Category Archives: Chemen Lavi Miyo

Laumène François 6

Laumène has reached a difficult moment. It’s a struggle just to keep her household fed. The timing of the spring and summer rains killed her bean crop. She planted in April, and the spring rains stopped too early for her. “The folks who planted in March are the ones who did well this year,” she explains. The family is getting by for the moment main on roasted corn on the cob.

Part of the problem is that her first small commerce disappeared. Between keeping her children fed and wanting to buy at least one 50-gourd share in her savings and loan association every week, her investment withered away.

But she re-established her business with a 1500-gourd loan from her association. She’ll repay it with interest over the next three months. Though her investment is small, she sells a lot of different things: local rum, cooking oil, two different kinds of rice, salami, and macaroni. She keeps track of and restocks each item separately, buying a little bit of anything that’s low whenever she goes to market. She likes to sell a range of products because, “if they don’t ask you for one thing, you need them to need another one.”

She is concerned these days because the school year is approaching and with four of her children the right age to be in school, she’s not yet sure how she will send them or whether she’ll be able to. She has livestock, but not enough that she’s ready to start selling any off. She still has only three goats – though one is pregnant – and her sow. Her first litter of piglets died.

Her poultry is doing better. Her two turkeys are growing quickly, but though she purchased what she thought was a young pair, she now sees that she has two hens. She’ll have to see about buying a gobbler. Her two ducks are flourishing. Here again, she has discovered that she has two females and will need to see about a drake, but in the meantime one of her ducks has seven ducklings and the other has a nest of ten eggs, so she has some reason for hope.

CLM and Hot Peppers

Since Fonkoze established its CLM program over ten years ago, the team has been thinking about businesses it can transfer to program members. We help all members establish two businesses when they first join the program, and many eventually establish more than that. But the number of different businesses that we’ve learned how to offer over the years is pretty limited.

We started with just three: goat-raising, poultry-raising, and small trading. We added pig-raising when we noticed that the first asset many of our members purchased as soon as they had means to invest was a pig. We’ve watched raising pigs separate itself into two distinct businesses. Some members choose to raise a sow for the young she provides, and others raise a boar to fatten him up for sale to a butcher. For a while we experimented with giving members a horse to go with their small commerce, but we gave it up because we realized that a horse didn’t really count as a second business. We always want members to start with two, because there’s so much that can go wrong when you are extremely poor.

For the past two years, we’ve been trying to add some form of agriculture. Most of our members farm in one way or another anyway. They grow corn or, until recently, millet to feed themselves and their family. They’ll have a few plantain trees in their yard, and any who have access to land and can muster the resources are certain to plant beans, either pigeon peas or other more valuable varieties.

But for us to introduce a form of farming as part of the packages of productive assets we hand out when families first join our program, it needs to be reliably profitable. Farming beans, the main cash crop for at least the poorer farmers in the Central Plateau is not. Too little rain or too much, or rain that falls at the wrong moment, can destroy a harvest. And the crop cannot take too long to produce. We cannot consider plantains as part of an asset package because they take a full year before they yield anything.

So, we’ve been looking at peanut farming and hot pepper farming. The former isn’t working very well. It really depends on someone having access to more high-quality farmland than CLM members would normally have.

But farming hot peppers is showing some promise. It’s not for everyone. You have to have some land, though not a lot. And it can’t be just any land. Too wet or too sandy won’t do. But hot peppers grow well in many of the places that we work and they sell reliably across the Central Plateau.

Antonia Pierre is a mother of four who lives in Janjak, in Thomonde. She will graduate from the CLM program on August 1st. When she started, we gave her two goats and a pig, and she and her husband have done well with them. They have six goats now, and two of them are pregnant. They sold their first pig – a sow that never had piglets – for 4,750 gourds, or about $80. They used 4,500 to buy a boar, thinking it would grow faster, and it has. At this point it’s worth more than 10,000 gourds, and it’s still growing.

But as part of our experiment with hot peppers, we offered a pepper garden as a third asset to women in Antonia’s area who were interested, and Antonia was quick to sign up. “My husband has worked on pepper farms in the Dominican Republic, so he knew how much a pepper crop could be worth.” She was nursing when the CLM team organized the initial training for those who chose to participate, so her husband went in her place. After the training, the CLM team distributed a drip irrigation system to each participant. During the training, it had established nurseries where hot pepper plants were prepared. Antonia and her husband planted about 150 plants on 75 square meters of land in front of their home.

