New Program Members in Gwomòn

Loralda Vil lives near Route 5, the road that leads north out of Gwomòn towards Pòdpe. She, her partner, and her three children share a small, deteriorating house that is owned by someone who moved to Pòtoprens. “They’ve been letting us sleep here, but now I hear they’re trying to sell the house, and I don’t know what we’ll do. We don’t have the money to buy it.”

She’s also raising a younger sister. The girl left their mother’s home because the mother is a heavy drinker and couldn’t take care of her. She moved in with a stranger, becoming one of many Haitian children who live as domestic servants, but the woman eventually kicked her out because she made a costly error making change for someone while trying to help in the woman’s business. Loralda likes having her sister around. “She’s helpful, but I don’t like it when she does stuff I tell her not to do.”

Loralda and her partner struggle to send the girl to school, though Loralda’s older brother helps some. Their two older children are five and three, and should be in school, too, but Haiti’s political conflict has prevented the school Loralda registered them for from opening this year. Once school starts — probably in January — Loralda will need to figure out how to pay the fees. She doesn’t see where the money’s to come from yet.

With her third child an infant still nursing, Loralda isn’t earning any income herself, and the couple has no land to farm. The depend completely on whatever small jobs her partner can find. He doesn’t have a trade, but people sometimes hire him to move a pile of sand or some cement at a construction site. It’s hard work that’s poorly paid, and it’s hard to come by, but it is all the couple has.

She has simple goals for herself as a CLM member. “I want the program to help me send my kids to school, to buy them a pair of sandals if they need one. I want it to help me get them to the doctor’s if they’re sick.” She chose goats as her first enterprise. She wants eventually to become a trader, but she thinks that, as things stand for her right now, her children would eat up any little business she started. “When the goats start to have kids, I’ll call my case manager and plan to sell one so I ca start a business with the money.”

Meloya with her youngest stepchild.

Meloya Paul lives south of Loralda’s neighborhood, off the same road. She and her partner live in a house that belongs to him. It’s a short hike east of the main road. The house looks as though it was once solid enough, but the earthquake of 2018 brought down sections of its walls. The roof above it held, but much of it is now open to the elements. They haven’t had the money to make repairs.

She and her partner first moved in together in 1990. At the time, she already had two children, and together they had two more. But all four children died. When the last one passed away, Meloya left the home. “The shock of it made me what I am. If I had children, I wouldn’t look like this.” She spent 25 years wandering around the streets of Gwomòn as a beggar. “It’s better to beg than to steal. Stealing leaves a stain on your whole family.”

After she left him, her partner had four children with another woman, but when that woman grew ill, he was at a loss. He asked Meloya to move back in to help him take care of his children’s mother, and she agreed. When the woman died, she decided to stay to take care of the four kids. “They’re my children now.”

The couple struggles to feed themselves and the kids. They depend on such unreliable, poorly-paid day labor as her partner can find. She asked the program to give her goats and a sheep, and she explained by talking accurately and in some detail of the cost of raising a pig. “You can’t raise a pig without means.”

When I told her that I could see she has a head for figures, that she “knows money” well, she smiled, but she denied it. “I don’t know money. I’m egare.”

Egare” means dumb. And when her case manager, Pétion, heard her say it, he jumped in.

“Have you told Steven what you did with the water?”

Meloya smiled.

After the launch ceremony for the group CLM members Meloya is part of, there was an extra sack of bags of water. The sacks go for 75 gourds, or about 80 cents, and hold 50 little bags. Pétion explained that he wanted to see what Meloya was capable of, and he was pleased with the results. In less than a month, she turned that 75-gourd gift into a 300-gourd business. She no longer sells water, but buys small amounts of hot peppers and limes, and sells them in even smaller amounts. She has been making 60% profits every time she turns the capital around.

The Casino in Wòch a Pyè

Faustin Antoine lives just south of the main road that leads from downtown Tomond to the market in Kas, in a neighborhood of farmland called Wòch a Pyè. He joined the CLM program early in 2018 as a single father with a young son, Néhémie.

He had been living with his partner and their four children in the Dominican Republic, working mainly as a porter. A sudden illness robbed him of the use of his legs. He’s not paralyzed, but the effort to move either leg leaves it shaking uncontrollably, so he has great difficulty standing, much less walking. He returned to his parents’ home in Tomond with two of the children, but the daughter eventually went back to her mother.

When he first joined the CLM program, he was getting around as best as he could by leaning on one broken crutch and a walking stick. One of the program’s first efforts was to help him get to the office of Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Person’s with Disabilities. There he received a free wheelchair, a model designed for rough usage. He still doesn’t get around much because the yard he lives in is well off anything like a road, but at least he can move around the yard itself, which is made of hard, packed dirt.

As a CLM member, he chose goats and a pig as his enterprises, and he managed both successfully. He is not able to tend to them himself, but he has Néhémie, his parents, his siblings, and others to help him out. He just has to make sure he’s giving them the direction they need to stay on task. Like most members who only choose livestock, however, he was initially left without a way to earn steady income, even little bits of it. So he began selling cellphone minutes. His brother would make his wholesale purchases for him in downtown Tomond, and Faustin could sell to neighbors willing to come to him.

But selling cellphone minutes is not very profitable. The margin is small, and in a place like Wòch a Pyè the volume is small, too. Faustin planned to add a second business, selling cold drinks out of large cooler, but he would have to depend entirely on others to buy the drinks and the ice he would need. So he let a friend start the business instead. He lends the friend his cooler and the capital to buy merchandise, but the friend does the work and gives Faustin some of his profit.

Then during the fall, a couple of months after his graduation, Faustin had an idea. He would start selling rice. His brother buys two small sacks for him each week, and Faustin sells it by the cupful. A sack costs 1,875 gourds, which is a little over $20 right now. The sacks contain about 50 cups of rice, which go for 50 gourds each, so he should make 675 gourds on every sack.

