Until recently, the CLM team had a straightforward way of offering new members their choice of enterprises. We had a menu of two-item choices. A member could pick from among goats, pigs, poultry, small commerce, and agriculture, and each would pick two. We are much more flexible now, but in our early years, we were quite rigid. It made a complex part of our work manageable.
But there were occasional exceptions. Ti Manman was one.
“Ti manman” means “Little Mama,” and it is what most people call Simélia Duvelsaint.
When she started the program, she had nothing. “A neighbor was letting me raise his sow, and he would have had to give me a piglet, but he took it back before it gave birth, so I got nothing.”
She and her daughters were living in a straw shack. She supported them partly through small commerce. A neighbor would lend her money now and again, and she’d use it to buy used clothing, which she’d then sell at the Mache Kana market nearby. She had learned to sew as a young girl, so when she found a tailor who would sometimes let her use her sewing machine, she became capable of altering the clothes for her clients, too. Occasionally, she’d even get the chance to make a uniform or two for schoolchildren.
It was, however, unreliable work because anytime the tailor went anywhere, Simélia would find the door locked, and she’d just have to go back home. “I couldn’t say anything. The woman wasn’t charging me. She was just letting me use her machine to be nice. She saw how difficult things were for me.”
Simélia had learned to sew by investing in her own education, something she started to do as a young girl. When she saw that her parents wouldn’t send her to school, she started earning money herself, grating manioc for neighbors who were making kasav, a Haitian flat bread. She used her earning to pay someone to teach her to read and write. “I never went to school, but I got up to the fourth-grade level. Now I’m one of the readers in my church, and I’m the one who works with my granddaughter.” She then found a tailor, and paid her to teach her the trade. “It didn’t cost much back then.”
She never had her own sewing machine, but she started to succeed. She saved enough to buy a cow, which she eventually sold to buy a small piece of land from a neighbor. But she never got to use the land, because one of the seller’s siblings took it away from her. “I had no one to help me,” she explains. She was left with the cow’s calf, but someone in the neighborhood broke its leg with a rock, and it eventually died.
When she joined CLM, she chose goats and small commerce, but at one of the first days of training, the staff asked whether there was anyone who knew how to sew, “and I raised my hand.” Her case manager, Martinière, used the money he would have used to buy her goats and small commerce towards buying a sewing machine, instead. “It wasn’t quite enough,” he explained. “We had to use money she had saved from her weekly stipend, too.”
But she got the machine, and started to work. “I saved as much as I could after paying for the girls’ school, and I started to buy goats. I eventually had seven, but they got sick and died.” She’s had more success with pigs. She now has two: a full-grown sow and a younger one. She also gave her younger daughter one of the sow’s daughters to raise, and her daughter’s sow is now pregnant, almost ready to give birth.
Though her older daughter moved out in July, Simélia still has two children with her: her younger daughter and that daughter’s little girl. And until this year, the sewing machine was the key to their income. But it’s been broken for about six months. The only repairman she could find tried replacing some parts, but it didn’t do the trick. She’s waiting for him to come try something else.
In the meantime, she’s selling used clothing again. She also sells laye, a platter woven of straw used in various ways in the countryside. Finally, she sells bowls made of gourds, which are used in Vodoun ceremonies. She goes to four different markets every week. Her income varies, but she uses a sòlto steady herself. She and about ten other women contribute 500 gourds, or about $5.50, a week, and each week one woman takes the whole pot. “When it is my turn, I can use the money to buy poultry, to invest in my businesses, and to pay back any debts I have.”
Simélia continues to work hard. She invests a lot in her children’s education. But she also has a dream. She would like, once more, to buy a cow. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted.”
Since it was established in 2007, the CLM program has worked exclusively in the countryside. That was consistent with Fonkoze’s original focus on rural areas, but also with the history of CLM’s parent program, the graduation program developed by BRAC, in Bangladesh. It also focused initially on the rural poor.
This focus had consequences for the program’s design. Its selection process depends on a fundamental fact about rural areas: neighbors know one another well. The enterprises CLM helps families develop have been principally the sort that work in rural areas: animal husbandry, small commerce, and farming. And those are just two of the ways the program has reflected its rural focus.
But Fonkoze knows – as BRAC knew as well – that extreme poverty exists in cities, too. So Fonkoze is now piloting an urban version of the program in Jeremi, in southwestern Haiti. After six days of training ended on Saturday, 200 new families joined the program from five poor, seaside neighborhoods.
Lancie Vixima lives in Kamanyòl. She has eight children, but just five still live with her and the father of the youngest four of those five. The oldest of the five has been raised by her partner as one of his own children. She’s a 14-year-old deaf girl who now has her own baby. Since the baby’s father provides no support, Lancie is responsible for her grandchild, too.
Lancie’s husband used to fish, and she sold used sneakers and schoolbags. But the husband suffered a hernia about a year ago, and had to give up his work. That put more pressure on Lancie’s commerce than it could bear. The expenses involved in getting him care, combined with his inability to contribute, ate up the capital her business depended on. It no longer exists.
To earn the little bit of income she needs to feed her kids, Lancie shells peanuts for women who sell them roasted. A typical job can involve as many as ten cans of nuts and takes her two-three days. She’s generally paid 150-200 gourds, or about $2. That’s enough money to buy 3-4 cups of rice at current prices, if that is all she buys. But as big as her household is, it doesn’t go far. And the work is difficult for her because she has only one good arm. The other is very little help.
She’s excited about getting started in the program. “They taught us a lot about managing a commerce.” And she knows what she wants to do with the money she will earn once she starts. “If I make 500 gourds, I need to save 50. And I need to start sending my kids to school again. Four of them used to go, but I didn’t have the money to send them last year.”
