Salmadè – Families Just Months from Graduation.

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.”

Christela

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.”

Christela, her girl, and her cow.

Eliène and Odak – Six Years after Graduation

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. 

With Dawensky

Guerline Gracia – Six Months into the Program

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.”

Jeanna, Clothilde, and Itana – In the Beginning


Lawa is a hilly neighborhood of Moulen, Gwomòn’s seventh communal section. “Hilly” doesn’t really capture the feel of the place. The hills are not high, but they are steep and closely packed around rock-lined ravines. Small, mostly straw-roofed homes dot both the tops of the hills and any small, flat area that cuts into one of the slopes. The few dirt roads that cross the section keep their distance from Lawa. Motorcycles can get part way there by using the flat parts of one of the ravines, but the closest approach for a motorcycle still leaves a long hike.

Jeanna (featured in the photo above) lives in a small house in a cluster of homes on one of the small peaks. Her mother and sister, who are also new CLM members, live in two of the others. She is 29, and she and her husband Nelseau have six children. They would have seven, but they lost one of their twins.

She did not grow up in Lawa. The fourth of her parents’ twelve children, she was sent to Gonayiv to live with one of her father’s cousins. The family sent her to school for a couple of years, but when she turned 14, she asked to come home. She was unhappy in Gonayiv. “I didn’t feel at home. They hit me too much, and the boys were starting to bother me.” So, she returned to Lawa, and joined her parents’ already-crowded and struggling household. When Nelseau offered her a home of her own, it seemed like a good idea. She had known him since they were young children, before she moved away.

She describes Nelseau as a hard-working farmer on unproductive land. What’s worse: the land he farms does not belong to them. He’s a sharecropper, so he always owes the landowner half of his harvest.

Jeanna became the household’s main income-earner. She would go to Senmak, an important coastal city on the highway that leads towards Pòtoprens, sometimes for a month at a time, staying with a younger sister. With only 75 gourds of business capital, she could buy a small sack of bags of water, already iced. She’d carry the sack around the busy streets of Senmak on her head until she sold out, and then she would buy another sack. She might sell as many as four or five on a hot day, making 25 gourds on each sack. Late in the day, she’d take all the water money and buy kerosene, which would sell well in the early evening to people needing it for cooking fuel or lamps. That would earn her another 75-100 gourds. Once a week, she would send provisions home on a direct truck from Senmak to Moulen, and Nelseau would meet the truck and carry the provisions home.

But her frequent pregnancies mean that she often misses months at a time, staying at home for the end of the pregnancy and her babies’ first six months. During those periods, the family really struggles. If the period of her inactivity doesn’t happen to coincide with a harvest, the family is especially badly off.

She is nursing a baby now, and has been since shortly before she was selected for the program. She says it will be her last. She’s not sure yet what she wants to achieve as a CLM member, but she thinks she can use the livestock she receives to send her children to school. She has two who attend right now. They are only in the second grade, though, because they often lose time. Sometimes the school sends them home because Jeanna and Nelseau owe too much money. Sometimes Jeanna keeps them at home to take care of the younger kids. Her one hope for the program is for her children. “I want to be useful to them, to send them to school.”

Clothilde

Even a relatively small area like Lawa can have even smaller spaces, each with its own name. Clothilde Jean lives in Ravin Volò, or Thieves’ Ravine. “I’m not sure who the thieves were,” she explains with a laugh. She moved to the area about twenty years ago from another part of Moulen, just beyond the hills across the ravine, when she moved in with her husband. “I’m not from here, but I don’t think I’ll be leaving the area now.”

She’s 42, and she and her husband had ten children, though just six of them survive. He left her a widow in 2017. The oldest four of her remaining six children have moved out since their father died. Two moved out as soon as he died. “We had family members who asked me for two of them.” It’s common practice in Haiti for a family in Haiti that has some means to bring children into the household to help with chores. Sometimes they do so with a commitment to take care of the children, sometimes just to exploit them. Clothilde thinks that hers are being treated well. But the two other children simply left to try to make their own way. The youngest two children still live with her, but she cannot afford to send the older girl to school. The younger girl isn’t ready yet.

