A Day in the Life: Ritha Celius
July 21, 2012
Below is an interview with Ritha Celius, a member of the Beneficiary Committee in the Santo Community. Ritha is taking a leadership role in the development of a governance structure in Santo and will be moving into her new home in January 2013.
Hello, my name is Ritha Celius. I’m 41 years old and I’m an active member at the Habitat for Humanity (HFH) village in Santo. I’m part of the Beneficiary Committee, the Site Committee, and the Committee for Women.
I’m a volunteer, but when HFH has particular jobs, I make some money to help support my family of six. I’m also volunteering to help with HFH’s partnership with Haiti Partners and their Circles of Change training happening in the village.
Thanks for taking the time to hear my story and see a day in my life. I hope you’ll not only feel closer to me and my country, but also to all those who brought us together.
It’s time for me to wake up. I’m quite exhausted because from 9pm last night to 1am this morning, I led a vigil at my church. I slept over at my mother’s house who is still healthy at 65 years old. We have been close to each other, especially since my father’s unexpected death in 1993.
In a fragile country like Haiti, illness and death can creep up on anyone at any given time. For this reason, I thank the Lord everyday for my good health.
Unfortunately, my five-year-old son Benjamen has been recently diagnosed with a severe cardiac disease. He needs to get surgery in the Dominican Republic as soon as possible. My husband Charles and I are extremely worried about him. We need to not only figure out how to pay for the surgery, but also get visas and passports, then plan transportation and accommodation. I don’t know if we can do it. My heart and head aches.
I watch as my family scrambles around the house. Charles, who is a pastor, is off to meet with members of the church. My two teenagers, Bithia (13 years old, girl) and Ismaël (16 years old, boy) are getting ready for school. Before leaving, Bithia washes the dishes and Ismaël cleans the yard. Everybody helps around the house, and for that I’m thankful.
I feed our 11-year-old Esther her breakfast of crushed biscuits and milk. I eat a little bread and then look over my notes for my work at HFH. Today is Saturday, so I’m taking care of the house today. Otherwise I would go to the market and stock up the kitchen, or walk to the Habitat village and continue my work.
I’m fortunate to be married to a progressive, very understanding man. When I’m out of the house, he takes care of the children, cleans, and cooks. There is never a sense of dominance over another — we are partners.
The three of them have headed off and I stay with Benjamen and Esther. I start cooking some plantains for them. It’s a simple meal that requires water, salt, two plantains, and a little oil. Since we don’t have enough money to buy everything in large quantities and store them, we spend a little bit at a time.
Altogether, including charcoal for the stove, I might spend 100 gourdes (roughly USD $2.50) on cooking materials for the day. It’s often not enough for the whole family to feel full, and many of us don’t meet all our nutritional needs. Sometimes it hurts for me to breastfeed Esther because of this.
I go into our backyard, where my husband built a small tin shack for us to sleep in. In this small space, we put our four beds together. I arrange the room and make everybody’s beds. As I do this, I daydream about moving into our new house in the Habitat village in February of 2013.
I’m brought back to the earth by Esther’s soft cries. It’s time to change her. Unfortunately we don’t have enough money for disposable diapers, so I put an old cloth around her.
Together with Benjamen, we head up together to the old house and I serve the two plantains I cooked earlier. Benjamen is playful and stubborn and doesn’t want to eat the food. I wish I could offer him something else, but we really don’t have options. He must eat the food or else the whole family will suffer.
I start preparing for lunch and dinner by sorting through our last stock of beans. Esther lies across my lap while Benjamen accidently scatters some beans on the floor. I scold him and pick them up. Nothing can be wasted.
The sun is starting to make us feel hot and sticky, so I prepare for us to take our baths. Benjamen and I shower with buckets in the backyard, and I get a big tub to wash Esther in.
It’s not easy for our family to get water, so I’m thankful that HFH allows us to use the pumps in the village. We used to have a pump near our house but it was destroyed by a hurricane. Natural disasters have not been kind to us!
Every few days Bithia and I will walk about 15 minutes to collect water and then carry them back in buckets on our heads. It can be gruelling work for our bodies, but we carry on. Sometimes we sing together to keep our minds off things.
At this time, Bithia and Ismaël usually come back from school, and if I’m working at HFH, is when I get a break for lunch. Some days I might return home to do some quick laundry before heading out again.
1pm – 3pm
If I’m at home, this is usually when the kids and I take a nap. It can be so exhausting, and I often feel like I never get enough sleep. I lay Esther down on a blanket on the dirt floor of our courtyard. It’s way too hot inside our improvised shack. I watch her sleep to make sure no ants crawl on her.
I would also take this time to eat and pray. My faith is so important to me, and gives me and my family the strength we need to meet each day. It can get very discouraging and frustrating, but God keeps us on the right path.
If I’m at work, I might walk around the village to conclude my findings. My latest project is with HFH’s investigatory panel. We basically ask questions to future beneficiaries, asking them how they live in their communities right now. We want to find responsible and respectful people who will take good care of the latrines, properly dispose their garbage, etc.
3pm – 5pm
This is the time I would usually return from work, and everybody else would be settled back at home. There’s always something to clean, some work to do, and some people to meet. I might sit down and just finish up any laundry if I had a particularly long day.
I like doing laundry because it keeps my body active and gives me time to think to myself. I often think about how I wish Haiti could function better. If we had better medical care, then I wouldn’t have to send my son all the way to the Dominican Republic for his operation.
6pm – 8pm
We come together as a family for dinner and eat whatever leftover food we didn’t eat in the afternoon. Charles and I usually eat last, and sometimes we don’t eat at all. We just sit together under a cool tree and talk about the day. We try to think about solutions to our problems, but our thoughts can rarely become a reality. It’s our love for each other and for God that really keeps us going.
At 8pm, we start settling into our beds and sleep. It’s time to rest our minds and bodies for another day tomorrow!
*To view all pictures from this story, click here.