Margalitha Lissaint lives alone in Kotfè with her 10-month-old baby. She’s 28. The child’s father abandoned them before Margalitha gave birth. A tiny woman – well under five feet tall – with a back bent by scoliosis, Margalitha just recently moved with her baby out of her mother’s home.
Even before her child was born, Margalitha was struggling to support herself. She tried businesses selling prepared meals or fried snacks along one of the alleys that runs through her neighborhood. But she couldn’t keep it business going because she would sell on credit and then her customers wouldn’t pay. “They’d swear at me when I tried to collect.” Margalitha knows that she shouldn’t have given credit in the first place, but in a poor neighborhood like hers, refusing isn’t easy. “The people who ask you are your neighbors, and when you’re hungry too, you can’t say ‘No.’”
She’s anxious to use the resources CLM will give her to start her business again. “I won’t be able to sell on credit anymore. I have a child I’m responsible for.” She wants to go back to selling fried snacks, but also basic groceries. And she’d like to add a side business selling used clothes. Her mother is in the CLM program as well, and she thinks she can count on her help, especially when she needs a babysitter.
And she’ll need the help. She made it into secondary school before her mother’s inability to pay forced her to give up her studies, and she now hopes that being part of CLM will enable her to return.
“I need to support my baby, but I need to save money, too. That way, if the business shrinks I’ll have something I can invest to make it grow again.”
Meloude St. Vil and her husband live with their six children, ages five to 13, in a neighborhood called Dèyè Distriyèl. Her husband does whatever odd jobs he can find, often scavenging scraps of iron that he can sell to recyclers. Meloude sometimes finds someone willing to give her their laundry to do. Neither has any regular income.
Until Hurricane Matthew passed through Jeremi in 2016, the family lived in a small house with a solid roof, but the hurricane’s category-five winds blew the house down. She and her husband collected what they could of the roofing material and used it to put up a new set of make-shift walls. That lasted until an unexpected windstorm blew the house apart Friday night.
She and her husband support their kids with his little jobs and her occasional laundry, but it’s gotten much harder. “More people are doing those things now.”
She’s started to work out her plan to establish a more regular income. She wants to get up early in the morning and sell prepared breakfasts. She figures that she can use the business to feed her children before they go to school. She’ll finish selling early in the day, and then move to the market. She’ll sell basic groceries there.
She thinks that, combined, the two business can help her out. She needs to feed her children, but knows that it’s also important to save. “I have to put 50 gourds somewhere now and again so I’ll have something if the house needs repairs or if one of the kids gets sick.”
Sonya Etienne lives with her husband and their two children, ages four and nine, in Nan Site.
Her husband is willing to work hard, but he has no skills. He depends on finding masons willing to take him as an assistant. He carries mortar, rocks, cement, or water, whatever they will pay him to do. But the work is irregular. He can go days at a time without finding anything. And he went for a while without being able to work at all. He was sick.
So, the family depended entirely on Sonya’s business selling charcoal for cooking. She has a lot of experience with it. She generally buys a sack or two and divides it into bags that give someone what they might need for just a day or two. Sales are reliably profitable even if there are occasional small losses. “Sometimes you open a sack and most of the charcoal has been ground down into pieces that are too small. Then you lose money on that sack.”
Paying for her husband’s healthcare while feeding the household without his help proved to be too much for her business, and it recently disappeared. She’s excited to get started again, however, and was happy with the lessons about small commerce that her CLM training provided. She learned some things about avoiding counterfeit money that she believes will be valuable. But there was more, as well. “They said you should sell what you know, and I know charcoal.” A charcoal business is important to her because it means that she always has some to cook her own food. She’d like to add a side business selling cookies and crackers to schoolkids and another selling cellphone minutes. She doesn’t foresee any trouble managing all three at once.
She believes in saving, and has been using a local savings structure for years. Someone with means collects savings every day: one Haitian dollar, which is five gourds, on the first day of the month, two on the second, three on the third, etc., all the way to the 30thor 31st. At the end of the month, you receive 450 Haitian dollars, or 2250 gourds minus a 50-gourd fee. If you miss payments, you get back what you have deposited, minus the same fee.
Savings are especially important because her home is a rental. She and her husband have been paying 10,000 gourds per year. That’s almost $110. It is much more money than they can earn in a single shot. Their lease is up in September, and the landlord has already warned them that the rent will increase to 12,500 for the coming year.
Marie Milise Mistaire lives in Lapwent. She’s had nine children with six different men, but she lost one of the kids. She’s been alone with her kids since the last man died. Six of the children live with her. Her oldest girl has been living with her uncle out in the countryside ever since the younger woman’s stepmother, whom she had been living with, put her out of the house. Marie also has a nine-year-old with severe disabilities who lives with a sort of foster family. The family lives near a school for handicapped children, and they took a liking to the boy. Marie pays for the school, but they take care of the boy for her.
She used to make a pretty good living selling fish. She would buy a big thermos-chest full from local fishermen and take it for sale to the market. On some days, she would see that the market was too flooded with fish. Then she would separate here merchandise into small loads and carry them on her head through the residential areas of town. It might take three or four trips to sell a full day’s load, but she would usually sell out. But if she had any she couldn’t sell, she would dry it out and sell it later. She was successful. “I could put aside 500 gourds of the profit every day, even after I took out what I needed for my family.”
But taking care of her late husband before he died ate up all her capital. Her business no longer exists. She’s been living off charity from neighbors and friends.
She’s excited to be part of the program, and she’s ready to go back into the fish business. “I will do what I know.” And she is confident she will succeed. “You don’t buy something to sell it at a loss.” She is already thinking of building up savings. “When the CLM team sees my savings account, they’ll know I worked hard. I think I can come in first place for savings.”
