Sonie Elicio

Sonie is the mother of five children. She had four with a first partner, though only one of them survived. She has four with the man whom she currently lives with in Tyera Miskadi, a section of Tomond. Only three of the five children live with the couple. Her oldest lives with her mother, and another with her brother.

She joined the CLM program this year. She was what the team often refers to as an “orijinal,” a woman whose dire poverty is evident in all the ways that the team’s process considers. She was living in a home in horrible condition, really no more than a shack. Her husband would sometimes find work, but somehow the money never reached her and their children. She was without any assets. She owned no livestock, and could not afford the merchandise she would need to start a small commerce. Though the couple has some land, they lacked the resources to farm it. She had no way to keep her young children consistently fed.

When she first joined the program, she didn’t know what to think. “I didn’t understand.” But the more the team spoke with her, the clearer things became. As she received the various transfers that the team offers, she felt her life begin to change. “They gave me goats, they gave me a water filter, and they give me money, too.”

The cash, or weekly stipend, has been especially important. She uses some to help her feed her children, but also has purchased some of the basic things she needs. When she joined the program, for example, she had no footwear of any kind. She used 100 gourds, or about $1.50, to buy a pair of plastic sandals. But her biggest expense was the fee she paid to the young men who dug the pit for the latrine that CLM is helping her install.

But more important still was the help she received at a medical clinic the CLM team organized in her neighborhood thanks to Haiti Clinic. Sonie has been suffering from asthma for a long time. She has frequent attacks that she tries to combat with an inhaler that she gets from a clinic in downtown Tomond. On the day of the clinic, her asthma was so bad that she could not walk the few hundred yards to get there from her home by herself. Haiti Clinic’s Haitian medical staff received her, and gave her medication that is now keeping her asthma in check

For Sonie, the combination of feeling better about herself and just feeling better is having an effect. She’s starting to imagine what she could do to continue to improve her life. She’d like to start a small commerce to go along with the livestock that she’s asked the CLM team to give her. “I want to buy charcoal and sell it in Port au Prince and maybe buy and sell chickens in the local market.”

But it will have to wait. “I need to repair my home first. If you don’t have a house with a door, people can come by when you step out and take your merchandise.”

Faustin Antoine

Faustin began to see strangers in his neighborhood in January. They would drop by and ask some questions, but Faustin wasn’t that interested. When they told him that they’d like to make him part of a program and invited him to the first training, he didn’t give it much thought. “People said they were going to give out stuff but that you’d have to give back.”

Faustin wasn’t used to seeing strangers because he doesn’t get around much. For the past three years, he has been unable to walk. A condition that has not yet been identified took away the use of his legs. When the CLM team met him, he was using a broken crutch and a stick to prop himself up to go back and forth between his bed and a chair in front of his house, almost the only two places he could get to.

He and his wife were living in the Dominican Republic with their four children when his condition first appeared. She would find occasional work as a maid, but he was the principal earner, working as a porter on construction sites. He would carry heavy loads like concrete, sacks of cement, and other heavy materials. The sacks weigh 50 kilos, or 110 pounds, and Faustin and his coworkers moved them around easily. “When we were having fun, we’d carry two at a time, one in our arms and one on our head.” When he could no longer work, he moved back to Haiti into a small house he had built in his parents’ yard in better times. His wife kept two children with her, and he took two with him. One of the two who were with him eventually left to join the mother.

The CLM selection team had a decision to make regarding Faustin. His situation was not what CLM has generally sought to address. His parents were keeping him fed, and a sister was sending the boy who remained with him to school.

But nothing that he had belonged to him. He was entirely dependent on others for everything. “CLM saw that I wasn’t capable of helping myself. Sitting around waiting for others to give you what you need is completely different from being able to reach into your own pocket.” Faustin had no hope that anything could change for him. He was living in ultra-poverty. He had nothing. But the team took him more for his hopelessness than for his lack of means.

He joined the program in February, and has received his assets. He chose goats and a pig. He can’t get around to personally give them all the care they need, but he can assign the work to his son and get his parents and younger siblings to help. But he values the accompaniment he’s begun to receive more than those assets. “They do a lot for me. I’ve gotten help I never thought I’d get.”

The team has been working especially hard to help him with his disability. The Haitian government’s Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities distributes adaptive materials like crutches and wheelchairs free of charge to those who require them, but the Office lacks the means to find those who need the help. The CLM team was able to bring Faustin to the Port au Prince office to get a wheelchair and then get him crutches at the regional office in Hinche.

