You wouldn’t guess that Madam Mathalina Jolivert is the “muscle in her family” in the little town of La Del Mar on the Central Plateau of Haiti. She is, after all, only five feet tall and weighs about as much as the bag of rice sitting in the corner of her house – that same bag of rice Mathalina carried home from a market five miles away. It is true – her only competition for that “muscle” title is her frail mother and her two surviving children: Will, nine years old, and Gina, two. Besides, not all muscle attaches to bone. Of the muscle that attaches to family and community, Mathalina abounds. You might not guess that the one room mud hut in her backyard with no door, a dirt floor and banana leaf roof that keeps out most of the sun and rain was once their home. It’s so small, a boy in flight from chores could get around it and out onto the road with his friends in 10 or 12 quick steps.
Mathalina isn’t likely to catch that boy as he runs around the house they live in now, since it is five times bigger. Mathalina moved into this “grand” residence (20’ x 20’) after she and her neighbors had built it with materials and guidance supplied by Haiti Outreach, who originally had come to town with pipes, pumps and the expertise to cap a spring and provide clean water. Mathalina and her neighbors had provided the organization and labor to build that too. So appreciative was the community council of her willingness to dig trenches under the tropical sun every day in the hard clay in order to lay the pipe for the water system, they chose her to live in the new house.
The new house has 4 rooms and is made of concrete. A volunteer group from the U.S. came to Haiti for a week to work alongside Mathalina and get the house started, and a Minnesota Rotary group funded the cost. It is considered a loan to Mathalina that she promised to pay back over time, so that money can be raised to loan out to another family that needs better housing. In rural Haiti, that is almost everyone.
There’s only one thing better than the concrete floor, which is so easy to keep clean, and the corrugated steel roof, which keeps out all of the sun and rain. That’s the completely unexpected bonanza of a brand new bed. On it, she rests the muscles of her body and spirit every night. When the sun rises, so does Mathalina, because the work of improving the lives of her family and community goes on.