But she is thinking of other things as well, of all the things her house needs: a bed, chairs. “When they first came to my house, they had to sit on my water jugs. I want to buy chairs so I can offer them a place to sit. I had a big pile of dirty laundry because I didn’t have the money to buy soap. If they see that my life doesn’t change, they’ll think that their investment was wasted.”
Fonkoze piloted the CLM in three regions: Lower Lagonav, Boukankare, and Twoudinò. At the time, they were rated as the three poorest parts of the country. In each area, the team worked with fifty families.
Twoudinò is in Haiti’s northeast, a region that has seen important changes since the CLM graduation. The main road between Okap, Haiti’s most important northern city, and Wanament, on the Dominican border, is now smoothly paved. Its completion has facilitated trading in the region because both Okap and Dajabon, the Dominican city across from Wanament, are important market towns. In Karakòl, just north of Twoudinò, post-earthquake relief funds helped establish a park of assembly factories that now employs almost 15,000 people. Excess electricity generated at the park makes the region the only one in Haiti with reliable power all the time.
Elissiène lives in Kayès, not far from the park. Her home is a multi-room cement house in the back of her yard. Her two youngest children still live with her, and the three older ones are off on their own. She’s a widow and has been one since before she joined CLM. Cement homes belonging to two of her grown children – “off on their own” doesn’t mean distant – sit in front of and on either side of her house, the three together forming a semi-circle.
She started the program with goats and poultry as her activities, and she managed both well. Eventually she was able to sell off her other livestock to buy a cow. But she didn’t feel as though she could take care an animal that big by herself, so she turned it over to a neighbor. He would receive every other calf it produced as his payment for caring for it. Neither he nor Elissiène benefitted from the arrangement, however, because the cow was stolen.
While she was part of the program, she also developed a small commerce. She used savings from her weekly stipend to get started. Eventually, she was selling bread, sugar, local rum, cigarettes, and other high turn-over items. The commerce prospered and she maintained it for years. “If you are a woman and you’re in business, as long as you know what you’re doing you’ll make some money.”
But she sold out her business a couple of years ago and threw all the capital into improving her house. She felt as though she had no choice. Two of her children got jobs in local factories, and they needed their mother as a full-time babysitter. Now that the kids are getting a little older, she’d like to go back into business. “I can leave them for short periods, now.” All she would really need to do is go off to buy her merchandise. She would sell, as she always did, right out of her home. Going back to earning an income, even a small one, is important to her. Her youngest child missed out on the national 9th-grade graduation exam last year because Elissiène owed money to her school.
If you go to Jakzil and ask for Anne Marie’s home, they’ll try to take you to one of the three nearby women named Marie. But you won’t find Anne Marie. She’s married to a man they call “Kòk,” and no one knows her by anything except “Mad’ Kòk”, or Mrs. Kòk. “If you ask for Mad Kòk, anyone around her will bring you straight to my home.”
Jakzil is a village of closely-spaced shacks on the plain near Haiti’s northern coast. The Atlantic Ocean is just a few steps away. Anne Marie, like Elissiène, received goats and chickens when she first joined the CLM program, and she managed them with great success. By the time she graduated, she was ready to buy her second cow. In the years that followed, she sold the four calves they produced and invested the money in the house she lives in now. It has all been her work, because though she is known exclusively by her husband’s name, she cannot count on him to contribute to the household.
Jakzil was arid to start with, and in recent years drought has very much reduced her access to grazing for her cows. She watched the two big ones losing weight and getting sick. She eventually sold them at a loss to a local butcher.
But she did so with a plan. While in CLM program, she had built a small commerce selling salt. As a retailor, she saw the potential benefits of a larger business. So, she took the money from the sale of her cows and bought a salt basin. The coast around Jakzil is one of the areas that produces the coarse salt that is principally consumed in Haiti. Anne Marie lets sea water into her basin and then closes it off, letting the water evaporate. Once a month or so, she can harvest. A single harvest can bring in 10,000-15,000 gourds. She doesn’t have time to manage the basin herself, though. A neighbor does it for her, and they split the income.
She doesn’t, however, depend entirely on that income. She spends much of her time hunting tchatcha, a kind of small, saltwater crab used in Haitian cooking, and other small crustaceans she can find along the shore. She sells these to merchants, who bring them to market. She also gets a regular monthly salary from a local school with a school lunch program. She supplies them with the firewood they need in their kitchen. She collects it locally.
She’s focused now on her youngest child, a teenage daughter who still lives with her. Her most important goal is to keep sending the girl to school. “She’s my youngest. She’s the one I have to raise the highest.”
Rosette also lives in Jakzil. She had nine children, and eight of them survive. Her four youngest are still in school. Two will be in their last year of high school this year, and two will be in 10thgrade. She has had to raise them alone.
She too chose goats and poultry as her two CLM-activities. They flourished while she was part of the program, but didn’t last long afterwards. “There was so much draught. The livestock couldn’t survive.”
So, Rosette found another way to get by. Her neighborhood is part of the area served by the electricity generated at the Karakòl factory park. Her home has electricity all the time. She acquired a freezer. She buys five-gallon jugs of treated drinking water and fills small plastic bottles. She freezes them and sells them as ice. A jug of water costs 25 gourds, and she can sell the ice for more than twice as much.
She remembers the program fondly. She especially enjoyed the group trainings. “You have to learn to be comfortable around people. You have to change, and we changed.”
Bwa Joli stretches along one of the ridges that divide Tomond from Boukankare, which lies to its south and west. It is a hard-to-reach neighborhood of small farms, mainly patches of corn and beans. The one road into the area is the steep climb up Mòn Dega. Recent work by heavy road equipment smoothed out some of the worst spots on the slope, but the work stopped in Plenn Dipò, so the last hill from there to Bwa Joli remains challenging.