The wheelchair was especially important, because it means he can now get around his family’s yard on his own. But even the crutches have made an important difference, making the couple of steps he must occasionally take without his wheelchair more manageable.

The wheelchair also helps him get to the doctor’s appointments that the CLM team helped him make. Faustin is now pursuing a solution to his problem in a way that he and his family never could have on their own. Since joining the CLM program he has been undergoing a series of diagnostic tests proposed by Partners in Health’s Mirebalais-based neurology team. More tests are to come. It is not certain that he will ever walk again, but it is possible.

Faustin values the assets and the cash that the program makes available. “It’s a real relief.” But he’s even more grateful for the close accompaniment he is receiving. Because the health that he is now pursuing “is more valuable than wealth.”

Rosa Marie: Three years after Graduation

I’ve written about Rose Marie before. (See here.) She was part of a cohort of 360 CLM families who graduated from the program in December 2014. At the time, she was living in Fon Cheval. She and her partner, Emmanuel, had moved out of the house farther down the hill she built with the CLM program’s help.

The move was a struggle because she was still nursing her twins, the couple’s third and fourth children, but they wanted to move because they felt that there was something wrong with the neighborhood in Nan Siwèl they were living in. The livestock the couple had been accumulating since they joined the program was dying off, mysteriously the way Rose Marie saw things. When her prized possession, the cow she had been saving for, died suddenly, she made the decision. With four small children, she didn’t feel as though she could take any chances.

But the losses had accumulated, and she found herself almost having to start all over again. Fortunately, the couple had some income nonetheless. Emmanuel had found work in one of the mines near Fon Cheval that provides sand for construction. While on the job, he also sold cellphone minutes. Rose Marie wasn’t getting around much. The twins gave her more than enough to do.

She eventually joined Fonkoze’s credit program. The center was a little bit of a hike from Fon Cheval, but many of the women were CLM graduates. So, though she was new to the neighborhood, she felt comfortable with the group. But she dropped out of the program after her second loan. She just didn’t think it was working for her. The nearest larger market was in Labasti, and the cost of the transportation there and back made her profit margin too low. “If you don’t bring 50 gourds home at the end of the day, it isn’t worth it.”

Rose Marie continued to get by even so. The yard she had moved out of now belonged, in part, to her. It was her late mother’s land. And it’s full of fruit trees: mangoes and breadfruit especially. Once she had had to leave that harvest for others, but eventually she could use it. She would hike down when the fruit was ripe, and pick some to sell in the market. The fruit is valuable. A single tree could bring her 2500 gourds, and between that and what Emmanuel was earning they kept the children fed and sent the older ones to school.

But the more time she spent in Fon Cheval, the less she liked it. “There’s no water up there, and I didn’t have a cistern. The kids were going around in dirty clothes because I couldn’t do the laundry.” She also noticed that her brother, who lives in the same yard that she had moved away from, was keeping livestock without any trouble. So she decided to return to the yard. At about the same time, she and Emmanuel were having difficulties in their relationship, and he left. “He doesn’t get along with people. He was always wanting to fight with my brother, and when they started drawing their machetes, it was time for him to go.”

She and her children moved in with her brother while she began building a new home. She had saved the roofing from her CLM house, and the yard had lumber that she could use for the frame. It has taken some time, but the roof and the walls are up. It still needs a door, and the front porch needs a ceiling, but she has the lumber she needs already, so it is just a matter of the builder’s finding the time.

She’d like to return to small commerce. She’ll sell groceries at the nearby market called “Ti Sekèy,” or Little Coffin, and in Labasti and Sodo, too. But she’s not ready yet. “I can’t have a commerce until my home is finished. I need someplace to keep merchandise.”

In the meantime, she gets by selling fruit from the trees that she and her brother have. Emmanuel sometimes calls, but he doesn’t send money. Occasionally his former employer does, but for the most part she is on her own. The fruit keeps them fed, and it enabled her to send all four kids to school this year. She also started to buy livestock again. “If you see me with 1000 gourds, you can be sure I’m investing 500.” Right now, she just keeps poultry, but her plan is to start buying larger animals, like goats and pigs, too.

Modeline Pierre – At Graduation

“The graduation ceremony went well.” Modeline explains, “I took care of everything they gave me, I kept watch over the livestock, and the ceremony was important because I wanted everyone to see my success.”

Towards the end of the 18 months, Modeline had six goats. But one of the kids died, and she had to sell another goat to pay the last of the money she owed to her savings and loan association.

