Author Archives: Steven Werlin

About Steven Werlin

I moved to Haiti in January 2005. I’ve been writing regular essays since then about the various projects that my colleagues and I work on and about our lives in Haiti.

Marie Maude Fontus: One Year into the Program

When the CLM team first met Marie Maude, she could hardly have been poorer than she was. A single mother, she was raising seven young children by herself. Her first husband died, leaving her with their five kids. She then had two more with a second man. But when she saw that he wasn’t willing to do his share of work to help the family, she split from him. At the time she joined the program, she was living with her kids in a house that someone was simply letting her use. She would wait for neighbors, family members, or friends to come by with gifts of food or money. When no one gave them anything, she and her children would have to do without.

Things took a turn for the worse when the home’s owner sold it out from under her, informing her that she would have to leave quickly. She collected and nailed together a couple of support posts, and began weaving together palm leaves to make the walls. A group of visitors whom CLM staff brought out into the field was so distraught when they met her that they immediately pitched in to buy her enough tarpaulins to provide good, temporary cover for the roof and the walls.

She chose goat-rearing and peanut-farming as her two activities. The goat-rearing developed slowly. The CLM team’s struggles to purchase livestock for her cohort meant that the goats she received were too small to reproduce right away. She used savings from her weekly stipend and earnings from her first peanut harvest to buy another goat, but it died. When one of the three that Fonkoze gave her finally had a kid, the kid died. Now, finally, another one of her CLM goats in pregnant. 

Her first crop of peanuts was profitable, but a drought through the summer meant that the second crop was small. When she sold it, she used as much as she needed to pay her children’s school tuition. Then she took the rest of the money, and bought more peanuts to sell. But when she left the market, she had less money than she started with. She had to change her approach.  

And then she was presented with an opportunity she hadn’t anticipated. A large, US-based organization decided to build a small community of homes close to where she lived. These homes would be much more substantial than anything she could have managed with the support that CLM was offering. The organization was building solid, four-room houses with a kitchen and a bathroom, investing thousands of dollars per family. 

It was an opportunity she couldn’t miss, but it wasn’t easy to qualify for one of the homes. She needed to hand over ownership of a plot of land to the organization, something she couldn’t do without legal title to land. She had begun to purchase a small plot in better days, but had never been able to pay off the balance. She needed more cash than she could muster to complete the purchase. So, she took out a 5000-gourd loan from her Village Savings and Loan Association, and got the title.

But that loan created additional challenges. On one hand, she’d need a steady income to repay it on time. On the other, she had counted on just such a loan to get a small commerce started. 

She was eventually able to establish a business when a friend offered to take out a 15,000-gourd loan in her own name from a local microfinance institution. She gave the money to Marie Maude. She asked nothing for herself, only requiring that Marie Maude pay back the loan and all the interest on time. Marie Maude was both excited and surprised. “Before I was part of CLM, no one would have lent me 50 gourds. They could see that I wouldn’t be able to pay. Now they see my goats and they see me saving every week, and they know I can.”

She invested the money in a highly profitable bean business. But the way she buys the beans at an especially low price means that she can’t buy them very often. She earns regular, but not frequent, lumps of cash. She felt she needed another business that would produce a steadier income stream.

So, she took 5000 gourds from her bean-business’s profit and started two separate activities. Haitians call one “bese leve” and the other “kase lote.” On Mondays, she goes to the large market in Kas and buys produce from farmers by the sack. She might buy sour oranges or avocados – whatever is in season – or she might just buy plantains. When she has enough, she sells the whole load to a Madan Sara. That’s what Haitians call the market women who buy up produce in the countryside and bring it by truck for sale in Pòtoprens. This business is an example of bese leve, which means “bend down and lift.” You bend down to pick up small loads of produce and lift them into the truck the madan sara uses to ship them to the capital. 

Her “bese leve.” A load of plantains and sour oranges. (Photo by Johanna Griems.)

After completing the sale, she takes the money and buys again, but this time it’s kase lote. That means “break it up and put it in piles.” It’s a name for buying produce wholesale and selling it retail. Marie Maude buys okra, tomatoes, and other vegetables. She sells these retail in the market in Ench on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursdays, she goes to the market in Tomond, where she does the same thing she does in Kas, selling the vegetables she buys in Ench on Saturday. It’s a lot of work, a lot of running around.

Selling her okra “kase lote” in Ench.

But she’s succeeding beyond anything she could have imagined. Her children now eat three meals every day, and all seven are in school. She’s sold one of her goats in preparation for purchasing a cow, and she’s confident she’ll be able to repay her loan when it becomes due in April. “The program taught me to manage what I have. I used to spend everything that came into my hands. I’ve learned that I have to save, too.”

And she’s excited about the turn her life has taken. As I take her picture, she is quick to quip, “I have to smile, because people need to see how happy I am.”

Laumène François — One Year After Graduation

Laumène was born and raised in Bwa Lafit, a corner of Lasous, which is a farming area along the ridge that separates Savanèt commune, in the Central Plateau, from Kòniyon, to its south. Her parents lacked the land they would have needed to feed their children well, supporting the family mainly through day-labor. When Laumène looks back, she can only smile at how hard things were for them. “Nowadays, they pay you for half the day, but back then it was sunrise to sunset. If you had to sell a day’s work, you couldn’t do anything else.”