But he actually makes much more than that because of the way he sells it. Some of his customers simply come to him and buy a cup of rice, but that’s not what most do. He has cut a piece of foam rubber into small cubes that he sells for five gourds. He also bought a deck of cards. His customers gamble for the little foam cubes. When they win ten of them, they can turn them in for a cup of rice. Or, if they want cash, they can sell the cup of rice back to him for 45 gourds. His strategy takes advantage of how much people like to gamble and it allows him, in a sense, to sell the same rice multiple times.

Faustin’s little cubes.

It’s been enormously successful. He started out with about 2750 gourds in the business, money he earned by selling one of his goats. After just about a month he has more than 20,000 gourds.

And he has plans to increase his income. He’s getting ready to move out of his mother’s house and into the one he built while he was in CLM. He already runs his card game/rice business there. But once he lives there, he’ll start selling rum, cigarettes, and snacks to the players. He can’t sell such things, especially rum, while living with his parents. “They’re church people. They don’t approve of that stuff.”

Selection Challenges

Sometimes, deciding whether someone qualifies for the CLM program is easy. You come across someone who has little or no assets they can rely on, they have almost no income, and they have no direction. When long-time members of the CLM team meet such folks, we call them “originals.” I think it’s because they resemble the cases that the program’s founders had in mind when they established it.

Yesterday I met Nana, a single mother of a three-month-old girl. She lives in a room in a shack in her cousin’s yard because her late mother’s house, where she lived alone for most of her pregnancy, was deteriorating so badly that her cousin feared it would collapse around her.

She earns whatever she earns by helping out neighbors during harvest or when they are doing laundry, but she can’t do much right now with an infant on her hands. Talking with her leaves you wondering whether she has developmental issues as well.

An “original,” as CLM staff members tend to call such obvious cases of ultra-poverty. Nana clearly belongs in the program. But many cases are less clear.

Roseline and her partner live in a house they built in a yard that belongs to a cousin who moved to Pòtoprens. The cousin gave them permission to use the land.The couple has a single child. Roseline’s first child lives with her mother.

Their income depends entirely on the man. He works as a day laborer in their neighbors’ fields, making 100 gourds on a day when work is available. That’s a little more than they need for a minimally-decent meal. Right now there are just over 90 gourds to the dollar. Occasionally he finds work chopping up a tree for a neighbor making charcoal. That work pays a lot more money — many times the hundred gourds — but he can’t find it very often.

Their little boy has an asset: his uncle gave him a very small pig. As expensive as livestock has gotten over the pat couple of years, it may be worth 1500 gourds or more.

Despite her husband’s earnings, and despite the pig, I qualify them for the program. Their housing situation is unreliable. People change their minds about such arrangements all the time. Though they have a pig, since it was a gift, it doesn’t represent their own capacity to build an asset, and the mortality rate for such piglets, especially unvaccinated as it is, is high. Finally, Roseline’s complete dependence on her partner leaves her vulnerable. She’s already had one man leave her with child. So, I approved the family.

Margueline lives with her husband and their three children. Two of the three are school-age, and the couple sends them to school by selling plantain out of their garden. They are, however, behind in their payments.

The family keeps a couple of chickens in their yard. They also take care of a very small goat that belongs to Margueline’s aunt. She will be paid in kids if the goat has young while under her care.

Margueline generally makes coffee for the family in the morning. She’ll make a large meal later in the day. She was preparing cornmeal porridge the afternoon I passed by. The family had eaten cornmeal the previous day as well.

Since I knew that for two consecutive days they had eaten a good meal, I was inclined to disqualify the family. She also told me that they find much of what they eat in their own garden. So apparently hunger wasn’t really an issue for them.

But when I disagree with an experienced case manager’s opinion, I usually try to talk. I questioned the case manager who initially selected the family for the program, and he told me that things were quite different the day he met them. He saw clear evidence of their hunger. When he went by, they were trying to stifle their hunger by chewing on gleanings from a neighbor’s peanut harvest. The whole family — adults and children — were sitting in a circle, making the best of a couple of handfuls’ worth. So I approved the family on the case manager’s appeal.

Venicia lives in her house with three children. She has two other children who live with other family members who send them to school in larger towns. Venicia stays in touch with them, and they sometimes visit. But when she asks them if they’d like to return home, they say they are happy where they are. That’s how she knows they are treated well. The two school-age children who live with her are in school, but she owes the school money.

Her husband crossed the nearby border into the Dominican Republic about a year ago because the couple saw no opportunities for him near their own home. He hasn’t been back since, but they are in touch and she says that he plans to visit in April. He occasionally sends her money, but not often and not much. He is struggling in the DR without any legal papers, and even when he has some extra money, he must wait until a friend will be visiting Haiti in order to send it to Venicia. Without papers, he can’t use money transfer services.

Venicia gets by on those transfers from her husband and on the couple of hundred gourds she makes now and then by sorting and bagging charcoal for producers. They pay her 25 gourds per sack, and she can bag as many as six in a day when there’s enough charcoal.

But Venicia manages the little bit of money that she has well. The couple put up the frame for a new two-room house two years ago, and when her husband left the house was still just a frame. Over the past year, however, Venicia has purchased the necessary palm-wood planks to enclose one of the two rooms, and she paid the builder to enclose it. She covered the house with the palm seed pods that families who can’t afford tin use as roofing material in the Central Plateau. The one enclosed room now stores almost enough palm wood to enclose the other room and five hardwood planks that she will give a carpenter who’ll make her front door.

So, though I don’t doubt that Venicia has very little, I could not approve her for the program. Her life is very, very difficult, but she has the smarts and the discipline to make it — very slowly — without us.

The Women of Lawa: Five Months In

Clotude, Jeanna, Itana, and their neighbors have been part of the CLM program for about five months. A lot has happened since they joined, for them and for Haiti. But the situation in Haiti has meant that some of the things that would normally happen in CLM members’ first months in the program have been delayed.