The association offered her opportunities, but her loan didn’t really pan out. She and her husband borrowed money for him to invest in avocados, but the ones he bought never got to market. It was a total loss. And Modeline doesn’t plan to rejoin the association for a second round. “I don’t really like the people who are involved. We could try to start our own separate association, but they’re the ones who have the equipment to run it with.”

She and her husband will continue to focus on their farming. “Farming is what we believe in, and we’ll keep working at it.”

They are making their lives now as farmers in a way they couldn’t have before Modeline joined the program. Back then, her husband Wisnel lived in the Dominican Republic. She lived with their daughter in her mother’s home, helping out as a babysitter. When Wisnel heard what the program was offering his family, he returned for a visit to do his part. He gave Modeline the help she needed to build their new house, and he began taking care of their animals.

But the critical change in their lives came when Modeline’s stepfather intervened. The older man got involved in the same avocado investment that Wisnel made, and though neither man succeeded, he liked Wisnel’s willingness to work. So, he spoke to Wisnel’s mother. She had land that was going unfarmed because she couldn’t farm it herself. She had neither the physical strength nor the resources. The stepfather convinced her to turn the land over to Wisnel, and he went to work on it right away.

With livestock to develop and land to farm, Wisnel and Modeline decided there was no longer any reason for him to return to the Dominican Republic. Modeline says that he might still go work there occasionally for shorts periods if there’s no work to be done on their land. Quick windfalls will always help. But the two now live together fulltime, and Modeline could not be happier about it.

The family still struggles. There isn’t much to eat these days. It has been some time since their last harvest. Modeline can make one good meal a day out of the products of their plantain patch, but with very limited cash, she can’t always make a second meal. And since she does not have a small commerce, regular cash income depends on Wisnel’s occasional ability to work for a day in someone else’s fields. He has to be careful, though. He needs to make sure he has plenty of time to work his own land because good harvests are what they need to continue to transform their lives.

Modeline is already thinking of school in the fall for their first child. “I didn’t send her this year because the path down to the school in Mawotyè is too hard for a little girl like her. I couldn’t carry her down every day because I was pregnant. But that’s what I’ll do next year.” Modeline herself never went to school, but she’s determined that her children’s lives will be better than hers has been.

Solène Louis – At Graduation

Solène thought that the graduation was wonderful, but she was more interested in talking about what she and her family had achieved during 18 months. “When you look at where we’ve gotten at graduation: we have a four-room house, we didn’t have livestock and now we have three goats and a pig. And we send the kids to school without any problems.”

She herself made it through the sixth grade and has occasionally worked as a primary school teacher over the years, so it was especially hard on her when she couldn’t send her own kids to school. Now that she is able to pay for their school, she’s taking their education very seriously. She held them back at the end of last year to repeat first grade. They had passed, but she wasn’t satisfied. This year is different. “They’re starting to understand their schoolwork. They’ll be able to move up this year.”

She found have Ricot, her case manager, working with her every week to be an especially helpful part of the program. “He gave me good advice and helped me to save. When I needn’t to get something important done, he helped me clear the path by letting me use what I had saved. When someone is willing to teach you to manage your things so you can care for your kids, that’s the best thing there is.”

She has plans moving forward. She will work to continue to manage what she has carefully, not letting anything go to waste, and to invest in her children. She’s already purchased an unborn cow. It’s a cheap way to buy one. And the cow should be born in April. It should be weaned and in her hand by the end of the year.

Altagrace Brevil – At Graduation

Altagrace enjoyed the graduation ceremony, but she left it unhappy in one respect. “I didn’t have the chance to make a speech. I know that they couldn’t let everyone come forward, but I wanted that chance.” This is not unusual. Six of the 187 graduated were chosen to make speeches, and a seventh was so distraught at not being able to share her story, that she was given the microphone as well.

Altagrace isn’t hesitant to go through the list of what she’d wanted to say. “There are things I never understood that I’ve come to understand now. The staff related to us so well. My kids weren’t in school; I have no trouble sending them now. I have no trouble keeping them fed. I have goats and pigs. The program helped me put a roof on my house and give it doors. Things are too good!”

She liked being part of her savings and loan association. She saved regularly and took out a couple of loans, using one to buy an additional goat and another to invest in her farming. But she decided not to rejoin the association for a second cycle after the first one ended just before graduation. “I was going to stay in it. I even bought a second savings book for my husband. We were both going to participate. But I decided not to because Martinière won’t be there to keep an eye on things.”