She was young when she met her first husband. Laumène and their two girls lived in a home on his parents’ land. She and her husband didn’t have resources to build a livelihood where they lived, so he would travel to the Dominican Republic and work there.

Shortly after his parents died, he went for the last time. Laumène says he was murdered. In any case, he died. She and her daughters thought they would stay where they were. The daughters, in particular, had a right to their share of their father’s inheritance. But her brother-in-law forced them off the land, and Laumène had to return with the girls to her own parents’ home. 

She couldn’t stay long. Her parents couldn’t help her. So, when a man offered her and her girls a home, she moved in with him, even though he was already married to another woman. 

She was still living in the shack that he built for her when she joined CLM. At the time, she described herself as living badly. She was supporting herself and the kids through farming, but she didn’t have the cash to invest enough to make it work. She had trouble feeding her children, and wasn’t sure how she might send them to school. The rickety structure just from her home that had been serving as an inexpensive school for neighborhood kids was closing. Too many parents were unable to pay. And she couldn’t imagine how she’d afford a more typical school down the hill on the main road. 

 Laumène made a strong start in the program. She received two goats and a pig, and established a strong rapport with her case manager. She took quick steps towards learning to sign her name, and integrated the lessons me presented each visit, like the one about the importance of treating drinking water, into her life. Her assets grew as she worked her way through the program’s eighteen months. By the end, she had diverse livestock holdings. Not just goats and her pig, but a range of poultry as well. 

She tried at various times to start a small commerce, but it never really worked out. The rum business she tried wasn’t sufficiently profitable to make it worth the time it took her to hike to the various venues, like wakes and cock fights, where the rum would sell best. She tried selling basic groceries out of her home, but she lives well off the main path up the mountain. Any customers would have to walk past various neighbors to get to her home. And some of their neighbors had their own similar businesses, and they’d work to draw off her clients before they got to her.

So, a year later, she is still struggling. But she’s managing. She is especially proud that all four of her younger children are in school. “I managed to get them into school when I was in the program, and I’d be ashamed if I couldn’t send them now.”

It wasn’t easy. The school her children were attending closed over the summer.  For the second time in two years, they were forced to change schools. She had to send them to one farther down the road. And what’s worst is that the new school has a different-colored uniform. She had to have new one made for every child. The new uniforms cost her more than twice what she paid in tuition, and she’s quick to point out that none of that includes shoes, socks, underwear, books, and supplies. And the whole weight falls on her. “Their father,” she says, “doesn’t help.”

Without a small commerce, she’s had to depend more and more on her farming for whatever cash she needs. And she needs cash for more than just school expenses. There are groceries like oil, rice, and seasonings that she doesn’t produce herself. 

She also needs cash because she is an active participant in the Villages Savings and Loan Association that the CLM team organized for her and the other program members who live near Gwo Labou. She buys between one and five 50-gourd shares in the Association each week. At the end of the twelve-month cycle, which is coming up in April, she’ll get everything she’s saved, along with interest the Association has earned by making interest-bearing loans to its members. She herself has taken a couple of loans.

She likes being part of the Association because she likes knowing where she can borrow money when she needs to. “When you need 1000 gourds, you could go to a neighbor to borrow it, but it would cause a lot of talk. As long as you attend your VSLA meetings, you can always get a loan.” When she needed 2000 gourds to take one of her younger daughters to see and eye specialist, she didn’t hesitate, even though she eventually had to sell a goat to repay the loan. So, she always buys shares – four or five when she can – even though it strains her resources. “I have to divide what I get in the garden. We eat some plantains, and sell some. We sell some beans. We sell some manioc. If we are a little bit hunger today, that doesn’t matter, because as long as you work hard, you’ll find something to throw in the pot.”

What is most striking about Laumène since she started the program is how she feels about herself. She talks about the difference it makes when you have your own good house with a latrine. “I don’t have people yelling at me when I try to go to the bathroom out in the open. I have my own latrine, so I do my business, wash my hands, and get on with things. And I can sleep and get up whenever I want to. No one can tell me that I’m in the way when I lie down in my own space.” 

And she’s happy about the way she can manage her family. One of her grown daughters recently went through a difficult pregnancy. Eventually, the younger women had to undergo a c-section. When she left the hospital, Laumène had her come to her home. She wanted to take care of her daughter herself. And while her son-in-law sent provisions to help her, Laumène used her yard of chickens to help her daughter rebuild her strength. “I killed three chickens while she was with me. I wanted to make sure she was eating well. And I sent one with her when she returned home. I wanted her husband’s family to see that she had been someplace serious.” 

Rosemitha Petit-Blanc — One Year After Graduation

Rosemitha grew up in Port au Prince. She was taken there by her aunt – her mother’s sister – when she was a little girl. She had been living with her grandfather, because her mother died when she was a baby. The older man’s wife was mistreating her. Apparently, she didn’t want Rosemitha around. She would threaten to kick her out of the house, sometimes even scattering the girl’s clothes around the yard outside their home. Her aunt never sent her to school, but she took care of her otherwise.

She had her first child while she was living at her aunt’s house. The child’s father wasn’t helping her, so she managed a small business selling rum and cigarettes to contribute to their support. When a friend heard that a nearby orphanage was looking to hire someone, she hurried to apply and was hired. She gave up her business to clean and help in the orphanage kitchen. The job lasted until she went to visit her aunt one day without getting permission from the pastor who ran the orphanage. He decided to fire her. By then, the orphanage had taken in her first child, so she went back to her struggle to support herself at her aunt’s house.