Clothilde does what she can for the kids by farming. She plants corn and pigeon peas on the land that slopes down from her home towards the bottom of the ravine. She even has a small plot of beans. But she is otherwise limited because she can’t leave her young children alone, and she doesn’t see what options are available in Lawa itself. “There’s no way to do commerce here.” There just isn’t enough money for people to buy anything.

Her upbringing was unusual. She lost her mother when she was just 15 months old, and she was raised by a single dad. He had no other children with him, so it was just the two of them in the house. “He had friends, but he never wanted to give me to a stepmother. He did everything for me. He even did my hair. When he went into the fields, he took me along.” He died just after her first children were born.

She has high hopes for her time in the program, though she hasn’t yet identified a clear goal. “Even if you just have a chicken, if the chicken hatches four eggs, you’ve made progress.” And she explains, “If you keep yourself under control and you know what you’re doing, you can make a profit.” But she knows that no one can work without tools. “You cannot farm without a machete. Schoolchildren can’t learn if they don’t have books.” She’s hoping that CLM will give her the tools she needs to move her life forward.

Serana Nicola isn’t really Serana Nicola. Her legal ID says “Serana,” but she explains that she had the ID made using her sister’s birth certificate. Her own certificate was lost. “They used to keep papers with elders. My parents gave my birth certificate to my grandfather for safe keeping. It was lost in a fire.” Serana’s real name is Itana. 

Itana has seven children, but only four live with her. She keeps up with the other three kids, always asking for news of them. They are in school. But she doesn’t support them. They depend on the families they live with. She doesn’t like the fact that they aren’t with her. “If I had the means to support them, I’d call them back. They are growing up, and there’s a lot I’d like to give them.” The children who live with her no longer go to school. “I can’t pay for school. I can’t buy shoes. I can’t buy books.”

Her husband used to contribute a lot to the household through his farming, but he’s been sick and unable to work for years. “Every morning, I have to figure out what I can feed him. Every afternoon, I have to figure it out again. If someone gives my 50 gourds, I can go out and look for medicine to buy for him.”

At least she can when she isn’t struggling just to buy food. She often buys on credit, and owes money to many of the merchants in the area. She waits for the occasional 50-gourd gift from a friend, and uses it to pay down what she owes. “Feeding my family is my biggest problem.”

Marie Charles

Marie Charles lives in Nan Panyòl. Normally, that would mean that she lives in the Dominican Republic. “Panyòl” mean Spanish, and “Nan Panyòl”is one of the ways that Haitians refer to their neighbor. But her home is in a neighborhood of Tomond, on the highway that leads from Pòtoprens, though Central Haiti, to Okap in the north. She is a single mother, living in the front room of a dilapidated house, with a rusted tin roof, that she rents.

Some CLM members seem destined for quick success when you first meet them. They show an energy and an optimism that promises hard, focused effort. Given the tools and the training that the program is able to provide, progress is highly probable for such women. The program’s 96% graduation rate reflects its staff’s hard work, but also that it is well-designed to meet the needs of women who are ready to make use of it. And many are ready.

Marie seems very much like one such woman. She shows a number of good signs. She is optimistic and energetic. She keeps herself and her clothes clean. Her baby, Jackson, is always clean and decently dressed, too. She is minutely attentive to him, carrying him around with her and keeping up a happy banter. She appears to be taking her case manager’s talk about the importance of hygiene and of talking with your baby seriously. She chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises, and explains her choice simply. “I know they’ll have young. That’s why I chose them.” It is, she says, the first time she has ever owned livestock, and she is happy about it.

But beneath her enthusiasm, there are troubling signs. Her case manager, Ricot, describes the way she quickly agrees to any suggestion that he makes, but then does nothing. Much more seriously: She is a single mother not of one boy, but of three with three different men. All three children live with her, but she seems neglectful of her two older sons. She is not sure about their ages, but tends to leave them lying on the bed in her house, without dressing them or even keeping them clean.