Her reluctance to trust her neighbors without Martinière’s presence is striking. When I ask whether she is sorry that Martinère is moving on, she says that she isn’t. “L ap kite nou granmoun.” That means that he is leaving them as adults, able to take responsibility for their own lives.

Like many members, she continues to hope to buy a cow. She’s not quite ready, but thinks she’ll be able to afford one in June as long as her bean harvest is okay. A cow is important because it can help you if you need money for something big, like a funeral. As she explains her mother looks on approvingly. Both seem to be thinking of the older woman’s future.

Monise Imosiane – At Graduation

Monise enjoyed the graduation ceremony. She especially liked the singing and the speeches. The program, she feels, worked for her because it can work for anyone willing to make the effort r, as she says, “Depi w mache.” That’s like saying, “As long as you walk the walk.”

When she thinks back on her successful experience in the CLM program, she thinks a lot about her case manager, Martinière. “He gave me good advice, but it wasn’t just that. When I was sick, he made sure I got to the hospital. He helped me find the money to have the door made for my house when I didn’t know how I would get it done. And when my oldest child’s father died, the one man who had sometimes helped me out, he helped me contribute for the funeral. I’ll really miss him. He always had to know how all my children were doing, and on the day of my visit with him he would come back to me long after he left my house if he realized he had forgotten to discuss something important.”

She talks about another quality that made him valuable, too. “He would get angry with me when I wasn’t doing what I needed to do, but he always took the time to understand what was getting in my way. Then, he’d help me find a way out.”

Monise hasn’t returned to commerce yet. The business model she’s always preferred depends on having enough capital to buy merchandise to take to Port au Prince for sale. There was a time when a neighbor was willing to lend her the money, but that ended long before she joined CLM.

Now she is focused on her livestock and her farming. She has three goats, two pigs. A cow that she bought in its mother’s womb was born recently. She’ll take possession of it as soon as it can be weaned. It is a bull, so she’ll let it get a little bigger, and then sell it to buy a heifer in its place.

Marie Yolène Théus – At Graduation

Yolène felt great about the graduation ceremony and she feels good about the progress she’s made. She says that she didn’t waste any of the advice the CLM team gave her and now, she says, “M santi m alèz.” That means, “I feel at ease.” Like many CLM graduates, she puts particular emphasis on the feeling she gets from her new home and her livestock. “I wouldn’t know it was raining if I didn’t hear it, and I have animals to look after when I get up every day.”

She’s had moderate but clear success with her livestock. She was able to buy three turkeys in the last several months. They are valuable, sturdy animals that could make her a lot of money if she takes care of them. We gave her two goats, and now she has five, and her pig has a litter of six piglets. She worries about the piglets. Neighbors will have more and more crops in the ground in the coming weeks, and if they catch piglets in their gardens, they are likely to kill them. But she’s getting ready to put them into a pen, so if she keeps an eye on them, she should be okay.

But she has to be careful. The six are part of her sow’s second litter. The whole first litter died. One or two were killed by rocks, and she suspects that the others were poisoned, though she can’t be certain. Conflict between her and her neighbors has, however, been an ongoing challenge for the CLM members who live nearby, and there are several of them. And, so, it has been a challenge for the three different case managers who work with them as well.

It is a close-knit little neighborhood in some ways, full of siblings and in-laws and cousins. But it is as though their proximity combines with the stress of the poverty they all feel to create stresses in their relationships. They are strongly inclined to be jealous of one another and highly sensitive to real and perceived damages and slights.

The case managers didn’t ever get to the roots of the problems in the community, but they help the women quiet things down. As Yolène’s neighbor Rosana told me, “I don’t get along with my sister-in-law and Denise doesn’t like Yolène, but there are no arguments anymore.” The case managers simply put their feet down, warning the women that they would no longer work with them if they couldn’t keep the peace with one another. We are hoping that the success they all experienced once they got out of one another’s way will help to keep the peace.

Yolène liked a lot of things about the CLM program, but she especially liked the Village Savings and Loan Association. She took out two three-month loans over the course of the year. She used one loan for her children’s school fees, and the other to buy a bed.

She wants to return to her small commerce soon. She buys groceries in downtown Laskawobas and sells them in the rural market closer by, in Kolonbye. But she borrowed the capital out of her business because she needed extra money to invest in her farming right away. It’s time to plant beans in the farmland she rented. Her plans for the future are to keep working her land, and take good care of her livestock. She hopes to be able to buy a cow before the end of the year.