She returned to her home near Kaledan, in the first section of Savanèt commune, when her grandfather grew ill and needed care. While she was with her grandfather, she had another child. Once again, the child’s father left him in her care.  That’s when she met Patekwe. He too had a child when they got together, and the three of them lived with Patekwe’s mother. Patekwe would support the family by traveling to the Dominican Republic to work while his mother and his wife stayed at home with the kids. By the time they joined the CLM program, they also had a child together.

In their early months in the program, the family made good progress. The program gave Patekwe plenty to do. Rosemitha chose goats and small commerce, and he took care of Rosemitha’s livestock. In addition, he mobilized the resources they would need for home repair, and they used some of the money she received to invest in his farming. He decided he could stay in Haiti with Rosemitha, investing more of his time in farming locally.

Their goats prospered initially. The three she received from CLM became five, including a pregnant female. They also bought a small pig.

Rosemitha started a small commerce. She actually tried several different businesses while she was in the program. Her first attempt involved buying up plantains in the countryside for sale in the downtown markets in Mibalè or Laskawobas. The business was profitable. She started with 1500 gourds and had quickly grown it to 2000, even as she used profits to support the household as well. But she had a run of bad luck. She depended on the trucks that pass in front of her home as they descend along the road from Savanèt. On a couple of occasions, she was unable to find one when she needed it, and her plantains ripened. All she could do was sell individual bananas to local school children as a snack. It brought her business capital down to 750 gourds.

So, she shifted her business model, buying onions and tomatoes in Kolonbyè, which were in season at the time, and lugging them to Savanèt, where the prices were higher. But the model never worked consistently, since the prices turned out to be hard to predict. Sometimes she would make a profit, and sometimes she would take a loss. So, she made another switch. She started buying kerosene and cooking oil buy the gallon in Kolonbyè, and selling both in small quantities in Savanèt. The profits were small but consistent, and after her experience with the plantains she liked the fact that her merchandise couldn’t spoil.

Things changed dramatically for the worse as Rosemitha’s mother-in-law grew sick and then died. Her death meant that Rosemitha no longer had someone in the house to stay with the children if she wanted to go out to run her business unless Patekwe could take a day off from his work. And that was almost beside the point because the expenses of the sickness and the funeral drained all the money Rosemitha had to invest in merchandise. They also had to sell off their sow, most of their piglets, and a crop of beans they had just harvested.

But what was worse was the loss she felt. Rosemitha was deeply fond of the older woman.  “She was always the one that took care of me. When I had my child, she helped me and bathed me in the days afterwards until I could bathe myself.” She also seems to have given Rosemitha a supportive friend as she managed her relationship with Patekwe, the woman’s son. The loss left her feeling more alone.

Nevertheless, she graduated from the program. At the program’s end, the couple had five goats and pig with six piglets. She didn’t have a small commerce at the time, but the couple had some income from farming. At the time, she said that she and her husband “did good work, so we finished the program well.”

A year later, Rosemitha is less upbeat. “Before I joined the program, life was hard, and while we were in it, we felt some relief. But now our problems have returned.”

Only one of the children is now living with them. Patekwe sent his daughter to live with an aunt who lives near the hospital in Laskawobas where his mother died. The aunt asked for the child, and Patekwe felt that the girl would be better off where she can go to a better school. It is a long hike over the mountain that rises behind their home, but he tries to see her regularly. Rosemitha sent her boy to live with her father, who lives close by and was alone. She still sees him every day, before he goes to school.

Her goats have not continued to prosper. She has just one adult female now. The other, she says, was killed, along with its kid, by dogs. Her female has two small kids, and she tries get her husband to keep the three of them close to their home. Rosemitha told me that they recently decided to sell their last sow because it had never gotten pregnant. She wasn’t sure, though, what they will do with the money.

And that’s her core problem. Her husband. He sold the pig, and she doesn’t feel she can even ask him what he’s doing with the money. “He was already a grown-up when I met him.” That might sound like a simple statement of the obvious, but the way she put it in Creole means more. It was her way of saying that, since they first met, he has been making decisions on his own. He likes to gamble, she adds, and is worried that the money is going to just disappear to pay for his habit. When I asked him separately about the pig, he told me that it died.

Rosemitha would like to get her commerce started again. “When I was out and about, I didn’t need to worry about every little bit of cooking oil I needed.” But she doesn’t have the capital to get started right now. She used the last bit of cash that she had to plant four cans of beans on irrigated land that she rented, and she should be able to harvest it in March, but she isn’t sure what will happen with the money from that harvest. “I have to keep my eyes wide open to hold onto anything that’s mine.”

She’s an example of one category of women who have trouble sustaining success after the program goes away. Such women are able to make progress while their case manager is working with them. In some cases, they make much more progress than Rosemitha. But because they never develop the power to assert control of their own means, all further economic progress depends on the kind of partner they have. And it cannot be surprising that the men of CLM are a very mixed bag.