The CLM program has neither the tools nor the expertise to evaluate intellectual disabilities. Marie’s two older boys clearly have developmental issues. The older boy is said to be able to walk, but he is entirely silent. The middle boy does not walk at all, but he keeps up a seemingly-meaningless babble. And then there is Marie herself: Her inability to follow through on the things that she agrees to do and the cheerfulness of her disregard for her two older boys might reflect developmental issues as well.

The program regularly works with women who seem to have intellectual disabilities. It would be surprising if the very poorest segment of the population did not include its share of such cases. For some, that might be part of the reason they are so poor. But without specific tools to diagnose or evaluate such issues, case managers and their supervisors generally confront them as they find them, treating them as they treat any of the many unique circumstances that program members face. 

Marie is part of the fourth set of fifty families that Ricot has worked with, so he has a lot of experience to draw on. In Marie’s case, he is working increasingly to include her mother in their conversations. Marie herself reports that, though she has longed lived outside her mother’s home, she has always counted on her mother to provide for her and the boys. None of their fathers helps her. Her mother has no other children, so she seems to have been able to provide ongoing support. The older woman makes and sells charcoal and grows vegetables that she sells at the small, roadside market nearby, in Palmis Tanpe.

Ricot’s ability to keep Marie’s mother engaged gives him a sense of hope for Marie. “The mother is always available when I need her.” They have arranged to build a small house for Marie and the boys on family land, and thanks to the mother’s management, Marie’s latrine is already completed. Now that the rainy season has started, Marie is anxious to begin her own vegetable farming, and it is easy to imagine her being able to depend on her mother’s help.

But Ricot may have his work cut out for him to help Marie with the older boys. Malnutrition screening, an important feature of the CLM program, has been delayed by an accident that disabled the program’s nurse. And even if screening, which will happen soon nonetheless, leads to a referral for one or both of the boys, Marie will probably need help staying focused enough to do the necessary follow-up.

(Note: I have replaced the name of this CLM member and her boy with pseudonyms.)

Boukankare – Ten Years After Graduation

Simone Fleurimond lives in Lachose, one of the many small neighborhoods that dot southern Boukankare as it stretches from the mountains of Tit Montayn, Mannwa, and Balandri towards the Artibonite River. She’s been there for a couple of years, since moving from Montas, the nearby corner where she lived when she joined the CLM program in 2007. She was part of the first cohort of CLM families, the ones who participated in Fonkoze’s pilot of the program. The cohort graduated in December 2008.

When she joined the program in 2007, her life was hard. “I had no one. I didn’t have a husband.” Her two girls were in school, nevertheless. She sent them by farming land she would rent. She would sell part of her harvest to earn the cash she needed, but it was a struggle to come up with the money to pay for school every year. “Sometimes we didn’t have food to eat.” She tried to get ahead by taking care of a pig for a neighbor. That would have earned her a piglet, which would have given her a start towards building up something of her own, but the pig died.

The program gave her goats and poultry to raise. She keeps goats even now, more than ten years later, and occasionally keeps chickens as well.

She graduated the program with her livestock, and transitioned into Fonkoze’s Ti Kredi program, an approach designed with more accompaniment and fewer barriers to participation to overcome than the institution’s standard credit programs, and she graduated from that program less than a year after graduating from CLM. She still carefully preserves both of the certificates that she earned. 

Even before graduation, her life began to change in important ways. She took up with a man. She had been living on rented landed, and moved with him and her children to a plot that belongs to his family. That is where she now lives. 

Then her daughters moved away. Her younger sister was living near the coast in Arkaye, and when she had twins she asked Simone for one daughter, Sheila. As a single mother, the sister needed a babysitter and promised to send Sheila to school. Sheila lived with her aunt and went to school for several years, helping take care of the twins. 

Simone sent her other child to live in Mibalè, so that the girl would be able to attend better schools than she had access to in Lachose. The girl stays with a neighbor who has a house in town, but Simone still supports her, sending money, food, and cooking fuel to the household regularly.