Two difficulties have combined to make provision of some of the supports that CLM offers families difficult. On one hand, gas has been hard to come by. In Gwomòn, it’s been expensive when available at all. As the Haitian government’s debt to international fuel suppliers has increased, the suppliers have cut deliveries to Haiti. And even after fuel arrives in Haiti, distribution is complicated. Some retailers have discovered that they can make more money by selling from gas pumps to street venders, who then sell gallons – often diluted – at inflated prices. Fuel that sells at 224 gourds per gallon – currently about $2.43 – has been selling for 700-750 gourds in Gwomòn, with occasional spikes both there and elsewhere that reach yet higher.

On the other, demonstrations and other manifestations of the political conflict have been more frequent, more sustained, and more intense in the last months. Protesters block roads, sometimes violently. Small groups of frustrated Haitians will also sometimes block the road to collect a toll before allowing travelers to pass. You don’t really know, from day to day, whether one will be able to get where one plans to go.

But after arriving in Gwomòn from Mibalè on Sunday, I went to Lawa with the CLM team there on Tuesday. They went as a group because they had scheduled a meeting with CLM members and the community leaders whom the members had selected to join the Village Assistance Committee. They would establish the committee, explaining its role in detail, and then have members vote in its leadership and set the date of its first meeting.

Though we arrived an hour before the scheduled meeting time, some of the CLM members were already there. Among them was Clotude’s oldest daughter. When we asked why she was there, she told us that Clotude wouldn’t be coming. She had had an accident that very morning, so she sent her teenage daughter in her place. Clotude had been working on the fence around her small piece of land, and something got into her eye. The team wanted to make sure she was alright, and I needed to speak with her, so we left the cockfighting ring, where the meeting would be held, and hiked the additional 20 minutes to find Clotude.

Clotude’s fencing, like much of the fencing in rural Haiti, consists of candelabra cacti. These succulents are easy to grow and easy to propagate from cuttings. In relatively short order, a family can establish a barrier that is hard to penetrate, even for wayward goats.

But the plant contains a sticky, milky liquid, which is mildly toxic and slightly corrosive. In handling her fencing, Clotude got some into her eye. It’s a dangerous situation if she doesn’t rinse it quickly and thoroughly. The liquid can form a film that could interfere with her vision permanently. Her case manager called the staff nurse, Lavila, and we gave her, on Lavila’s advice, a plastic water bottle that we had with us. We showed her and a neighbor we found with her how to pierce its cap and then squeeze the bottle to produce a forceful stream of water to rinse out her eye. We will know when the case manager, Enold, returns next week whether it worked.

She and I also had some time to chat, though she didn’t want me to take a picture. (The photo above is from an earlier visit.) We spoke first about the economic activities that she has asked Fonkoze to transfer to her. She said she chose goats, sheep, and small commerce. 

We generally transfer only two different activities, and Clotude had initially requested goats and a pig. But then she had second thoughts about the pig. “If you have a pig, you have to buy feed. You have to have resources. Pig feed has gotten expensive.” 

So, she asked Fonkoze to buy her a sheep instead of the pig. They run about the same price. Sheep are more like goats. Both require only minimal care. “If you struggle with them,” Clotude explained, “they’ll provide offspring quickly. You just make sure each one can find something to eat, you make sure it has water, and you keep it out of the rain.” Clotude has received one of the two goats we will be providing and the sheep, and both her animals seem to be flourishing.

Clotude’s plan for small commerce depends on the savings club that her case manager set up for her and several women who live relatively close. Each week, all the women contribute, and one of them gets the whole pot. The arrangement is called a sòl, and it is extremely popular in Haiti. Each of the members of Clotude’s sòl gets 2000 gourds, which is now a little less than $23, and Clotude’s plan is to invest her payout in groceries that she can sell out of her home.

She knows that it will be a tough business. When you sell food staples from a home in the countryside, neighbors will ask to buy on credit. “Credit means I can sell more quickly, but neighbors might not pay for a week, two weeks, even three. But you think about how you used to buy with credit to save your own kids, and it’s not as though customers don’t want to pay you.”

She hasn’t been able to start her business yet, however, and the problem is that she hasn’t yet received her sòl money. The CLM team has fallen behind with its weekly stipend payments to some of the members in Gwomòn. The problem is that there were two quick changes in case manager. The original case manager resigned. It took some time to replace her, but the team did so. The second case manager was then surprised with a job offer close to her home less than a month after she started working for CLM, so she resigned, too. She’s been replaced by an experienced case manager, but it’s taking some time to catch up with all the bookkeeping. The supervisor responsible for Gwomòn expects to work things out next week.

Jeanna

Jeanna also asked the program for two goats and a pig, and she too decided to take a sheep instead of the pig. She’s happy with the decision, though a little bit nervous. Neither she nor anyone in her family has ever raised sheep, so she feels as though there’s stuff she doesn’t know. She thinks that her sheep might be pregnant. She’s had neighbors tell her that it is. But she isn’t sure.

She knows her goat is pregnant. It was pregnant when she received it. But she’s almost six months into the program, and she’s only received one. She knows she is supposed to get two, and she doesn’t know when she’ll get the other one.

Distribution of assets is running behind. Protests and gas shortages have made getting transportation to make large livestock purchases difficult in the last months. In addition, protests in Pòtoprens, almost halfway across the country from Gwomòn, interfere with any of the activities in Gwomòn that depend on cash. Fonkoze’s accountants are in Pòtoprens, and if they cannot get to the office, they can’t transfer cash into the accounts that field staff can access. But the needed transfers have now been made, and the team expects to finish purchasing and distributing livestock and other assets soon.

Jeanna is excited about installing a latrine in her yard and repairing the home she shares with her husband, Nelso, and their kids. She and Nelso have been working hard to assemble the lumber they’ll need early, so the house can go up quickly. Like Clotude, she wonders when she’ll finally receive the sòl payment that she is due, though she isn’t entirely sure how she will spend it.