So Fonkoze is currently engaged with specialists in women’s empowerment in a thorough analysis of the program that is giving particular attention to gender relations. Its goal is to refocus the program on the full range of issues that affect women’s empowerment. Economic empowerment is, of course, part of the question. But we know we need to do better at psychological, social, and political empowerment as well. Only by facing our shortcomings squarely will we be able to strengthen our capacity to help women find and then remain on the path to a better life.

Fidelène Darilien — Apre Gradyasyon

Fidelène Darilien te gradye nan yon pwogram Fonkoze ki rele “Chemen Lavi Miyò” (CLM) nan mwa janviye. Lè l te antre nan pwogram, Fidelène pat gen anyen, men pandan 18 mwa li te monte yon ti komès pwodui alimantè k ap mache byen.  

Kounye a, se yon moun k ap bay nan fanmi li. Li viv ansanm ak manman l ak de (2) frè, men se plis li menm ak manman l ki gen yon antre ki stab. Youn nan frè yo konn fè taksi moto, men akòz moto a pa pou li, se pa toutan li ka travay. Manman l gen yon ti komès, men li pi piti pase sa k nan men Fidelène. Se machann pistach griye li ye. 

Avan Fidelène te antre nan pwogram nan, bagay yo pat fasil. Moun yo t ap viv nan yo kay ki pat ka pwoteje yo. Li te monte epi kouvri ak kèk fèy tòl, men se ak fèy kokoye li te bare. Epi, fanmi a te gen pwoblèm manje. Se plis ak pistacho griye yo t ap degaj yo.

Fidelène te seye mete yon biznis sou pye yon fwa deja ak yon ti kòb li te prete. Men gen moun ki t ap achte kredi nan men l, epi se pa toujou li te ka touche. Lè premye manman lajan sa a te pase, li te eseye kontinye kenbe biznis. Li te jwenn kèk gwo machann te te vann ni kredi tou. Men touche te toujou yon pwoblèm epi konsa tou li te mal pou peye. Nan moman li te antre nan pwogram CLM nan, biznis la pat la ankò.

Fidelène te chwazi kabrit ak ti komès kòm de (2) aktif pou pwogram nan ta ba li. Manman l ak frè yo ede l asire bon swen pou kabrit yo, epi bèt yon peple. Twa (3) kabrit pwogram nan te ba li monte a senk (5) epi gen youn ki gwo plenn. Anplis de sa, li konn pran nan kòb benefis biznis li pou l achte poul. Li deja gen 17.

Men se sou komès li plis depann. Lè l te relanse l ak sipò CLM te ba li, li te pran yon gwo desizyon. “Nan fòmasyon yo te di m pa vann kredi, epi se sa m deside fè.”

Men desizyon sa p ap fasil. Se lakay li Fidelène vann. Konsa, kliyan li se plis vwazen, zanmi ak fanmi li. Gendelè, moun yo bezwen pwodui alimantè li vann yo toutbon. Gendejou, se diri yo jwenn nan men l k ap ede yo bay manje nan kay pa yo. Si li refize vann kredi toutan, ka gen moun nan zòn ki vin rayi l.

Men Fidelène gen yon estrateji pou ka sa yo. “Si yo mande m pou 100 goud, epi yo nan bezwen, m ap eseye ba yo pou 25 goud pito. M ap eseye vann sèlman pou yon kòb m ka pèdi.”

En fèt, Fidelène se yon moun ki oblije itilize plizye estateji spesyal poutèt li te fèt avèg. Nòmalman, li pa t ap kalifye pou pwogram CLM nan paske li pa gen timoun sou kont li. Pwogram CLM te fèt pou fanm k ap jere timoun. Men apre yon kolaborasyon ant BSEIPH ak Fonkoze, CLM te komanse pran moun ki andikape tou.

Fidelène mal pou antre Gwomòn pou achte machandiz li. Konsa, li bay manman l fè sa pou li. Li te ka mal pou gen bon kontwòl tout machandiz li, men lè l te ranje kay li li mete yon ti depo piti kòm yon chasm apa. Li gen yon self ti pòt cèlman e chanm nan preske menm lajè ak pòt antre a. Se devan l li konn chita. Konsa, yon moun ki ta vle montre sou komès la ta oblije pase sou li. E malgrè li pa ka wè kòb yo, li konn tout biye yo byen. Depi li manyen yon biye, li deja konnen sa l ye.

Depi avan gradyasyon an, li te komanse kreye yon plan pou lavni a. Li konnen si l byen pran swen kabrit ak poul yo, yo ka peple. Li ta renmen pou l gen kantite pou l ka vann kèk epi achte yon bèf. “M ap ka avanse pi byen si m toujou sere, tou.”Epi apre bèf la, l ap gade pi lwen. L ap komnse si gen tè nan zòn l ap kapab achte.

Fidelène ak maman l.

Fidelène Darilien — At Graduation

Fidelène Darilien graduated from the CLM program in January 2019. Starting from nothing, she had managed to build a reliable small business selling groceries out of her home. She focuses on staples, like rice, beans, sugar, flour, and oil.  

She’s now an important contributor to her household. She lives with her mother and two younger brothers, but only she and her mother have steady income. Her brother occasionally drives a motorcycle taxi, but since he does not own a motorcycle, his opportunities are rare. Her mother has a very small business, one much smaller than Fidelène’s. She roasts peanuts and strolls through Gwomòn, the nearest town, selling little bags of the for them five gourds as a little snack. That’s now just over six cents.

