“I was about to make the worst mistake of my life,” says Angeline, a disabled widow and mother of three living in Madagascar. “Our house collapsed in the storm, and my children hadn’t eaten anything for almost three days. The baby was 11 months old and only weighed 6 kilogrammes.”

“I was on the point of sending my 13-year-old daughter into prostitution when the CRS-Caritas work programme accepted me.”

In February 2012, tropical cyclone Giovanna decimated villages on the island nation of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. Destroying homes and crops, the storm made life even harder for hundreds of thousands of people who were already poor and desperate.

Before the cyclone, Angeline’s family scraped by. When her husband, a day labourer, died shortly after their third child was born, the $1.20 he had earned each day was gone. But she and her daughter would do laundry in their village, earning perhaps 50 cents a day.

Then the storm hit, and seemed to seal the family’s fate. Their house was destroyed, and their impoverished neighbours could no longer afford to have laundry done.  Angeline, 35, started borrowing from neighbours, but few wanted to loan money to a woman who had no way of paying it back.

In the wake of the cyclone, Caritas Madagascar and Catholic Relief Services (CRS, a Caritas member from the USA) provided tents for the victims and helped clean up villages. Caritas also set up a programme to pay cyclone victims for working on the recovery efforts.

Just before she came to a decision about her daughter, Angeline was chosen for the cash-for-work programme as a particularly vulnerable case.  Her job is to register and check in the other workers.

“We worked for five days and earned five dollars,” she says. “The money allows me to feed my family and gives me the strength to go on.”

“It’s the first time I’ve felt like I am part of society,” Angeline continues. “Caritas and CRS really did this for us, the poorest people.”

“It not only saved my children’s lives,” she says with tears in her eyes, “it saved the dignity of my daughter.”