Sheila recently had to return to her mother’s home. Her aunt died, and a neighbor took her in together with the aunt’s twins. Sheila had a good relationship with the woman, but the woman’s husband began to flirt with her. Sheila says things got worse and worse until he tried to force himself on her, so she had to leave. 

Simone now is figuring when she will get Sheila into school and how she will pay for it. Until recently, she was managing most of her expenses with a business selling fried snacks at the intersection of dirt roads just in front of the cluster of homes where she lives, but the business depended on capital she borrows from a friend, and the friend needed her money back.

She is still part of Fonkoze’s loan programs. In fact, her latest loan was substantial, for 30,000 gourds. But she does not get to use that money. Her husband uses it to manage his business, a shop in the neighborhood that sells rum and crackers, mostly wholesale. Simone is getting increasingly frustrated with the arrangement. “I’m not really his wife. He has another woman. And he doesn’t really help me with his business. I’m going to leave him. He can take out his loans in someone else’s name. If I can just find a plot of land, I’ll manage to build a house. Then I just have to get Sheila back in school.”

Mariane

Mariane Florvil was part of the same cohort. She entered the program as a widowed mother of four, supporting her children on her own. They were all living in one little straw shack. 

She grew up with poverty similar to what she and her children were living with. She never knew her mother. The older woman had become pregnant immediately after giving birth to Mariane, and she died in childbirth. An aunt took Mariane in and raised her.

When part of the program, she established businesses raising goats and poultry. The poultry never worked out for her. CLM gave her local hens and a large, purebred rooster. But the hens died, and someone stole her rooster. But goat-rearing became an important part of her livelihood. She would have two or three females, and raise their kids, selling a few of the goats each year to send her children to school.

The regular need to sell one or two eventually took her to her limit. She sold her last goat this year to pay her children’s school fees. But she did it with a plan. She found a neighbor willing to let her take care of his goat. When the goat has a litter, she’ll be entitled to one as payment for her work, and that will help her get started again.

She did not use the goats to manage her day-to-day expenses. She did that through farming and small commerce. She would buy a rantor two of land. That’s the right to plant and harvest a plot of land for a single season. She still depends on her farming, planting okra as a cash crop. Normally, she can grow it in both wet and dry seasons near the river, and plants it in her own yard when there’s rain to water the plants. But the intense drought over the last year has hurt her badly. She says that the last rantshe purchased was a total loss. She plans to plant another crop when this year’s rains begin. She is making charcoal that she’ll sell to earn what she needs to invest.

She was also earning money selling cooking charcoal, buying it by the sack in the countryside and then transporting the sacks into town. But the work became impossible after she came down with shingles. The disease sapped her of much of her strength, and makes it painful for her to move around in the midday heat. 

She still uses the one-room house she built while a member of the CLM program, but it is not where she lives. It is now her kitchen. Her oldest daughter is a tailor and she’s helping her mother build a nicer, larger house next door. 

Marie Michel (on the right) with her son, Delikson.

Marie Marthe Michel, too, was part of the CLM pilot in 2007 and 2008. She and her husband were raising their seven children.

She and her husband worked day labor when they could find it, and she would occasionally do small amounts of laundry for wealthier neighbors. They rented a small plot of land to farm. Sometimes they’d have nothing to live on except small gifts they would receive from friends. Though four of their children were in school, the family would often go a day or more without a meal.

Joining the CLM program, she says, made a big difference right away. “Life just wasn’t the same. They gave us a stipend at the start and livestock we could take care of.” 

Marie Michel’s livestock – mainly goats – didn’t really take off. Now and then one would die. She found she couldn’t count on it as a source of income. But she also established a small commerce, selling groceries in the market and out of her home, like spices, bouillon cubes, oil, rice, and beans.

In 2009, her husband died. She sold out the rest of her livestock and all her business capital to pay for the funeral. She had to figure out how she would raise her children on her own.

But she was determined to succeed with them. “I always had hope. You can’t lose hope. You’re a woman.” She began to invest more time in her farming, but that hasn’t proven to be a good solution for her. “I’m getting older. I can’t keep working in the fields. I’m not strong enough.”

