnant (again), and she plans on selling that kid for Nadia’s Grade 8 tuition. “My heart is happy,” she says.
The gift of a goat does a lot. It enables income-generating programs, like Granmoun Tèt Nou, to happen in WE Villages communities around the world. It provides parents the “self-independence” to secure their children’s futures.
“Yes, there is a better life,” Sourine tells her daughter. “This gives me hope for tomorrow.”