Before she joined the program, things were difficult. They were living in a home that offered little shelter. It had an old, tin roof, but its walls were woven out of coconut leaves. They had trouble keeping themselves fed. 

Fidelène had tried to start a business by borrowing some seed capital, but her customers would buy on credit, and then she wouldn’t always be able to collect. When the capital first disappeared, she tried to keep the business going by looking for wholesalers that would sell her merchandise on credit, but because she couldn’t count on her customers to pay her, she would run into difficulties paying her suppliers, too. By the time she was selected for the CLM program, her business had dried up.

She chose goats and small commerce as the two assets she would receive from the program. With help from her mother and brothers, she has taken good care of her goats. Fonkoze gave her three, but she now has five, with one ready to give birth. She has also invested some of the income from her business in poultry. She now owns 17 chickens. 

But she really depends on her commerce. When she used support from CLM to get it started again, she began with an important decision. “I decided to do what they told me at the CLM training. I wouldn’t sell on credit anymore.”

It wasn’t an easy decision. Selling out of her home means that her customers are neighbors, family, and friends. And since her business is basic groceries, her customers sometimes really need what she’s selling. Some days, a little bit of rice from Fidelène might be all that keeps a neighbor’s family fed. And refusing a close neighbor at a difficult moment can create enmities that last.

So Fidelène has a strategy. “If they really need the credit, they might ask for 100 gourds’ worth and I’ll give them 25 gourds’ worth instead. I try to keep it to amounts I know I can afford to lose.”

Fidelène, in fact, needs a number of special strategies to manage her business because she is blind from birth. She would not have qualified for the CLM program otherwise because she has no dependent children. 

It would be difficult for her to go to Gwomòn to buy her merchandise, so she has her mother do so for her. Keeping control of her inventory might be difficult, but she had a small, narrow room built into her home. It’s not much wider than the doorway that leads to it, and she sits right in front. Anyone who wants to handle her product has to pass by her. And though she cannot see the money people pay her with, she is able to distinguish the various bills they use and give back the right change by touch.

Now that she has graduated, Fidelène is making plans for her future. She knows that if she takes good care of her goats and chickens, they are likely to continue to reproduce. She is hoping to have enough so that she can eventually sell off some to buy a cow. She plans to help herself by always saving something out of what her business earns for her. And she has set her sights farther. Once she has a cow, she will start looking for land she can buy.

Fidelène with her mother.

Sisters-in-Law

Darline Tanisma is married to Michelène Etienne’s brother. The two women entered the CLM program together. They live with their husbands and children in neighboring houses in the same corner of Gwomòn, and they each have two kids, a boy and a girl. 

Before they joined the CLM program, the two families made their living the same way. The husbands are farmers, working land as sharecroppers and, sometimes, as day-laborers. The two women had small businesses selling used clothing.

Each had only about 1000 gourds of capital, which each received from her husband. They would go to the market in downtown Gwomòn early in the morning to check out the retail merchants, picking through their stock in search of items that they believed would sell well. They’d then walk around town, selling each piece. On good days, Michelène says, they’d earn up to 350 gourds of profit. Normally, they’d make about 200, now less than $3. They’d do this five days a week, taking Sundays and Thursdays off. The latter was their laundry day.

Neither family held productive assets other than the capital in their business. The surveys that were completed during the selection process by the case managers who recommended them for the program show that they owned no livestock whatsoever. Not even a chicken. 

As small as their income was, they would not normally have qualified for CLM. It’s not as though things were easy. There were days when they weren’t sure what they’d feed their families, and they had a lot of trouble keeping their children in school. But CLM is for the poorest of poor Haitians, and the two women’s steady trickle of income would have been enough to keep them out of the program.

But the CLM team saw women like Michelène and Darline as part of a population it wasn’t serving: too wealthy for CLM yet poor enough to need help. In the program’s early days, Fonkoze could have offered the women an alternative. It was called “Ti Kredi” or Little Credit, and it operated together with CLM. It consisted of a series of very small loans with short repayment periods. They were offered without the barriers the institution set for entry into its standard credit program. There was no registration fee and the required savings deposit was reduced to a token just big enough to open an account. It also came with more intense accompaniment than Fonkoze provides to standard borrowers: more frequent meetings with specially-trained loan officers who’d have fewer borrowers to manage. 

But that program no longer exists. After Fonkoze Financial Services (SFF) – the Foundation’s sister organization – took over management of all Fonkoze credit programs, it eliminated Ti Kredi. SFF is a commercial entity, and it judged Ti Kredi to be too expensive. The elimination of the program left the CLM team feeling that there was a gap between the families it was charged to serve and those capable of building stronger livelihoods through the resources available to them. 

So, CLM’s management team developed an approach that it’s calling CLML, or CLM Lite. It’s a nine-month accompaniment – compared to the standard CLM program’s 18 months. It shares some of the program’s key features: careful selection of members, a small cash stipend for a short period, a transfer of assets to build up the members’ economic activities, training, and support geared towards better health, including a water filter and access to free care. But CLML is stripped of other CLM features: the stipend lasts twelve weeks rather than 24, and there is no support for home repair except for help building a latrine.

In early conversations with the team, Michelène and Darline said that they did not need the weekly stipend. They explained that they could manage with the income from their businesses. They asked whether they could receive the money as a lump sum, and program staff agreed. They both used the money to repair their homes.