So, she borrowed 1000 gourds from a friend and started a small business. She makes and sells akasan, a Haitian beverage make from corn. It’s a popular street food, especially in the mornings. She sets up her stand directly across the river from the Nan Dal market, at one of the sites where the canoe-ferries load and unload.

Three of her children are still in school. The four older ones – kids in their late teens and 20s – stopped so that their mother could focus on the other three, and they are moving forward. Delikson is in Haiti school now. “I want him to finish and learn a profession. He wants to study agronomy.”

Boukankare: Eight Years After Graduation

Sonie Desir graduated from CLM in December 2010. She, nine children, and one grandchild live with her husband in Tijedi, a corner of east-central Boukankare.

She joined the program in 2009, shortly after Fonkoze completed its initial pilot. Before the family was part of CLM, she had really struggled. Though her husband would fish in the nearby river, she depended mostly on gifts of food and small amounts of cash from family and friends. They would eat when they could. “We couldn’t have a meal every day.”

It was similar to the poverty she had known growing up. She was raised by her mother without her father’s support. The older woman counted on selling day labor to feed Sonie and her brothers and sisters. If she was able to find work one day, her children would eat a meal the next.

When Sonie joined CLM things began to change. “They fed me when we were together for training, they gave me livestock, they help me build a house.” 

After she graduated, she joined Fonkoze credit, and she remained in it for three or four cycles. She doesn’t remember exactly how many. But she didn’t like the program, and she eventually dropped out. “I don’t like getting mixed up with the State.” She knows perfectly well that Fonkoze isn’t a government office, but for her — and for many rural Haitians — “the State” includes anything with the smell of officialdom. A structured office with computers and paperwork and official-looking staff is an uncomfortable place. It can feel as though it’s part of the same apparatus that includes courts, police, and even prisons. A structure that seems in place to take, rather than to support.

Her husband’s ability to contribute to the household has deteriorated over the years. Fishing was always a hard business, but according to Sonie it got much worse as groups of thieves learned to steal a fisherman’s catch while he is in the water, fishing for more. Her husband was earning less and less from his work until he finally gave up. He hasn’t taken down his net from where it hangs in the shrubs next to their home in a couple of years.

For several years after Sonie was part CLM, she ran a small business, actually a series of businesses. She tried several different ones, but her capital eventually dried up. She’s had trouble with her livestock as well. While she was in the program, she kept goats and poultry. She was able to increase, initially, the number of goats she owned, but some of them died and she sold the others off, one by one. They had become her principal way to pay for her children’s schooling as her husband’s fishing income and then her small commerce dried up. She now has just one. There is also a small pig in the yard. It belongs to one of her boys.

Her four younger children are still in school, but she’s only paid this year’s tuition for three of them, and she’s not sure how she’ll pay for the fourth. He’s in eight grade, and she owes 2,250 gourds, or just under $30. She’s afraid that he will lose the year. There is a much less expensive, public school nearby, but she has always wanted her children to be at a private school. “The public school teachers don’t always come to school because the government doesn’t pay them on time.” 

Her husband helps now and then by driving a motorcycle taxi. He doesn’t own one, so he looks for drivers who need to take a day off, so he can rent their motorcycle. He and Sonie also look for labor in neighbors’ fields. It can help them pay off the merchants that sell them groceries on credit.

Even in the face of daily struggles, the couple has achieved a lot since Sonie graduated. They were living in the one-room house that they built with help from CLM, but it was on a small plot of land that they rented. Paying rent every year was a drain on their resources. They finally were able to put a down payment on their own plot of land. It’s an eighth of a hectare, with plenty of space for their new, larger house. They’ve planted several rows of coconut trees. “We like coconuts, and they give you something you can sell at market to but food.” They’ve also begun planting plantains an other staples. They\ve paid 22,500 gourds so far, and they owe another 15,000.

Having lived with a latrine as part of the CL M program, Sonie and her husband decided to install one in their new yard, too. It was a nuisance. The land was too soft the first place they tried to dig one. The walls of the pit wouldn’t hold up. But the second one is fine. Sonie also continues to treat her family’s drinking water. “I was using tablets after my CLM filter broke, but the children’s school distributed filters.”

