Paul and I are thrilled to be opening a new OSI office in the coastal urban city of Fort Dauphin, in South-Western Madagascar.Â Ravo, OSI’s Project Manager, was a little less thrilled when I told her our plans. This just meant more work for her. I hadn’t realized until Mike’s recent trip to visit our project that Ravo was staying up past midnight to complete her OSI work. During part of the day, she now had to take care of her mother’s small convenience store, as a result of her mother’s recent health problems. Mike astutely pointed out that if Ravo had a laptop, she could do her OSI work at the same time that she was sitting behind the store counter. When we presented this proposal to our main funder, he asked us: “Is a laptop really all she needs to be more productive? It’s really that simple?” Yes- it really was that simple.
So, while Ravo’s reaction to OSI’s expansion was a little less than thrilled, her reaction to hearing she would be getting a laptop was the other extreme. She couldn’t believe it. She kept saying “Wow, wow! Thank you! Wow!” I kept reminding her: “You have to keep it safe though. Don’t let others see you have it.” And she kept repeating: “Don’t you worry, I will sleep with it. I will guard it with my life. I won’t let anything happen. This is the reason I’ll be able to sleep now.”
She and I both knew she wasn’t exaggerating when she said she’d sleep with it under her pillow. She and I both knew too well what happened with the desktop she last owned (and had spent years of savings on.) One night, back when I lived in Madagascar, Ravo called me in the middle of the night to tell me that she had been robbed. Paul was away for a few weeks, so I was home alone. I came over to help her right away. Her mother was wailing, incessantly. Ravo was calmer. But we were all shocked. We had all been at a going-away party and she had returned to find her desktop, the tower, the keyboard and mouse having completely disappeared. We called the police for help, but there was no answer. Later they would tell us: “We thought it was a prank call, so we weren’t answering the phone.” That night, I decided to sleep at Ravo’s house to keep them company. It was the most frightening experience I had there. I didn’t sleep a wink. Nearby, Ravo’s mother sat at the table, wide awake, with a display of kitchen knives laid out, telling us she would be ready if the person happened to return.
As we investigated this event more, it became clear who had probably done this-someone Ravo was acquainted with, who was clearly jealous of her success, in having been able to purchase one of the only computers that exist in the town. It was pure jealousy of Ravo’s ability to have done something for herself. It made “moving up” seem futile.
So then, why would we do this again? We are setting Ravo up to have others jealous of her being able to actually make her life better, keep her children well-fed and staying in school. I fully know there is a risk that this laptop won’t even survive a full year in Madagascar. But I also know that when one gets to know people like Ravo, who are so motivated, skilled, and hard-working, one cannot help but wanting to give them opportunities to succeed. This may create more jealousy. But we cannot let these reasons make us accept life as is, especially in Madagascar. Ravo needs to stay healthy and get enough sleep so that she can keep working for OSI and provide for the 8 children that live in her household. This laptop is her chance to make her life just a little bit better.
It’s just like the loans that OSI provides. Yes- they may cause the green-eyed monster of jealousy to surface because people start seeing their neighbors succeeding while they are struggling. But that is no reason not to provide these opportunities so that women can be the business-women, mothers, and wives that they would like to be.