Itana hasn’t been feeling well. She’s been sore, she hasn’t slept well, and she’s had little appetite. Nurse Lavila, the CLM nurse in Gwomòn saw her recently and gave her some pills, which helped. But she isn’t sure what they are. Itana did said that Lavila had been coming to see her every month, and Lavila explained that Itana is on her list of members with high blood pressure. She went by to check Itana’s pressure and to give Itana her medication. She also gave her some ibuprofen. She doesn’t think Itana’s issues require anything more serious, but she’ll keep an eye on her.

Like Clotude and Jeanna, Itana asked for two goats and a sheep after initially requesting a pig. “A pig is like a child. You can’t wake up in the morning without giving it something. I don’t want a pig I’m responsible for to go hungry.” Unlike the other women, she has received all her livestock. 

But she’s finding the sheep puzzling. She hasn’t raised them before, and she’s trying to make sure she mates hers if it’s in heat. “I’ve taken it to the ram two or three times already, but I’m trying to figure out whether it needs to go again. I’ll probably just go again this afternoon.”

She also is waiting to receive her sòl payment. She had planned to invest it in small commerce, but she changed her mind. “People just won’t pay you.” She’s decided instead to use the money to help buy the lumber she’ll need to build a new house. She adds that the other women have wood that they can use, but that she will have to buy all that she needs. 

She wants to build one as big as she can with the 22 sheets of roofing that the CLM program will provide. When I explain that she could make things easier on herself by building a smaller house, she explains her reasoning. “If people come to see me, I want to have a place to put them.” With so many of her children living away from home, her hope as she says this is clear. She adds that once she has finished her house, she’ll look to establish a small commerce.

Itana

Ti Manman – Four Years After Graduation

Until recently, the CLM team had a straightforward way of offering new members their choice of enterprises. We had a menu of two-item choices. A member could pick from among goats, pigs, poultry, small commerce, and agriculture, and each would pick two. We are much more flexible now, but in our early years, we were quite rigid. It made a complex part of our work manageable.

But there were occasional exceptions. Ti Manman was one. 

Ti manman” means “Little Mama,” and it is what most people call Simélia Duvelsaint. 

When she started the program, she had nothing. “A neighbor was letting me raise his sow, and he would have had to give me a piglet, but he took it back before it gave birth, so I got nothing.” 

She and her daughters were living in a straw shack. She supported them partly through small commerce. A neighbor would lend her money now and again, and she’d use it to buy used clothing, which she’d then sell at the Mache Kana market nearby. She had learned to sew as a young girl, so when she found a tailor who would sometimes let her use her sewing machine, she became capable of altering the clothes for her clients, too. Occasionally, she’d even get the chance to make a uniform or two for schoolchildren. 

It was, however, unreliable work because anytime the tailor went anywhere, Simélia would find the door locked, and she’d just have to go back home. “I couldn’t say anything. The woman wasn’t charging me. She was just letting me use her machine to be nice. She saw how difficult things were for me.”

Simélia had learned to sew by investing in her own education, something she started to do as a young girl. When she saw that her parents wouldn’t send her to school, she started earning money herself, grating manioc for neighbors who were making kasav, a Haitian flat bread. She used her earning to pay someone to teach her to read and write. “I never went to school, but I got up to the fourth-grade level. Now I’m one of the readers in my church, and I’m the one who works with my granddaughter.” She then found a tailor, and paid her to teach her the trade. “It didn’t cost much back then.”

She never had her own sewing machine, but she started to succeed. She saved enough to buy a cow, which she eventually sold to buy a small piece of land from a neighbor. But she never got to use the land, because one of the seller’s siblings took it away from her. “I had no one to help me,” she explains. She was left with the cow’s calf, but someone in the neighborhood broke its leg with a rock, and it eventually died.

When she joined CLM, she chose goats and small commerce, but at one of the first days of training, the staff asked whether there was anyone who knew how to sew, “and I raised my hand.” Her case manager, Martinière, used the money he would have used to buy her goats and small commerce towards buying a sewing machine, instead. “It wasn’t quite enough,” he explained. “We had to use money she had saved from her weekly stipend, too.”

But she got the machine, and started to work. “I saved as much as I could after paying for the girls’ school, and I started to buy goats. I eventually had seven, but they got sick and died.” She’s had more success with pigs. She now has two: a full-grown sow and a younger one. She also gave her younger daughter one of the sow’s daughters to raise, and her daughter’s sow is now pregnant, almost ready to give birth.

Though her older daughter moved out in July, Simélia still has two children with her: her younger daughter and that daughter’s little girl. And until this year, the sewing machine was the key to their income. But it’s been broken for about six months. The only repairman she could find tried replacing some parts, but it didn’t do the trick. She’s waiting for him to come try something else.

In the meantime, she’s selling used clothing again. She also sells laye, a platter woven of straw used in various ways in the countryside. Finally, she sells bowls made of gourds, which are used in Vodoun ceremonies. She goes to four different markets every week. Her income varies, but she uses a sòlto steady herself. She and about ten other women contribute 500 gourds, or about $5.50, a week, and each week one woman takes the whole pot. “When it is my turn, I can use the money to buy poultry, to invest in my businesses, and to pay back any debts I have.”

Simélia continues to work hard. She invests a lot in her children’s education. But she also has a dream. She would like, once more, to buy a cow. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted.”

A photo of a photo from 2015, sitting behind her sewing machine.

Getting Started in Urban Jeremi

Since it was established in 2007, the CLM program has worked exclusively in the countryside. That was consistent with Fonkoze’s original focus on rural areas, but also with the history of CLM’s parent program, the graduation program developed by BRAC, in Bangladesh. It also focused initially on the rural poor. 

This focus had consequences for the program’s design. Its selection process depends on a fundamental fact about rural areas: neighbors know one another well. The enterprises CLM helps families develop have been principally the sort that work in rural areas: animal husbandry, small commerce, and farming. And those are just two of the ways the program has reflected its rural focus.

But Fonkoze knows – as BRAC knew as well – that extreme poverty exists in cities, too. So Fonkoze is now piloting an urban version of the program in Jeremi, in southwestern Haiti. After six days of training ended on Saturday, 200 new families joined the program from five poor, seaside neighborhoods.