Andrémène and Jean Benoit

Just south of Sonie, over a couple of small hills, lives Andrémène Raphaël, a mother of five. Like Sonie, she has moved since she was a CLM member. As part of the program, she had built a one-room house on a rented plotted of land, but when her husband died, his family gave him a small piece of land for her to live on with the children. She built a slightly larger house on it with the family’s help, and that’s where she now lives. She no longer pays rent.

Only the three youngest children live there with her. Her oldest daughter is married and lives in Pòtoprens, and her second lives with an aunt in Mibalè. The girl moved to Mibalè in 2010, shortly after Andrémène’s husband died. The family thought that they would help out by taking one of the kids and sending her to school, but Andrémène goes to see her frequently.

When she first joined the CLM program in 2009, Andrémène was getting by as a sharecropper, farming land that was not theirs. “I had nothing. I didn’t have a goat, I didn’t have a chicken. My husband was crippled. He couldn’t work. All our needs fell on me.”

Her husband died during her last months with the program. After the funeral expenses, she struggled, depending on support from her family. In 2012, she took to managing expenses for her and her children with a small business selling basic groceries, but she just couldn’t sustain it. “All the little household expenses in a home without a father” were too much.

But as a CLM member, she learned to take care of goats, and she still has one nanny-goat. Her boy has one that a neighbor allows him to take care of. When that goat has offspring, the boy will get a kid as payment. Andrémène makes sure that both goats get attentive care. They are tied in a shady area near their home, and she and her boy bring food to them.

That still left Andrémène needing a steady income. She needed a way to keep the children fed and handle other smaller needs. So she sought and found families willing to hire her regularly as a laundress. Laundry in Haiti is hard and time-consuming work, and a family need not be especially wealthy to hire someone to do, or at least to help do, theirs. Andrémène’s clients are in Mibalè, the closest large town, and they generally hire her for large loads. She goes three days per week. Her pay typically depends on the amount of soap required, and her clients’ clothes usually need six to eight bars, plus powdered detergent. She earns from $18 per week to twice that. Of course, if she is sick or she has something else that keeps her from work, she earns nothing.

She’d like to get back into business again, though she doesn’t know what she would sell. And despite her steady income, she hasn’t been able to save. “I have to spend a lot. Sending the kids to school isn’t cheap. You have to give them something to eat before they leave in the morning, and then have to give them something when they get home. And they need 25 gourds every day for a snack. If I try to give them only 15 gourds, they aren’t happy. If I couldn’t manage my money, we wouldn’t be as well off as we are.”

Her dream is to keep sending her children to school. She wants them to graduate from high school and then learn a profession. When her oldest boy, Jean Benoit, is asked what he’d like to be, he says that he wants to be a doctor. “He always says that,” his mother adds. “He says that if I’m sick he wants to be the one to take care of me.”

Lawa, a Neighborhood of Gros-Morne: The Troubled Cry of a Community in Distress.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019. It was 9:45 when Annel Estimable, a CLM case manager, and I met in downtown Gros-Morne to head across the river that runs alongside the city. We were going to Lawa to verify a list of families who had already been tentatively selected for the CLM program. 

Getting to the area was almost impossible on our motorcycle, but skill as a driver granted us the luxury of a ride halfway to our destination along an improvised path through a dry, rocky gully. After that, it was an hour’s hike to the forgotten and despised corner of Gros-Morne’s 7thcommunal section, Moulin.

At 11:20, I started my work at a household with nine members, a small, one-room house covered in straw. (See the photo above.) It’s home to a father and mother, with their children and grandchildren. At this hour, the kitchen still gives off an air of abandonment. Between the three rocks that would normally hold up the pot, there’s nothing to suggest that the fire had been lit even the previous day. Two five-year-old boys – an uncle and his nephew – play naked in the yard, covered in white powder as though from rolling in the dust. They were trying to cut up a stalk of sugarcane that they would afterwards taste instead of a breakfast. 