Gran Chemen is a broad footpath well onto the Tomond side of the ridge. That’s where Manoucheca Louis lives with her partner and their three kids. Before the family joined the CLM program, they survived by farming, making charcoal, and selling the avocados that grow on her in-laws’ land once-a-year. “If you don’t have a horse, you have to carry your merchandise on your head, which means you can’t make much. You’re stuck selling a day’s worth of labor or making charcoal. We had reached a difficult moment.”
Manoucheca has been a CLM member for seven months. She chose goats and poultry as her two enterprises, and while the goats haven’t yet had kids, they are healthy. “I put them with a buck and thought they were pregnant, but they weren’t. I mated them again last week. So, we’ll see.”
The poultry has gotten off to a quicker start. As part of the package, she received two turkeys, and one already has three chicks. Turkeys are valuable, but they are hard to keep. They tend to wander off, and they are easy to steal. “The chicks were disappearing for days at a time, to I finally had to tie the mother to keep it in my yard.” In addition, a sharp rise in the price of local chickens has increased the value of her holdings. She plans to wait to sell off some of the chickens, though. “I’ll use the money to buy another goat, because a goat can turn into a cow. For the price of three adult females, you can by a young calf.”
But she isn’t ready to sell any livestock yet, and she’s reluctant to sell any for food. So, her husband is still responsible for the family’s income. And she needs that income, both to feed her kids and to save every week in her Village Savings and Loan Association. “If he gives me 500 gourds to go to the market, I make sure that I set aside 50 gourds or so.”
She’s getting ready to use the access to credit that her savings provide. She plans to borrow 3000 gourds this week to buy beans at the market in Opyèg. She’ll be able to sell them for a higher price by carrying them downhill to markets in more populous areas. She can buy on Wednesday, and sell on Friday in Domond. Then she’ll buy again on Saturday, and sell on Monday in Difayi. She doesn’t have an animal she can load, so she’s limited to the seven coffee-cans worth she can carry on her head, but it is a good, if a difficult way, to establish a regular income.
It is a hard time for her to begin, however. She is in the early stages of a new pregnancy. But Manoucheca is confident. “When I had my other kids, I was able to work almost until they were born.”
Marie Exantile also lives in Gran Chemen, though her home is a long way off the main path. She lives as a widow with five children and three grandchildren. Her husband has been dead for seven years.
Her oldest daughter, Zette, is also a CLM member, and she will move out of her mother’s house as soon as her own is ready. But Zette will take only her youngest child. The other two children will stay with their grandmother because the man Zette is moving in with is not their father.
Before joining the program, Marie and her children survived by farming. She would sell a day of field labor whenever she could. “Life wasn’t good. I didn’t have the strength to send my kids to school. I couldn’t keep them fed.”
She chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. One of her goats already had a kid, and the other is growing quickly. She almost lost the kid because its mother wasn’t producing milk. But she tried a folk remedy she had heard of, and it worked, so the kid is healthy now.
Her pig was pregnant, but it wasn’t really mature enough to bring the pregnancy to full term, and miscarried the litter. It recovered well, however, and Marie still has high hopes.
Like Manoucheca, Marie thinks it is important to save money in her association, but she has to find the money on her own. She occasionally sells a bunch of plantain or whatever she can find in her garden to both buy what she and her children need and to set aside some savings. Unlike Manoucheca, she’s reluctant to take out credit. She’s been suffering from cramps in her legs for almost a year, so she has trouble getting around, and it is hard for someone where she lives to start a business without doing a lot of walking. And without a business to invest in, she is afraid that she wouldn’t be able to repay what she borrowed. So, she thinks she’ll wait until the savings and loan association pays out her savings at the end of the year and see how she’ll invest the money. “I’ll have to see how much there is.”
For the moment, not a lot has changed about her life. For six months, she received a weekly stipend, but she has no new source of income. She isn’t willing to sell any of her livestock, whether to invest in other ways or to feed her kids. “I remember once I sold two goats to plant a garden of beans, and the beans failed. My neighbors laughed. They said I was in too much of a hurry to get rich.” For now, she’ll save the livestock so she can use it if she’s faced with an emergency.
Joveline St. Fleur lives in Anana, a small community along the road that cuts through Tyera Mouskadi from Tomond to Kas. She lives with her mother, five siblings, and her older sister’s child. Her mother’s oldest died before Joveline was born, and Joveline’s oldest sister now lives with her partner in a separate house.
Her mother’s name is Rosette Bruno, and she has been a member of the CLM program since last year. Rosette will graduate, if she passes next week’s evaluation, at the end of August.
Joveline says that CLM has really helped her mother and the family. “They gave her money and helped her start a small business, so she could begin to send some of the kids to school again.” Rosette chose goats and small commerce, and her three goats are now five, even though the first litter died right after birth. Two of the young females are pregnant now. Rosette started a small business selling basic groceries out of her home, and it took off. She used it to manage household expenses and also to buy weekly shares in her savings and loan association.
The program helps the communities it works in establish associations, and members can buy from one to five shares each week. At the end of a year, members collect all that they’ve saving along with the interest they’ve earned. Increasingly, it is the most important of the various forms of savings that the program encourages.
Members can also take out loans. Rosette used one to buy the materials she needed to complete construction of the family’s new home. She had a hard time repaying it, but her association was able to deduct her balance from the end-of-year pay-out. The remainder of her pay-out enabled her to by a large pig for 4500 gourds.
Unfortunately, someone stole the pig. That’s a big loss for Rosette, but Joveline says she’s looking to her goats to help her get moving again.