Michelène and Darline used the 3000 gourds worth of investment capital that the program gave them in the same way. They shifted their business model. Rather than picking through retail merchants’ wares every morning, they buy 4000 gourds’ worth of clothes in an unsorted pile every three days. They get the clothes much more cheaply than they used to, so they make much more off of what they sell. They may sometimes get stuck with something that no one wants, but so far that hasn’t happened often enough to affect their sense that they have taken a big step forward.

Both women diversified their investments, buying livestock. They both reached graduation with multiple goats, and Darline also bought a pig and a sheep. They also made regular weekly contributions to their savings and loan associations, with Michelène accumulating 6500 gourds in savings by graduation.

The added income has changed the way the families live. “I don’t have trouble paying for school anymore,” Michelène says, “and we send our kids to school the right way: breakfast before school, a snack or snack money in their hands, and a big lunch when they get home. They eat three meals a day.”

They have similar plans for the future. They both want to continue selling used clothes. “I like used clothes,” Darline explains, “they sell well, and you can grab something for your family now and then when you come across something they need.” But they would like to move to wholesale, buying the clothes in the large boxes that they are sent in and selling them in small piles to retail merchants, merchants like they are right now. 

The two women will continue to work on improving their lives, and the CLM team will continue to work on CLML. With very limited experience with the program, the team will need to clarify its criteria for selecting women for the program. It will also have to learn from each of the members it serve. Should it, for example, think of further reducing the stipend because these two women said they didn’t need it?

Daniela Cherilien — At Graduation

Daniela Cherilen graduated from the CLM program on Thursday, January 24th. We wrote of her once before. You can find the first profile here.

A lot has happened in the eighteen months since she joined the program. Her life, at the time, had reached a low-point. Her family was trapped in a downward spiral because of her husband’s illness. Various stomach ailments had weakened him to the point that he could not work. As Daniela put it, “Se mwen ki rele, se mwem ki reponn.” She said that in June, and she repeated it the week of her graduation. That’s like saying, “I’m the one who shouts, and I’m the one who answers.” It’s a way that rural Haitians have of saying that everything depends on one person, in this case Daniela.

She continued to struggle, managing to feed her children most of the time and to keep the kids in school, but she and her family were moving backwards. “If it hadn’t been for CLM, I would not have been able to send my children to school this year.” 

When we spoke to her in June, she was feeding her family with a small business she had created with 1500 gourds that she saved from her weekly CLM stipend. She would buy limes, hot peppers, or other high-value produce from farmers, and sell it retail in the Gwomòn market. She had just made an important investment decision. She had taken 1000 gourds out of her business to buy the harvest from a series of mango trees. It meant that she had to run her little business temporarily with only 500 gourds, but it enabled her to make a 750-gourd profit when she sold the mangos. She put that money, along with the original capital, back into her produce business.

She is now facing graduation, however, with no business at all. She spent much of the capital to send her children to school this year, and then spent the last few gourds buying the cement she needed to complete repairs of her home, which was damaged in the earthquakes that shook the Gwomòn area in October. CLM was able to provide special help to the families whose homes were damaged by the earthquake, but Daniela wanted to do more than the minimum that the CLM funds were designed to finance. She wanted to buy extra cement to cover the walls. So she had to raise extra money.

But Daniela has a plan to repedale, which means to get going again. She has a cousin willing to lend her 1500 gourds to re-start her business. He won’t charge her interest. “He just wants to do me a favor.” He can do so without risk now because the six goats she now has can serve as a guarantee. She’ll start next week. She doesn’t plan to repay the loan with income from the commerce itself, though. “My husband and I will make charcoal to repay the loan. That way, the money in the business can stay in the business.”  

Her long-term plan includes a focus on farming. “We rent land to farm, and we eventually want to plant sugarcane.” There’s more money in sugarcane than most other crops, but it’s a longer-term investment and, unlike other crops, it doesn’t directly help feed her kids. Choosing cane depends on her confidence that she can meet the family’s daily needs in other ways.

When asked how the CLM program helped her, Daniela is effusive. She talks about the home she used to live in. “Anytime it rained, I was under water.” She talks about learning to save, too. She uses both her VSLA and a Fonkoze savings account to put money aside.

And she talks about the value of her case manager. “It was great to have some who could give me advice. He was able to shine a second light on the path forward.”

Most importantly, she talks about her husband. “If it were not for CLM, my husband wouldn’t be alive.” She had lost all hope of saving him. He had grown so weak that he couldn’t even get onto a motorcycle to get to the hospital. The CLM team got him to the local hospital, and when that didn’t help they brought him to see specialists at the university hospital in Mibalè, almost four hours from her home. He’s now healthy again, and working with Daniela to manage their household.

Daniela in front of her new house. Her old, straw-roofed home is in the back.

Idalia Bernadin — Ten Months after Graduation

Idalia Bernadin graduated from the CLM program in February 2018. At the time, she was living in Gwo Labou, a hillside community overlooking the river that cuts through Savanèt, a commune in the southeast corner of Haiti’s Central Plateau.