Lancie Vixima lives in Kamanyòl. She has eight children, but just five still live with her and the father of the youngest four of those five. The oldest of the five has been raised by her partner as one of his own children. She’s a 14-year-old deaf girl who now has her own baby. Since the baby’s father provides no support, Lancie is responsible for her grandchild, too.

Lancie’s husband used to fish, and she sold used sneakers and schoolbags. But the husband suffered a hernia about a year ago, and had to give up his work. That put more pressure on Lancie’s commerce than it could bear. The expenses involved in getting him care, combined with his inability to contribute, ate up the capital her business depended on. It no longer exists. 

To earn the little bit of income she needs to feed her kids, Lancie shells peanuts for women who sell them roasted. A typical job can involve as many as ten cans of nuts and takes her two-three days. She’s generally paid 150-200 gourds, or about $2. That’s enough money to buy 3-4 cups of rice at current prices, if that is all she buys. But as big as her household is, it doesn’t go far. And the work is difficult for her because she has only one good arm. The other is very little help.

She’s excited about getting started in the program. “They taught us a lot about managing a commerce.” And she knows what she wants to do with the money she will earn once she starts. “If I make 500 gourds, I need to save 50. And I need to start sending my kids to school again. Four of them used to go, but I didn’t have the money to send them last year.”

Margalitha

Margalitha Lissaint lives alone in Kotfè with her 10-month-old baby. She’s 28. The child’s father abandoned them before Margalitha gave birth. A tiny woman – well under five feet tall – with a back bent by scoliosis, Margalitha just recently moved with her baby out of her mother’s home.

Even before her child was born, Margalitha was struggling to support herself. She tried businesses selling prepared meals or fried snacks along one of the alleys that runs through her neighborhood. But she couldn’t keep it business going because she would sell on credit and then her customers wouldn’t pay. “They’d swear at me when I tried to collect.” Margalitha knows that she shouldn’t have given credit in the first place, but in a poor neighborhood like hers, refusing isn’t easy. “The people who ask you are your neighbors, and when you’re hungry too, you can’t say ‘No.’”

She’s anxious to use the resources CLM will give her to start her business again. “I won’t be able to sell on credit anymore. I have a child I’m responsible for.” She wants to go back to selling fried snacks, but also basic groceries. And she’d like to add a side business selling used clothes. Her mother is in the CLM program as well, and she thinks she can count on her help, especially when she needs a babysitter.

And she’ll need the help. She made it into secondary school before her mother’s inability to pay forced her to give up her studies, and she now hopes that being part of CLM will enable her to return.

“I need to support my baby, but I need to save money, too. That way, if the business shrinks I’ll have something I can invest to make it grow again.”

Meloude

Meloude St. Vil and her husband live with their six children, ages five to 13, in a neighborhood called Dèyè Distriyèl. Her husband does whatever odd jobs he can find, often scavenging scraps of iron that he can sell to recyclers. Meloude sometimes finds someone willing to give her their laundry to do. Neither has any regular income.

Until Hurricane Matthew passed through Jeremi in 2016, the family lived in a small house with a solid roof, but the hurricane’s category-five winds blew the house down. She and her husband collected what they could of the roofing material and used it to put up a new set of make-shift walls. That lasted until an unexpected windstorm blew the house apart Friday night.

She and her husband support their kids with his little jobs and her occasional laundry, but it’s gotten much harder. “More people are doing those things now.”

She’s started to work out her plan to establish a more regular income. She wants to get up early in the morning and sell prepared breakfasts. She figures that she can use the business to feed her children before they go to school. She’ll finish selling early in the day, and then move to the market. She’ll sell basic groceries there.

She thinks that, combined, the two business can help her out. She needs to feed her children, but knows that it’s also important to save. “I have to put 50 gourds somewhere now and again so I’ll have something if the house needs repairs or if one of the kids gets sick.”

Sonya

Sonya Etienne lives with her husband and their two children, ages four and nine, in Nan Site. 

Her husband is willing to work hard, but he has no skills. He depends on finding masons willing to take him as an assistant. He carries mortar, rocks, cement, or water, whatever they will pay him to do. But the work is irregular. He can go days at a time without finding anything. And he went for a while without being able to work at all. He was sick. 

So, the family depended entirely on Sonya’s business selling charcoal for cooking. She has a lot of experience with it. She generally buys a sack or two and divides it into bags that give someone what they might need for just a day or two. Sales are reliably profitable even if there are occasional small losses. “Sometimes you open a sack and most of the charcoal has been ground down into pieces that are too small. Then you lose money on that sack.” 

Paying for her husband’s healthcare while feeding the household without his help proved to be too much for her business, and it recently disappeared. She’s excited to get started again, however, and was happy with the lessons about small commerce that her CLM training provided. She learned some things about avoiding counterfeit money that she believes will be valuable. But there was more, as well. “They said you should sell what you know, and I know charcoal.” A charcoal business is important to her because it means that she always has some to cook her own food. She’d like to add a side business selling cookies and crackers to schoolkids and another selling cellphone minutes. She doesn’t foresee any trouble managing all three at once.

She believes in saving, and has been using a local savings structure for years. Someone with means collects savings every day: one Haitian dollar, which is five gourds, on the first day of the month, two on the second, three on the third, etc., all the way to the 30thor 31st. At the end of the month, you receive 450 Haitian dollars, or 2250 gourds minus a 50-gourd fee. If you miss payments, you get back what you have deposited, minus the same fee.

Savings are especially important because her home is a rental. She and her husband have been paying 10,000 gourds per year. That’s almost $110. It is much more money than they can earn in a single shot. Their lease is up in September, and the landlord has already warned them that the rent will increase to 12,500 for the coming year.

Marie Milise

Marie Milise Mistaire lives in Lapwent. She’s had nine children with six different men, but she lost one of the kids. She’s been alone with her kids since the last man died. Six of the children live with her. Her oldest girl has been living with her uncle out in the countryside ever since the younger woman’s stepmother, whom she had been living with, put her out of the house. Marie also has a nine-year-old with severe disabilities who lives with a sort of foster family. The family lives near a school for handicapped children, and they took a liking to the boy. Marie pays for the school, but they take care of the boy for her.