Joveline just spent three days at CLM’s summer camp in Kas. She liked it because she learned things that she’s always wanted to know. “We learned to make different stuff, like liquid cleaner and kokiyòl.” The latter is a sweet fried dough, sold in little rounds. Joveline would like to help her mom by starting a kokiyòl business now that she knows how to make them. She thinks she’ll need about 2500 gourds to get started, but she isn’t sure. She also isn’t sure where she’ll get the money, but she’s hoping that her mother will lend her a goat that she can sell for the capital she needs.
Kerline joined the CLM program 16 months ago. At the time, she and her husband were living with their two young children in the barest of shacks on their land in Tyera. That shack, or ajoupaas such constructions are called in Creole, was really no more than a rough tent. Two poles in the back and two more in the front crossed at the top to hold up the pole in the middle, which supported the roofing material. A few posts stood on the other side of their yard, where construction had begun on a new home, but the couple had been able to make no progress.
They survived as day laborers, earning 50 to 100 gourds per day working in their neighbors’ fields. At least when work was available. Kerline’s ability to earn is limited. Her right arm has been misshapen since birth, and she can do very little with it. “We had no home, we didn’t have anything. We were much worse off. We couldn’t make progress. We just sold days of work.”
They chose goats and a pig as their two enterprises. Her boar is healthy and growing, and she wants to keep it until it is large enough that she can exchange it for a small cow. Her two goats are now five. They haven’t yet been reproducing. She’s only had one healthy kid so far. She was able, however, to buy two additional goats: one with savings from her weekly stipend, and the other with money from her savings and loan association.
Kerline would like to eventually start a small commerce. She knows that it’s the best way to ensure a steady income. But she has reservations. “I’ve tried commerce before, but people buy on credit and then they’re slow to pay. The women who succeed at commerce are the ones willing to raise hell to get paid.”
She’s thinking of the kind of business that some rural women run out of their homes. The CLM program has lots of experience of women who struggle to make such businesses work. The sort of women who enter the program are especially vulnerable because they lack the social standing that makes customers feel compelled to pay. The fact that they are thought to have received their businesses as a gift from CLM can make collecting what they are owed even harder.
Kerline knows that the simple solution is to run her business at local markets, rather than out of her home. Customers at the market do not generally expect credit, and it would be easy for Kerline to avoid giving it. But the challenge before her now is accumulating the 1000 to 1500 gourds she feels she’ll need to get started. (One thousand gourds is currently worth about $11.) She says she has no money.
She could easily sell one of her goats. Prices for goats – really for all livestock – have been very high, and even a small goat would sell for more than she needs. But she doesn’t want to do that. “I wouldn’t want to sell one and then lose the money.”
She wants to keep her goats so that she can sell one when necessary to cover the expenses of sending her younger child to school. Her older child now lives a little way down the road, with Kerline’s sister. “She’s sending her to school for me. I have to make sure I can take care of the younger one.” So, she’s willing to wait until her husband can earn the money she’ll need to start a business at the local markets.
Guisman and Guilbo are twins. They have lived all their lives together, first in their parents’ home in Tyera, then each in his own home with his own family on opposite ends of the yard they grew up in. They were once prosperous farmers, as Guisman explains, “We planted sweet potatoes, corn, and manioc. We could live from the harvest, and buy livestock with what was left over from what we sold.”
Guilbo was the first to run into trouble. He went blind, and lost his ability to farm. He sold the livestock and, then, even his land in efforts to save his vision, but nothing worked. He and his wife were left with children to support but without the means to support them. “Once you sell something off, it is hard to replace it.” The family lived mostly off of gifts from members of their church and their older children, who by then were married.
Guisman fell back into poverty shortly after his brother. He sold off most of what he had in a struggle to save his sick oldest child. Fortunately, the struggle was eventually successful. But then, like Guilbo, he went blind. He, too, began to depend largely on occasional gifts from members of his church.
The brothers qualified for CLM because of their poverty and their disabilities. Though about 95% of program members are women with dependent children, the rest qualify, whether men or women with or without dependents, as individuals with disabilities. This was an important change in the program that started with a pilot sponsored by Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, using an award he received from Texas Christian University.
Both brothers have made modest progress in their 16 months. Guisman chose goats and small commerce. The return on the goats has been minimal so far. One of the three that the program gave him had a healthy kid, but another one died. The program was able to help him replace it, and now two of the goats are pregnant.
His wife used the capital the family received for small commerce to establish a business selling inexpensive footwear of various sorts. Proof that the commerce is succeeding is the pig that they have purchased out of its profits.
Guilbo has had a harder time. He chose goats and a pig, but both his goats died, and though the program replaced one of them, the replacement died as well. His sow has been healthy, and it is due to produce its first litter this month. If even only a few of the piglets survive, it will be a windfall. He’s hoping to use them to buy a cow.
In the meantime, his family is living, like Guisman’s, on his wife’s small commerce. They already used its profits to buy a goat. Unlike her sister-in-law, however, Guilbo’s wife did not start her commerce with CLM assets. Instead, she used a small gift from the family’s church.
But Guisman points out how important the CLM program has been toward both families’ success. “The training we’ve gotten has made our wives’ businesses work. We learned how to manage a commerce well and how to use the income.”
Once new CLM members have been selected and have received their initial six days of training, their real work in the program begins. A lot has to happen, almost all at once.
Families must prepare to install a pit latrine in their yard. Very few have previously had access to one. They need to get the correct measure for the pit that they will dig from the CLM team, dig the pit, and assemble the rocks, sand, and water that construction requires. Timing is important, because if you dig your pit before the CLM team is ready to deliver the cement and begin construction, its walls can deteriorate, especially during rainy season.