She and her husband, Villon, had moved to Gwo Labou at a low point in their lives. The second of their four sons had just been arrested, and they had felt forced to abandoned their home in Kadèt, in the valley across the mountain from Gwo Labou. Kadèt is in a hard-to-access corner of Kòniyon, the next commune to the south. Villon had been accused of theft. Neighbors said he stole a bunch of plantains out of a garden, and Idalia’s efforts to come to his defense only made things worse. So, they abandoned a home with a good tin roof, on land that Idalia had purchased by selling off some of her inheritance. They moved in with Villon’s sister and her husband.

When the CLM team met them shortly after the move, they were, thus, landless and homeless. They had nothing. Villon tried to continue to work their fields in and near Kadèt, but they are a long hike from Gwo Labou, and his reputation as a thief made it difficult for him to appear in the neighborhood. The couple didn’t have land in Gwo Labou, so they tried to get by working in their neighbors’ fields. 

The CLM team helped them gain access to a small plot of land, so they were able to build a house. Many CLM members work hard to make the biggest, nicest houses they can while they are in the program. Three- and even four-room houses are common, though the program only provides some of the materials for a small, two-room one. Members choose to make the extra expense to take advantage of the opportunity CLM offers them, even if doing so uses up capital that they could use in other important ways.

Idalia was different. She and Villon did as little as they could get away with. They built only one small room. In fact, they had to do so twice, because their first effort was so perfunctory that the CLM director responsible for the region wouldn’t accept it as a bona fidehome. As short as all the members of the family are, even they could barely stand up in that first construction. 

But as glad as Idalia and Villon were that the CLM program had found them, they didn’t want to live in Gwo Labou. Their plan was to remain in the area just long enough to graduate from the program, and then move back across the mountains to Kòniyon. They felt unwelcome in Gwo Labou. The man who made their plot of land available clearly wanted them off of it. He was planting his crops closer and closer to their front door. And they never really made friends there.

It took them a couple of months to prepare their move, but they were back in Kòniyon by June, just four months after graduation. They sold their house for 4000 gourds, or almost $60 at the time, and used most of the money to buy a goat. They sold their large pig as well. Getting it over the mountain to Kadèt would have been a challenge. When they returned to Kòniyon, they bought two smaller ones with the money. There is plenty of good forage where they now live, so Idalia is couting on pig-rearing as a main source of income.

Their new, temporary home.

They did not feel comfortable moving back to their old house in Kadèt. The accusations of theft still haunted Villon there. “That house is still ours.” Idalia explains, “We have four boys, and one of them can take it.” Villon had some land he inherited in Frijè, a neighborhood deeper in the valley than Kadèt, and they built a small shack on it, enough for the couple and their youngest son, Dalison, the only child still living with them. He’s in his mid-teens, and Idalia started sending him to school when she joined the program. He’s in school again this year, though he’s having to repeat first grade. His sickness last year made attendance to spotty.

When she moved to Frijè, Idalia decided that she needed to do something to earn a steady income. Her livestock could increase its value, but she would need much of that money at first to build her new house. She and Villon have farmland in both Frijè and Kadèt, and they would occasionally have harvest to sell, but only a few times each year. Villon works hard. He makes charcoal for neighbors and splits the proceeds with them, but that work is irregular. So, she decided to establish a small commerce.

She started it with 500 gourds from the sale of the house. She made bonbon dous, a kind of gingerbread. It sold well, but she sometimes sold on credit and had a hard time collecting the money that was owed her. “I’m not going to argue with someone about money.” 

As that first money evaporated, she knew she had to come up with a different business plan. So, she went to the market in Pòtino with 1000 gourds of the proceeds from the sale of a crop of beans. She bought basic provisions: rice, sugar, oil, seasonings, etc., and began selling them out of her home. She now makes the trip to Pòtino every Sunday to restock. She still has trouble collecting what people owe her sometimes, but she’s found a wholesaler in the market who will sell her on credit when she needs it, so she’s able to keep her business going. It’s enough to manage her household expenses, at least when it’s combined with their farming and other activities. Her poultry is starting to flourish, too. She just sold two small roosters to buy a cellphone.

She’s optimistic about her future. Her son was released from prison. He behaved so well while inside that one of the guards now pays for him to go to school. He’s now living in Pòtoprens with family so that he can take advantage of the opportunity. She’s focused on building a new house. She knows it will take some time, but one of her goats just had kids, and that’s just the sort of progress she needs to make.

There is one more piece of this story I should share that speaks to Idalia and her relation to our program. It is hard to express just how out-of-the-way Frijè is. I was in Mable, in the mountains near the border between Savanèt and Kòniyon, when I went to look for her. I knew she had family living near Mable, so I was able to get some information there about where I might find her new home. But it was a hike of more than three hours each way, and coming back was uphill. I found the home, but did not find her there. I had a long talk with Dalison, whom I know well from some time he spent in the hospital in Mibalè. I learned a lot about the family and the changes they had made since moving, but I didn’t get to talk with Idalia. She was at the Kourèt market, selling the roosters and buying her phone.

A few weeks later, Idalia came looking for me in Mibalè. It was a hard, four-hour hike for her to get to the taxi stand where she got a motorcycle to Mibalè. But she had heard that I had come to see her, and she was unhappy that she hadn’t been there. “If I had been home, you wouldn’t have hiked backed the same day you came. I would have made you spend the night.” And she added, “CLM did a lot for me. I have goats and pigs now, and a way to keep going on.”