She used to make a pretty good living selling fish. She would buy a big thermos-chest full from local fishermen and take it for sale to the market. On some days, she would see that the market was too flooded with fish. Then she would separate here merchandise into small loads and carry them on her head through the residential areas of town. It might take three or four trips to sell a full day’s load, but she would usually sell out. But if she had any she couldn’t sell, she would dry it out and sell it later. She was successful. “I could put aside 500 gourds of the profit every day, even after I took out what I needed for my family.”

But taking care of her late husband before he died ate up all her capital. Her business no longer exists. She’s been living off charity from neighbors and friends.

She’s excited to be part of the program, and she’s ready to go back into the fish business. “I will do what I know.” And she is confident she will succeed. “You don’t buy something to sell it at a loss.” She is already thinking of building up savings. “When the CLM team sees my savings account, they’ll know I worked hard. I think I can come in first place for savings.”

But she is thinking of other things as well, of all the things her house needs: a bed, chairs. “When they first came to my house, they had to sit on my water jugs. I want to buy chairs so I can offer them a place to sit. I had a big pile of dirty laundry because I didn’t have the money to buy soap. If they see that my life doesn’t change, they’ll think that their investment was wasted.”

Twoudinò – Eleven Years after Graduation

Fonkoze piloted the CLM in three regions: Lower Lagonav, Boukankare, and Twoudinò. At the time, they were rated as the three poorest parts of the country. In each area, the team worked with fifty families. 

Twoudinò is in Haiti’s northeast, a region that has seen important changes since the CLM graduation. The main road between Okap, Haiti’s most important northern city, and Wanament, on the Dominican border, is now smoothly paved. Its completion has facilitated trading in the region because both Okap and Dajabon, the Dominican city across from Wanament, are important market towns. In Karakòl, just north of Twoudinò, post-earthquake relief funds helped establish a park of assembly factories that now employs almost 15,000 people. Excess electricity generated at the park makes the region the only one in Haiti with reliable power all the time.

Elissiène lives in Kayès, not far from the park. Her home is a multi-room cement house in the back of her yard. Her two youngest children still live with her, and the three older ones are off on their own. She’s a widow and has been one since before she joined CLM. Cement homes belonging to two of her grown children – “off on their own” doesn’t mean distant – sit in front of and on either side of her house, the three together forming a semi-circle.

She started the program with goats and poultry as her activities, and she managed both well. Eventually she was able to sell off her other livestock to buy a cow. But she didn’t feel as though she could take care an animal that big by herself, so she turned it over to a neighbor. He would receive every other calf it produced as his payment for caring for it. Neither he nor Elissiène benefitted from the arrangement, however, because the cow was stolen.

While she was part of the program, she also developed a small commerce. She used savings from her weekly stipend to get started. Eventually, she was selling bread, sugar, local rum, cigarettes, and other high turn-over items. The commerce prospered and she maintained it for years. “If you are a woman and you’re in business, as long as you know what you’re doing you’ll make some money.”

But she sold out her business a couple of years ago and threw all the capital into improving her house. She felt as though she had no choice. Two of her children got jobs in local factories, and they needed their mother as a full-time babysitter. Now that the kids are getting a little older, she’d like to go back into business. “I can leave them for short periods, now.” All she would really need to do is go off to buy her merchandise. She would sell, as she always did, right out of her home. Going back to earning an income, even a small one, is important to her. Her youngest child missed out on the national 9th-grade graduation exam last year because Elissiène owed money to her school.

Anne Marie, or “Mad’Kòk”

If you go to Jakzil and ask for Anne Marie’s home, they’ll try to take you to one of the three nearby women named Marie. But you won’t find Anne Marie. She’s married to a man they call “Kòk,” and no one knows her by anything except “Mad’ Kòk”, or Mrs. Kòk. “If you ask for Mad Kòk, anyone around her will bring you straight to my home.”

Jakzil is a village of closely-spaced shacks on the plain near Haiti’s northern coast. The Atlantic Ocean is just a few steps away. Anne Marie, like Elissiène, received goats and chickens when she first joined the CLM program, and she managed them with great success. By the time she graduated, she was ready to buy her second cow. In the years that followed, she sold the four calves they produced and invested the money in the house she lives in now. It has all been her work, because though she is known exclusively by her husband’s name, she cannot count on him to contribute to the household.

Jakzil was arid to start with, and in recent years drought has very much reduced her access to grazing for her cows. She watched the two big ones losing weight and getting sick. She eventually sold them at a loss to a local butcher.

But she did so with a plan. While in CLM program, she had built a small commerce selling salt. As a retailor, she saw the potential benefits of a larger business. So, she took the money from the sale of her cows and bought a salt basin. The coast around Jakzil is one of the areas that produces the coarse salt that is principally consumed in Haiti. Anne Marie lets sea water into her basin and then closes it off, letting the water evaporate. Once a month or so, she can harvest. A single harvest can bring in 10,000-15,000 gourds. She doesn’t have time to manage the basin herself, though. A neighbor does it for her, and they split the income.

She doesn’t, however, depend entirely on that income. She spends much of her time hunting tchatcha, a kind of small, saltwater crab used in Haitian cooking, and other small crustaceans she can find along the shore. She sells these to merchants, who bring them to market. She also gets a regular monthly salary from a local school with a school lunch program. She supplies them with the firewood they need in their kitchen. She collects it locally.

She’s focused now on her youngest child, a teenage daughter who still lives with her. Her most important goal is to keep sending the girl to school. “She’s my youngest. She’s the one I have to raise the highest.”

Rosette

Rosette also lives in Jakzil. She had nine children, and eight of them survive. Her four youngest are still in school. Two will be in their last year of high school this year, and two will be in 10thgrade. She has had to raise them alone.

She too chose goats and poultry as her two CLM-activities. They flourished while she was part of the program, but didn’t last long afterwards. “There was so much draught. The livestock couldn’t survive.”