I sit powerless in the face of this sad sight, forcing myself to interview Serena Nicolas, who, despite it all, maintains a constant smile. Maybe she does it to drown her hopelessness, or maybe she sees a glimmer of heaven-sent hope behind this visit. Though she and her husband have been living together for more than 25 years, they have no productive assets worth mentioning. The family earns its income through agricultural day-labor, but the prolonged drought gripping the area has eliminated such work for the first part of the year. No work. No hope of access to cash. Buying food on credit is the only alternative, but as mounting debt begins to harm the sellers, trouble sets in.

Her neighbor, despite her desire to share and show solidarity, typical qualities in the Haitian countryside, has her own burden to manage. A mother of three children whose father died more than 20 months ago, Clotude has had to depend on herself now. It’s a fight that’s too hard for her. Just feeding her household is a terrible challenge. She lives every day with her children’s lack of education, of healthcare, of opportunities to flourish. It has come to feel like destiny. She has just one question constantly on her mind: how to appease the hunger of the children she loves. Her 14-year-old girl has never been to school. No need to even mention the other kids. It was 1 PM, and she has given nothing more than a small stick of sugarcane to each child. She hadn’t fed them anything the previous day. She didn’t know what she would do for the rest of the day or, for that matter, for the rest of the week. As I left her home, she told me, with her generous smile, “M pa gen anyen pou m ba w.” (I have nothing to offer you.) It struck me hard that, despite her sharp and chronic deprivation, she thought of wanting to share. 

At 1:34, my route brought me to the home of Tibolo, the one man working to feed a collection of families including the one he grew up in, his wife’s family, and his own family as well. His wife Jeanne, who’s been nursing their infant for ten days, hadn’t eaten anything since the previous evening. She described the families’ ways, how they all depend on the labor of a single man. Twenty-two people to feed with about five cups of rice per day. Telling me the story leaves me thinking of a similar story, the miraculous tale of Jesus multiplying five loaves of bread to feed 5000 people. Tibolo seemed to have learned the secret.

Only one of her five children goes to school. In fact, hers is the only one of the three families to have managed such a feat. The school meets in the bowels of a Roman Catholic chapel, where the classes sit in beat-up benches and desks in rooms without anything to separate them, studying in a single, great cacophony. That is where the sons and daughters of peasants have to consume the bread of instruction, risking ridicule at the hands of those who correct the entrance exams that determine whether one can go to high school, something few such children can hope to achieve.

The day was long, and the cases I saw were similar. Circumstances that elicit indignation, shame, and frustration are everywhere in rural Haiti. And the dominant class – the state and its accomplices – seem proud of it.

And what of the women in all this?

The women stay at home, while the men wander. They wander to places where they are not directly subjected to the sound of their children’s hungry whimpering. To places where luck might bring them to share a shot of local liquor, a bit or fried dough, or a little bread. But the women, despite the horrible suffering brought on by days without nourishment, suffer just as much by watching their offspring groan and cry with hunger, by watching them starve. 

Facing this hideous situation, I can’t keep myself from asking certain questions: Where in the constitution, in the list of human rights, in the various treaties and conventions are the rights of this forgotten segment of the population inscribed? Aren’t they also Haitians? Should they always remain on the margins of social programs, of access to quality education? What do the slogans – and I really mean “slogans” – mean: universal rights, education for all, social justice?

The women whom I met this day, despite their helplessness and hopelessness, hold onto their desire to share. Do we live, then, in a nation where the culture of sharing is the business of the underprivileged? The state, human rights organizations, feminist movements, peasant movements: When we will arrive at a real advocacy on behalf of the majority of the population? When will the misery of peasants’ lives cease to nourish comedies in Haitian theater and films and instead find its place in the nation’s plans for the future?

To those who have positioned themselves comfortably within this sad reality, I say “Enough!” It is time to realize that on the day when the despair turns into rage, violence will be the weapon this forgotten mass takes in hand. I know that, on that day, repression will be disguised as the law, as the establishment of order, the order according to which the dominant dominate most easily. But the dominant class will be the great losers because the disinherited have nothing more to lose.

Hébert Artus

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.”