They also begin to receive their weekly stipend, and have to make quick decisions about how they will use it. Most will use the majority of the money to supplement their food budget, but most also want to start to save by joining a sòl, a form of do-it-yourself group saving common throughout Haiti. Members make a fixed contribution every week, and one of them receives the whole pot as a lump sum. Case managers help members use the sòlto learn planning, requiring them to detail what they will do with the money. They follow up to ensure they’ve done what they say they’ll do.
But the centerpiece of the CLM program continues to be helping each family establish a reliable livelihood, a way to earn a living on its own. At their six-day training, members learn about the various businesses that CLM can provide, but then they must choose the ones they want to try themselves. Case managers and CLM members go through a process called “enterprise selection,” each member deciding what sort of productive assets she would like the team to give her.
The process has changed in the past couple of years. Originally, members chose from a short menu of possible pairings: goats and commerce, goats and a pig, goats and poultry, a pig and commerce, or a pig and poultry. Occasionally options would be added, removed, or revised. We experimented with commerce and a horse. We added peanut and pepper farming. Members made their decision before the initial training, at the same moment they were offered the chance to join the program. Their decision determined what two three-day training modules they would receive.
But the CLM team eventually decided that too many members were inclined to make poor decisions. They just didn’t have enough information. And rather than let them make costly mistakes, their case managers were, too often, deciding for them, taking away members’ ability to set their course at the beginning of the program.
So, the training modules were streamlined to take just one day, and new members were offered a quick introduction to all the different assets that CLM can provide. With that information in hand, they are better positioned to decide for themselves what they would like to do. Case managers might ask pointed questions. In some cases, they might even ask a member to reconsider her initial choice. But they are trained to encourage the member to decide.
Tuesday was enterprise selection day in Lawa, in rural Gwomòn. The visits were led by the CLM team’s supervisor for Gwomòn, Gissaint César, a former case manager who was promoted to work as a supervisor in 2017. He went through the same process with each new member individually, at her home, starting by asking them to review the advantages of each of the various enterprises the challenges it presents.
Jeanna spoke at length about both poultry and small commerce. The former gives you small assets that you can sell off quickly whenever you have a small, urgent expense to manage. If a child is sick, for example, you are sure to find a neighbor willing to buy a chicken, and that will generally give you the money you need initially to get the child to a doctor. Commerce, by ensuring a stream of cash, enables you to “pay a sòl or buy a little bit of food” when you need to.
But she chose goats and a pig, the goats because they are easy to care for and require no special food and the pig because they can accumulate value quickly. She specified that she’d rather raise a boar than a sow. “Piglets get into people’s gardens, so they throw rocks at them and kill them.”
Gissaint spoke to her at length about the choice, asking her to identify her goals. Jeanna explained that she wanted to be able to sell offspring from her goats to buy a larger animal. “I want a horse so I can get into commerce again.”
She has been managing a business on and off for years, living in Senmak, where she sells drinking water and kerosene, any time she is not at home with a baby. Her husband would stay in Lawa with the kids. But when asked about her hoped-for horse, she makes it clear that she does not imagine returning to that life. “If I had a horse, I’d do my business from home. I wouldn’t have to leave my children anymore.”
Clotude sees her options as limited. Whereas Jeanna refers several times to the role that her husband, Nelso, will play with her in managing her new activities, Clotude comes back repeatedly to the fact that she is alone. Her husband is dead, and her older children live away from home. She’s alone in the house with three daughters, ages twelve, seven, and two. “I can’t leave.” At the same time, she feels a strong need to get something started. “I need to have something in my hands.”
She’d like to raise a pig. If you take good care of one and get a little lucky, your wealth can increase fast. Boars gain value quickly as they grow, and sows produce saleable offspring more quickly than goats do. But pigs are also demanding. “To manage a pig, you have to have means in hand,” Clotude explains. They need to eat well. You have to take on the labor-intensive work of foraging for them, and even then you can have to buy pig feed regularly.
So Clotude chooses goats instead. They don’t require much care beyond moving them around so that they are always tied up out of the sun and within reach of food. She says her twelve-year-old daughter Claudine can help her with that.
She also chooses small commerce. She’ll sell groceries along the main path. It is her only option until she can find a way to leave her girls for longer periods.
It is risky. Neighbors often want to buy on credit, and it can be hard to say “no.” If they don’t pay on time, you can run out of merchandise without a way to buy more. But Clotude is anxious to try. “Once it gets going, I can start buying a chicken or two now and then. Eventually, I’d like to buy farm land so I can plant sugarcane.”
Itana remembers much of what she learned at the six-day training. She has little trouble going through the advantages and disadvantages of each business with Gissaint. Goats are easy to take care of. Chickens are easy to sell quickly in a pinch. Small commerce is the one way to a steady cash income, and pig make money quickly.
Her initial reaction is to thank Gissaint for whatever he might decide to give her. “You have to take whatever falls your way.” But as Gissaint makes her understand that he is determined to leave the choice up to her, she relaxes enough to let him know what she thinks. She sees problems everywhere. Pig feed has been expensive lately. Small commerce can disappear if people buy on credit. And poultry is subject to disease and theft. So Itana asked Gissaint to give her goats, and nothing else.
At one time, this would have been a problem for the program. CLM used to insist that all members choose two different kinds of assets as a way to lessen their risk. But Itana knows what she wants, and Gissaint is willing to give it to her. Her plan is to use the first offspring from her goats to buy a pig. By then, with good management of her weekly stipend, she hopes to have the means to take good care of one.
Rosenie lives in Lokari, one of the small neighborhoods that dot the northeast corner of Tomond, near the Dominican border. She’s been a widow for some time now, raising her three children on her own. Before she joined the CLM program life was, she says, difficult. “It was hard to keep the children in school.” She managed with a small business selling groceries that she would buy on credit. Sometimes she’d have to sell on credit, too, which could lead to trouble paying the merchants she bought from when the time to replenish her merchandise came. She also talks about not having enough food to eat. “Sometimes I’d have food for a day’s meal, and I’d have to make it last for two days or three.”