So, Rosette found another way to get by. Her neighborhood is part of the area served by the electricity generated at the Karakòl factory park. Her home has electricity all the time. She acquired a freezer. She buys five-gallon jugs of treated drinking water and fills small plastic bottles. She freezes them and sells them as ice. A jug of water costs 25 gourds, and she can sell the ice for more than twice as much.

She remembers the program fondly. She especially enjoyed the group trainings. “You have to learn to be comfortable around people. You have to change, and we changed.”

Bwa Joli – Seven Months into the CLM Program

Bwa Joli stretches along one of the ridges that divide Tomond from Boukankare, which lies to its south and west. It is a hard-to-reach neighborhood of small farms, mainly patches of corn and beans. The one road into the area is the steep climb up Mòn Dega. Recent work by heavy road equipment smoothed out some of the worst spots on the slope, but the work stopped in Plenn Dipò, so the last hill from there to Bwa Joli remains challenging.

Gran Chemen is a broad footpath well onto the Tomond side of the ridge. That’s where Manoucheca Louis lives with her partner and their three kids. Before the family joined the CLM program, they survived by farming, making charcoal, and selling the avocados that grow on her in-laws’ land once-a-year. “If you don’t have a horse, you have to carry your merchandise on your head, which means you can’t make much. You’re stuck selling a day’s worth of labor or making charcoal. We had reached a difficult moment.”

Manoucheca

Manoucheca has been a CLM member for seven months. She chose goats and poultry as her two enterprises, and while the goats haven’t yet had kids, they are healthy. “I put them with a buck and thought they were pregnant, but they weren’t. I mated them again last week. So, we’ll see.”

The poultry has gotten off to a quicker start. As part of the package, she received two turkeys, and one already has three chicks. Turkeys are valuable, but they are hard to keep. They tend to wander off, and they are easy to steal. “The chicks were disappearing for days at a time, to I finally had to tie the mother to keep it in my yard.” In addition, a sharp rise in the price of local chickens has increased the value of her holdings. She plans to wait to sell off some of the chickens, though. “I’ll use the money to buy another goat, because a goat can turn into a cow. For the price of three adult females, you can by a young calf.”

But she isn’t ready to sell any livestock yet, and she’s reluctant to sell any for food. So, her husband is still responsible for the family’s income. And she needs that income, both to feed her kids and to save every week in her Village Savings and Loan Association. “If he gives me 500 gourds to go to the market, I make sure that I set aside 50 gourds or so.” 

She’s getting ready to use the access to credit that her savings provide. She plans to borrow 3000 gourds this week to buy beans at the market in Opyèg. She’ll be able to sell them for a higher price by carrying them downhill to markets in more populous areas. She can buy on Wednesday, and sell on Friday in Domond. Then she’ll buy again on Saturday, and sell on Monday in Difayi. She doesn’t have an animal she can load, so she’s limited to the seven coffee-cans worth she can carry on her head, but it is a good, if a difficult way, to establish a regular income.

It is a hard time for her to begin, however. She is in the early stages of a new pregnancy. But Manoucheca is confident. “When I had my other kids, I was able to work almost until they were born.”

Marie

Marie Exantile also lives in Gran Chemen, though her home is a long way off the main path. She lives as a widow with five children and three grandchildren. Her husband has been dead for seven years. 

Her oldest daughter, Zette, is also a CLM member, and she will move out of her mother’s house as soon as her own is ready. But Zette will take only her youngest child. The other two children will stay with their grandmother because the man Zette is moving in with is not their father. 

Before joining the program, Marie and her children survived by farming. She would sell a day of field labor whenever she could. “Life wasn’t good. I didn’t have the strength to send my kids to school. I couldn’t keep them fed.”

She chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. One of her goats already had a kid, and the other is growing quickly. She almost lost the kid because its mother wasn’t producing milk. But she tried a folk remedy she had heard of, and it worked, so the kid is healthy now.

Her pig was pregnant, but it wasn’t really mature enough to bring the pregnancy to full term, and miscarried the litter. It recovered well, however, and Marie still has high hopes.

Like Manoucheca, Marie thinks it is important to save money in her association, but she has to find the money on her own. She occasionally sells a bunch of plantain or whatever she can find in her garden to both buy what she and her children need and to set aside some savings. Unlike Manoucheca, she’s reluctant to take out credit. She’s been suffering from cramps in her legs for almost a year, so she has trouble getting around, and it is hard for someone where she lives to start a business without doing a lot of walking. And without a business to invest in, she is afraid that she wouldn’t be able to repay what she borrowed. So, she thinks she’ll wait until the savings and loan association pays out her savings at the end of the year and see how she’ll invest the money. “I’ll have to see how much there is.”

For the moment, not a lot has changed about her life. For six months, she received a weekly stipend, but she has no new source of income. She isn’t willing to sell any of her livestock, whether to invest in other ways or to feed her kids. “I remember once I sold two goats to plant a garden of beans, and the beans failed. My neighbors laughed. They said I was in too much of a hurry to get rich.” For now, she’ll save the livestock so she can use it if she’s faced with an emergency.

Marie and Zette

Joveline St. Fleur — Summer Camp

Joveline St. Fleur lives in Anana, a small community along the road that cuts through Tyera Mouskadi from Tomond to Kas. She lives with her mother, five siblings, and her older sister’s child. Her mother’s oldest died before Joveline was born, and Joveline’s oldest sister now lives with her partner in a separate house.

Her mother’s name is Rosette Bruno, and she has been a member of the CLM program since last year. Rosette will graduate, if she passes next week’s evaluation, at the end of August.

Joveline says that CLM has really helped her mother and the family. “They gave her money and helped her start a small business, so she could begin to send some of the kids to school again.” Rosette chose goats and small commerce, and her three goats are now five, even though the first litter died right after birth. Two of the young females are pregnant now. Rosette started a small business selling basic groceries out of her home, and it took off. She used it to manage household expenses and also to buy weekly shares in her savings and loan association.