Dalison

Rosemène Jacques at Graduation

Rosemène Jacques lives in Nan Kafe, a neighborhood on the northwest side of Mable. Though she grew up in Nan Kafe, she hasn’t been living there long. When she was young, she met and fell in love with a man from Gaskoy, along the river that cuts through the valley to the northwest, and she moved down the mountain to live with him there. They lived in a house in his parent’s yard, and the couple had two children.

The man, however, got into a dispute with his brothers over their inheritance, and Rosemène says the brothers killed him. She was visiting her mother in Nan Kafe with her children at the time, and she went down to sell the couple’s cow and hold the funeral. The man’s family cleaned out all the other possessions that the couple had accumulated. Immediately after burying her husband, she returned to Nan Kafe to stay.

She eventually got together with another man, and they had a first child together. She likes the way he treats her other children. “He helps me send them to school.” That is especially important to Rosemène because the kids lost two years of school after their father died. She was pregnant again this year, but the baby was stillborn. She would rather not have another child right now.

The family has flourished in the CLM program. Rosemène received two goats, and now she has eight. Her pig had five healthy piglets. She would like to sell some of the offspring to buy a cow, but she wants to make sure she has plenty of both goats and pigs. “I can sell a goat now and then to pay for school, and a litter of pigs is worth a lot.” She thinks she can keep a couple of sows, though she knows it will mean a lot of work. “Pigs are really demanding.”

She and her family are excited about their new house. They made an extra effort to make it larger than a typical CLM house, and they were able to finish it in plenty of time. Rosemène knows that she could have finished a smaller house more quickly and more cheaply, but the extra room she built was important. “I’m my mother’s oldest child and her only daughter. My father is dead, and I wanted to be sure that my mother knows I have a place for her.”

Jeannette André — At Graduation

Jeannette lives in Mable, a remote corner in the mountains that separate Haiti’s Central Plateau from the plain to the north of Pòtoprens. She lives there with her husband, Charles, and their three young boys.

Though she and Charles are both from Mable, they had just returned to the area when the CLM team was selecting new families for the program. They had spent a couple of years away in Mibalè. Charles had been involved in a conflict with one of his uncles about land, so he and Jeannette moved with the kids. The couple spent two years struggling to rent a room there and to send the children to school. Forced to move away from their land, which had been their main source of income, they couldn’t make ends meet. They sold off their livestock, and eventually ran out of money.

They were forced to move back to Mable, build a small shack, and return to farming. They didn’t have their own land. They had never been able to buy any. But they could work their family’s land. They needed to be fast and determined, however, because others who had similar claims to the land could move onto it and work it if Jeannette and Charles left it idle.

Jeannette joined the CLM program in May 2017. “We lacked the means to help ourselves,” she explains. At first, she wasn’t sure what the program was all about. “I didn’t understand all the questions they were asking or why they asked them. It was when they gave me the animals that I understood it was for real.”

The program gave the couple two goats and a pig, and the couple took good care of them. The two goats became eight, and their sow had six piglets, five of which survived.

But as they saw themselves flourishing, the couple also worried. They felt that their neighbors were jealous of their goats, and the goats were getting to be too many to keep a close eye on. So, they sold six of them to buy small heifer. They even had enough left over to buy a small hog for fattening. They hope to sell the hog in February, when their children’s school bills will be due.

Buying a hog seemed important because they had already sold their sow and her piglets. They needed the money from that sale to complete their house.

Home repair and construction has always been a principal part of the CLM program. Originally, it was added to the program the team inherited from Bangladesh for two reasons. First, Fonkoze felt that program members needed a good roof over their heads to stay healthy. Most lived in improvised shacks that cannot protect them from the elements. Second, Fonkoze wanted all members to have a secure place to store their things. This was especially true for the women who established a commerce and had merchandise to look after.

But home repair — in most cases, it is home construction, because the family has nothing worth repairing — has gradually become more central to the program. The team has made the housing-related graduation criterion increasingly demanding. In 2010, the house just needed to be walled in and covered with a good tin roof. Gradually, the team moved towards specifying completion of all the finishing touches: such as doors, windows, and the drop ceilings that close off the part of the roof that extends beyond the house to form a front porch.

But more importantly, home construction has become a more substantial portion of a family’s accomplishments. Fonkoze always insisted that families take on much of the responsibility for their house. The program provides some combination of roofing material, cement, and nails. It also pays a builder. But the family needs to come up with all the structural lumber that’s necessary and the materials it will use to build up the walls.

This can add up to a lot of expense. Jeannette and Charles spent over 5000 gourds on structural lumber and more than 10,000 on the palm trees they needed to turn into planks for their walls. They needed almost 3000 gourds for nails. They also spent 3750 on additional roofing material, because they wanted to build a larger home than CLM would support. And because their house was larger than a standard CLM house, they also needed additional money to pay builders. In all, the couple spent about $400, which is a lot of money for a family that recently had no means at all to speak of and is much more than the $250 that the CLM program pitches in.

But a home represents more than just a central, life-changing addition to a family’s wealth. A home represents the determination, the grit, the strength that it takes to plan and execute its construction. The finished home shows what a family is capable of. CLM members are intensely proud of their new homes. They often describe them in some detail during the testimonies they offer at graduation. A couple like Jeanette and Charles, who can manage the process of building a new home once, will leave the program confident in their ability to move forward. And Fonkoze and its CLM team can be confident in them.