But those struggles are not what is most on her mind when she talks of the past. “They humiliated me. People around me wouldn’t talk to me because I was too poor. I live near my family, but they humiliated me too.”
When she joined CLM, she chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and though she has seen only minimal growth from her goats – the two goats that CLM gave her are now three – her pig did well. It had a first litter of eight piglets. Neighbors killed three of them, saying that they were eating their crops. So, she quickly sold the other five to avoid further losses.
She decided to throw the income from the sale of the piglets into her farming. The timing was right for her to plant peanuts. In fact, she removed the capital that she had built up in her growing commerce and threw that into her peanut crop as well. Now she has a large crop moving towards readiness for harvest. She and her children still struggle with day-to-day expenses, but she is excited about the progress she will be able to make once she can sell her harvest.
But when talking of her bad years, she emphasizes her humiliation, and what means most to her now is the sense she now has that she’s no longer alone. “I have friends now, the other CLM members, but other people too. They see that my life has changed.”
The CLM program has shown a consistent ability to help women improve their lives. Ongoing research is designed to show how dramatic and how lasting those improvements are and to help the program’s staff learn how they can do a better job. But there are some women who are able to use the program to make a decisive transformation, not just an improvement. Christela is one of them.
She’s just 22, and she had one young child when she joined the program. She lived with the child’s father, Chedner, and his two younger siblings in a shack on land that Chedner’s family had given him. Chedner supported them all. Christela’s young in-laws would help with chores, but neither they nor she were earning any income. Chedner would travel back and forth between their home in Lolimon, in far northeastern Tomond, and the Dominican Republic, where he’d do any farm work he’d find. “He couldn’t stick around. He’d go off to work in the DR, but then come back with little to show for it,” Christela explains.
His mother, too, became a CLM member, which is just to say that she didn’t have the resources to help the couple or her other children either. Though Chedner went to school, she couldn’t help him continue, and she had to stop sending her other children as well.
Like Rosenie, Christela and Chedner chose goats and a pig. But whereas Rosenie’s goats have stagnated, Christela’s are producing. She now has six. When her pig recently showed signs that it might be sick, she and Chedner decided to sell it right away. They’re using the money to buy another goat. “Chedner’s smart,” Christela brags. “He pays attention to the animals, and when one of them looks sick, he calls my case manager, Manno. Then we decide whether to sell it and replace it with another. We talk together, and we decide together.”
The couple managed their cash stipend carefully, and it enabled them to make weekly deposits into their savings and loan association. That, in turn, made it possible for them to borrow money to invest in a first peanut harvest. Christela and Chedner worked hard together in their field, and the harvest was strong. They were able to put together income from that harvest with savings from their association to buy a small cow.
The key to all the changes in their lives has been the way the family’s participation in the program has made it possible for Chedner to stay at home. “He finds work. We have money so we can farm, and he has the livestock to manage.” And Christela foresees further progress. “We’ll work even harder. We’ll take care of what we have. We’ll work together.” Christela is excited about sending their baby to school for the first time in September. “She’s not three yet, but she speaks clearly. She’s definitely going to go.”
Eliène and Odak live in Grandlo, a collection of homes dispersed along and above a hillside that faces the small Partners in Health clinic in Bay Tourib. Bay Tourib is a broad rural section in far western Tomond. The CLM worked with 350 families in the region from 2011 through early 2013, in close partnership with Partners in Health.
Odak was born and raised in Grandlo, but Eliène grew up with her parents in downtown Mayisad, a major commercial center in the northwest corner of the Central Plateau. When she was young, her parents kept her and her brother and sister fed by farming land they rented outside of the downtown area. They even sent her brother to school, but not their two girls.
As a teenager, Odak left home for an apprenticeship in auto mechanics in Ench, the region’s largest town. One day, his boss took him to fix a truck in Mayisad, and that’s when he saw Eliène. It was love at first sight, and she quickly went off to Bay Tourib with Odak. At first, she moved into Odak’s mother’s house. He was living there with his mother, a younger brother, and a nephew. He was the sole source of income for them all. They then moved into a two-room shack made of rocks and mud. Its roof was made of the pods that palm seeds grow in. Without any cement to solidify the walls or tin to cover the roof, it was barely shelter, but it was theirs, though her mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew moved in with them.
By the time the CLM team met them in 2011, they had two children. They were managing to send their eldest, a boy, to school, but their girl was still too young. And Odak was keeping the family fed with farming and odd jobs, at least most of the time. But it was hard. As Eliène says, “We didn’t really have an income. We didn’t have the means we needed.”
The couple received two goats and a pig from the program, and they continue to keep both types of animals today. But their real progress came through small commerce. They would go down to Tomond on Thursdays to buy merchandise Eliène could sell at the market in Koray on Saturday. When they saved up enough to buy a horse, her commerce was able to grow.
She finally was able to expand it further. She began buying plantains in Tomond and selling them in Petyonvil, the suburb directly up the mountain from Pòtoprens. In Petyonvil she could buy carrots, potatoes, and leeks, all of which grow well in the tall hills southeast of the capital, and bring them back for sale at Koray. That way, she made money at both ends of her trip.
Each time she became pregnant, however, she’d have to give up her business for a while, and the couple would depend entirely on Odak. He continued to farm and also to do odd jobs: he saws trees into construction lumber with a two-person saw and sometimes another builder will hire him to help build a simple home.
But his main activity, like his wife’s, is commerce. He buys and sells fighting cocks. He can find them for all sorts of prices – 1500 to 8000 gourds – in Tomond and the other nearby markets. Then he brings them for sale to Pòtoprens. He can make quite a profit.