The program helps the communities it works in establish associations, and members can buy from one to five shares each week. At the end of a year, members collect all that they’ve saving along with the interest they’ve earned. Increasingly, it is the most important of the various forms of savings that the program encourages.

Members can also take out loans. Rosette used one to buy the materials she needed to complete construction of the family’s new home. She had a hard time repaying it, but her association was able to deduct her balance from the end-of-year pay-out. The remainder of her pay-out enabled her to by a large pig for 4500 gourds.

Unfortunately, someone stole the pig. That’s a big loss for Rosette, but Joveline says she’s looking to her goats to help her get moving again.

Joveline just spent three days at CLM’s summer camp in Kas. She liked it because she learned things that she’s always wanted to know. “We learned to make different stuff, like liquid cleaner and kokiyòl.” The latter is a sweet fried dough, sold in little rounds. Joveline would like to help her mom by starting a kokiyòl business now that she knows how to make them. She thinks she’ll need about 2500 gourds to get started, but she isn’t sure. She also isn’t sure where she’ll get the money, but she’s hoping that her mother will lend her a goat that she can sell for the capital she needs.

Here are a few words about camp from Joveline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jNYIpmX2tc.

Tyera Miskadi – Families Just Months from Graduation.

Kerline joined the CLM program 16 months ago. At the time, she and her husband were living with their two young children in the barest of shacks on their land in Tyera. That shack, or ajoupaas such constructions are called in Creole, was really no more than a rough tent. Two poles in the back and two more in the front crossed at the top to hold up the pole in the middle, which supported the roofing material. A few posts stood on the other side of their yard, where construction had begun on a new home, but the couple had been able to make no progress.

They survived as day laborers, earning 50 to 100 gourds per day working in their neighbors’ fields. At least when work was available. Kerline’s ability to earn is limited. Her right arm has been misshapen since birth, and she can do very little with it. “We had no home, we didn’t have anything. We were much worse off. We couldn’t make progress. We just sold days of work.”

They chose goats and a pig as their two enterprises. Her boar is healthy and growing, and she wants to keep it until it is large enough that she can exchange it for a small cow. Her two goats are now five. They haven’t yet been reproducing. She’s only had one healthy kid so far. She was able, however, to buy two additional goats: one with savings from her weekly stipend, and the other with money from her savings and loan association.

Kerline would like to eventually start a small commerce. She knows that it’s the best way to ensure a steady income. But she has reservations. “I’ve tried commerce before, but people buy on credit and then they’re slow to pay. The women who succeed at commerce are the ones willing to raise hell to get paid.”

She’s thinking of the kind of business that some rural women run out of their homes. The CLM program has lots of experience of women who struggle to make such businesses work. The sort of women who enter the program are especially vulnerable because they lack the social standing that makes customers feel compelled to pay. The fact that they are thought to have received their businesses as a gift from CLM can make collecting what they are owed even harder.

Kerline knows that the simple solution is to run her business at local markets, rather than out of her home. Customers at the market do not generally expect credit, and it would be easy for Kerline to avoid giving it. But the challenge before her now is accumulating the 1000 to 1500 gourds she feels she’ll need to get started. (One thousand gourds is currently worth about $11.) She says she has no money.

She could easily sell one of her goats. Prices for goats – really for all livestock – have been very high, and even a small goat would sell for more than she needs. But she doesn’t want to do that. “I wouldn’t want to sell one and then lose the money.” 

She wants to keep her goats so that she can sell one when necessary to cover the expenses of sending her younger child to school. Her older child now lives a little way down the road, with Kerline’s sister. “She’s sending her to school for me. I have to make sure I can take care of the younger one.” So, she’s willing to wait until her husband can earn the money she’ll need to start a business at the local markets.

Guilbo and Guisman

Guisman and Guilbo are twins. They have lived all their lives together, first in their parents’ home in Tyera, then each in his own home with his own family on opposite ends of the yard they grew up in. They were once prosperous farmers, as Guisman explains, “We planted sweet potatoes, corn, and manioc. We could live from the harvest, and buy livestock with what was left over from what we sold.”

Guilbo was the first to run into trouble. He went blind, and lost his ability to farm. He sold the livestock and, then, even his land in efforts to save his vision, but nothing worked. He and his wife were left with children to support but without the means to support them. “Once you sell something off, it is hard to replace it.” The family lived mostly off of gifts from members of their church and their older children, who by then were married.

Guisman fell back into poverty shortly after his brother. He sold off most of what he had in a struggle to save his sick oldest child. Fortunately, the struggle was eventually successful. But then, like Guilbo, he went blind. He, too, began to depend largely on occasional gifts from members of his church.

The brothers qualified for CLM because of their poverty and their disabilities. Though about 95% of program members are women with dependent children, the rest qualify, whether men or women with or without dependents, as individuals with disabilities. This was an important change in the program that started with a pilot sponsored by Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, using an award he received from Texas Christian University.

Both brothers have made modest progress in their 16 months. Guisman chose goats and small commerce. The return on the goats has been minimal so far. One of the three that the program gave him had a healthy kid, but another one died. The program was able to help him replace it, and now two of the goats are pregnant.

His wife used the capital the family received for small commerce to establish a business selling inexpensive footwear of various sorts. Proof that the commerce is succeeding is the pig that they have purchased out of its profits.

Guilbo has had a harder time. He chose goats and a pig, but both his goats died, and though the program replaced one of them, the replacement died as well. His sow has been healthy, and it is due to produce its first litter this month. If even only a few of the piglets survive, it will be a windfall. He’s hoping to use them to buy a cow. 

In the meantime, his family is living, like Guisman’s, on his wife’s small commerce. They already used its profits to buy a goat. Unlike her sister-in-law, however, Guilbo’s wife did not start her commerce with CLM assets. Instead, she used a small gift from the family’s church.

But Guisman points out how important the CLM program has been toward both families’ success. “The training we’ve gotten has made our wives’ businesses work. We learned how to manage a commerce well and how to use the income.”