Rosana Mitil – At Graduation

Though she far from satisfied with where she got through 18 months of work in the CLM program, Rosana was happy to be at graduation and happy about the progress she’s made. “I’ve my livestock is increasing, and I don’t owe anything to my savings and loan association. I signed up for another year in the association, too.”

She likes the association, because her house full of children makes managing her cash flow a constant challenge. “If you are at a loss for a small sum to get something important done, you can borrow some money from the association and unblock your path.”

Her boys still help her take care of her livestock. She keeps goats and a pig. She worries because she thinks that other CLM members are already selling off the livestock they built up in the program. She herself, however, insists that she won’t do the same. “I don’t yet have goats or pigs to sell. I’m still working to increase what I have.”

She works hard to keep her small commerce going. It’s extremely difficult because she has so many mouths to feed. It takes great discipline because she sells basic groceries – rice, oil, and sugar – and could always add more to any meal she prepares.

But even with the progress that her livestock and her commerce have made, she still thinks of them as sidelines. Her main enterprise is farming. Though the decision comes with risk, she decided to invest all her proceeds from the saving association’s first year into her fields.

Her husband and her oldest son work as part of a team. Team members take turns working in one another’s fields, and they also sell labor to outsiders. It means saving a lot of money. Her fields were worked for nothing as part of the arrangement. Even so, she had to come up with the money to feed a team of 17 men every day they worked. And that was after spending money on the seeds they would need.

If her harvest is good, it will have been worthwhile. Rosana’s plans for the future involve a big increase in her expenses, and she’ll have trouble succeeding unless her farming takes off. She wants to rent a room near downtown Laskawobas for her children so that they can go to school there. She says that they’ll be able to attend much better schools than the one they attend now in Mawotyè, and the walk back and forth will be much easier than the hike up and down the mountain that they are stuck with now.

Laumène Francois – At Graduation

Laumène has been struggling for a long time. She and her first husband lived with their two kids just up the mountain from where she lives now, but poverty drove the man to leave for the Dominican Republic to try to earn a living. Not long after he left, she heard that he had been killed by a gang of livestock thieves.

She and her children moved in with her parents when her late husband’s siblings drove her off the family’s land. She stayed with her parents until she became partner of a man who already had a wife. He built a shack for her on a corner of his land, and that is where the home she built with the CLM program’s support now stands. She had more children with this second man, but as his secondary wife, she could never count on his full support. When it was time to graduate, he was not the one she invited to enjoy the celebration with her. Instead, she asked her daughter to come from Port au Prince. The younger woman came in the role of her mother’s godmother, appearing at the celebration with a graduation gift in hand, her one duty as godmother.

Laumène appreciated the present, and she enjoyed the graduation, but the certificate was the most important thing about graduation to her. “I’ll always be able to look at it to think about the program I was part of.”

In many ways, she flourished as part of the program. She is especially happy about her new home. Completing it was, she says, the most difficult challenge that the program put before her, but also the most important. Having a home is like have a bank account. “It is,” she explains, “what provides whatever else you need.” She could never have nice things because rain would ruin anything she tried to keep in her house. Since she finished building her home, however, she added the touches she always wanted: a table, tablecloths, and curtains. She now feels really comfortable for the first time.

Some program members are reluctant to join the program initially, or even if they join they doubt that it will lead to anything good. But Laumène insists that she never had any hesitation. “If someone calls you, either they have something to give you or something to say to you.”

She was happy with her case manager, Martinière, from the very start. “Other women said he seemed too mean, but if I had had another case manager it would have been a great loss. Martinière never tired of hiking to see me or of talking to me once he got here. He’s really been a father to me and the other women.”

When she talks about the progress she’s made in the program, she talks about more than her new home. “Now I have chickens, ducks, turkeys, and goats in my front yard.” And her pig just had piglets. She’d like to take another step forward and buy a cow. She thinks she can afford one. But she’s cautious. She’s heard rumors that there are neighbors jealous of her progress. She’s heard that they say they’ll poison a cow if she buys one. So, she’s holding off for now. She’s been talking with one neighbor, another successful CLM member who’s facing the same problem, and they are trying to figure something out.

But beyond her home and her livestock, she talks about having money when she needs it. “When you have money, you are close to anywhere you want to go.” She had to sell off one of her goats to pay the last installment of the loan she took out from her Village Savings and Loan Association. She had borrowed the money to finish work on her house and pay a balance she owed to her children’s school. But she chose a goat that had been refusing to nurse its young. It had little long-term value for her. And she had money left over after the sale to invest in her farming.