They have had their setbacks since graduating. In 2017, Eliène became pregnant with what would have been the couple’s fourth child. She followed her pregnancy closely. The Partners in Health clinic was just a short walk from her front home, so when she began to feel as though something was wrong, her monthly check-ups became biweekly, then weekly. As she entered her seventh and then her eighth month, her blood pressure was much too high, and her hands and feet were swollen. She was showing signs of preeclampsia. The Partners in Health team in Bay Tourib sent someone up the mountain to get a phone signal so they could call the driver who serves the clinic, and the truck rushed up to bring Eliène down to the larger clinic in downtown Tomond. From there, she was sent directly to the public hospital in Ench. Doctors were able to save Eliène, but not the baby.
Unlike a Partners in Health hospital, a public one like the one in Ench must charge for most of its services, and for a couple like Eliène and Odak, three days there amounted to a serious expense, almost 20,000 gourds. At the time, that was over $320. It might not seem like a lot for a three-day hospital stay, but it was enough to wipe out the income from very good bean harvest they had that year.
In 2018, the couple had a different type of problem. Eliène caught Odak with another woman, and left him. “I heard the rumors,” she explains, “and then he went with her to Pòtoprens. So, I left the kids with his mother and left for Pòtoprens, too.”
She eventually came back because she missed her children. “If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have returned.” But she doesn’t regret coming back to Odak. “The woman called, and when I answered the phone, she swore at me. So Odak took the phone and swore right back. He told her never to bother him again.” Odak is happy with the decision to give up the other woman for Eliène. He says he doesn’t want another woman again. “I thought about my wife, my children, and the children’s education.” Eliène has the last word, though: “If it happens again, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.”
Their latest challenge occurred late last year, when Eliène became pregnant again. She had wanted to use contraception, and Odak was supportive, but she found that none of the available options was right for her. “They made me sick. I’d lose weight. I’d get anemic.” Early in the pregnancy, it was clear that something was wrong again. Her check-ups were monthly, weekly, then even daily. Eventually, the lab technician in Bay Tourib noticed something in a urine test that showed she was developing preeclampsia again. She was only six months pregnant, but Partners in Health rushed her to the hospital in Kanj, which sent her to the University Hospital in Mibalè.
She got to Mibalè on Thursday, and doctors performed a caesarean section the following Monday. She was only six months pregnant at the time. Their boy, Dawensky, spent over a month in an incubator in the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit, but he and his mother are both fine. He will be released to go home as soon as he weighs 1.5 kilos. While at the hospital, Eliène made sure she would have no more pregnancies.
This second visit to the hospital hasn’t been without costs. Both mother and father have had to be in Mibalè for two months, away from their children. The hospital provides Eliène with her meals, but Odak must buy his. Their commerce capital is gone. When he and Eliène can finally go home, they will probably need to sell some livestock to get their businesses started again.
But thanks to the fact that healthcare from Partners in Health is nearly free-of-charge, they will return home with assets there waiting for them that they can depend on to get themselves started again. And they are anxious to get started. They had purchase a small plot of land in downtown Ench to build a new home. They know that their children can get a better education there. They also feel that it is important to get away from the jealousies they feel hounding them in Grandlo. But it has been hard to save up the money to build the new house, and the last two months have only set them farther back than they already were.
Guerline met the CLM team during the fall of 2018, when they were going through the selection process in Kaye Pen, the neighborhood of southern Thomonde where she has lived her whole life. From the first interview, the team felt that the mother of three needed the program, and they told her that they’d come back to talk to her some more.
She answered that they need not bother. She was going to move away. “I wanted to leave my husband and look for work as a maid in Port au Prince.” Her husband Joseph, she explains, was a tafyatè, a hard drinker. “He bought liquor with anything that came into our hands. I couldn’t save up enough to buy a chicken. Life was bad. I was ready to leave him because of rum.” She was having trouble keeping her children fed, and though they were sending their children to school, they weren’t able to pay. The debt to the school was mounting. The principal had been willing to keep the kids, but at the end of the last school year, he refused to release their report cards.
The CLM staff asked her to stick around a little bit longer. “They said it would be good for me.” She agreed to do so, and is very glad she did. Her progress has been strikingly quick.
The team gave her two goats and a pig. And though none of the three has reproduced, her holdings have multiplied. She has purchased four female turkeys and a donkey.
She bought the first two turkeys when they were quite young for 1250 gourds, which is currently just under $14. She used 1000 gourds of savings from her weekly stipend, and her husband gave her the other 250. She saw someone pass her house, on their way to market to sell them, and she decided to make an offer. Prices can sometimes be lower under such circumstances because it saves the seller the trouble of carrying heavy birds a long way. She bought the other two as mature hens in successive purchases for 1000 gourds each.
The donkey cost her 5000 gourds, and she still owes 1000, but she knows it will be useful when she establishes a small commerce. She’d like to sell groceries out of her home, and having a donkey to take to market will save her the 250 gourds she would have to pay a motorcycle taxi to bring her home from market with merchandise. She used 2500 gourds savings from her stipend for most of the down payment. Joseph gave her the other 1500.
He seems to be a hardworking man. He farms family land, and runs a business selling religious books – bibles, hymnals, and Vodoun texts – at local markets: Nan Mango, Koray, and Thomonde. And since the couple joined CLM, he’s stopped drinking. Guerline credits the program. She says he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. But she also explains that Joseph had a dream, and it led him to go to a friend, who offered him an herbal remedy to stop his drinking.
Guerline is now excited about the future. “I hope my animals will reproduce, and I’ll be able to buy a cow. Even just the turkeys should be able to do it. Big males sell for a lot.” But she doesn’t have a plan for the cow. “I’ll keep it just in case I have a problem.”