As the garden started to develop, Antonia was still pretty limited as to what she could do. But her husband was committed to the project. “He would wake up in the middle of the night to fill our barrel with water.” Once the barrel was full, it could keep the peppers watered for as many as three days. He worked hard to fight back the weeds, and stay on top of pests, too.

The couple almost took a step backward went he decided to go to the Dominican Republic for a few months. They had ceased receiving their weekly cash stipend from CLM. The program provides the stipend for just six months. And none of their business activities had started to bring anything in. He figured he could earn some quick money and return quickly. He didn’t see what alternative he had. But with an infant in her hands, Antonia had neither the time nor the energy to give their peppers all the attention that he could. She was less regular with watering, and the plants suffered. “The leaves started to dry out. They turned brown.”

But he came back after a couple of months, and it was just in time for the couple to begin their harvest. The pepper plants had suffered some in his absence, but there was no serious damage.

When sales began, the CLM team was in for a surprise. We had assumed that we could help Antonia and the other members who joined the hot pepper experiment by linking them to buyers who would sell large quantities of peppers to the growing hot-sauce industry. Small Haitian factories were producing high-quality hot sauce, and we thought that they would provide the best, most reliable markets for these small farmers. We had initially established the pilot as a part of a larger effort to support the development of “value chains,” linkages between farmers, salespersons, and end users, which could be part of developing strong economies in rural Haiti and markets for CLM members’ produce that would be more reliable long-term.

It didn’t work out that way, because there was something we didn’t know about the use of hot peppers in rural Haiti. The manufacturers want ripe peppers. These, they feel, give them the best, most consistent flavor. Rural Haitians, however, eat and cook with hot peppers when they are just half-ripe. It’s what they are used to. And harvesting the peppers before they are completely ripe has advantages for the farmer. It allows for a bigger harvest spread out over a longer season.

It also presents a generally different business model. Large farmers will pass through their fields every two weeks and clean them out of thoroughly ripe peppers. They can sell these by the sack to sauce factories. They make money in lump sums every two weeks. But when Antonia focuses on semi-ripe peppers, she can harvest every few days. She’ll take a small bucket to a market, and sell them by the cup. Rather than relatively few lump sums, her more frequent sales give her the kind of steady income that allows her and her husband to manage their household. She calculates that she has already made more than 15,000 gourds, or about $250, this year, a cup of peppers at a time. She can’t compete with the large producers, but they cannot compete with her, either. They don’t have the time or the inclination to make their living out of lots of small, retail sales.

None of this means that pepper farming has proven to be a guaranteed success. Antonia’s sister-in-law, Dieubenit, has achieved little through her efforts.

It’s not that she’s been an unsuccessful member of the CLM program. On the contrary, she has been, largely, strikingly successful. The two goats we gave her are now seven, even though she sold one of the larger ones to buy a donkey. The donkey has been important because she established a strong business buying and selling charcoal using savings from her weekly stipend, and until she bought the donkey she was limited to what she could carry on her head. She has about 2000 gourds in the business that she uses to buy merchandise every week. Profits from the sales send her children to school and they enable her to invest in her fields and to hire labor to help her and her husband farm. Quite an accomplishment for a couple that used to get by on the 50 gourds per day – less than $1 – that her husband could get working for their neighbors. We also gave her a pig, which she fattened up and sold for 7500 gourds. That money gave her half of what she needed to purchase a small plot of land that she and her husband built their new house on.

The reasoning behind the purchase of land explains the failure of her pepper crop. Until they bought their own land, the couple lived in a shack on a piece of land owned by a wealthier neighbor. He let them put up the shack to live in because he didn’t need the space himself and felt sorry for Dieubenit and her husband. They planted their peppers on his land as well. He didn’t mind. He wished them the best. But he had family members in the area, and they were either lazy or malicious with their livestock. They let them graze on Dieubenit’s pepper crop more than once. “It wasn’t my land, so I didn’t think I could say anything.” When the landowner found out, he was angry, but it was too late. “Now that I have my own land, that can never happen again. I won’t let it.” Dieubenit plans to try peppers again.

Louimène Gené, Two and a Half Years After Graduating

Louimène’s path into the CLM program was an unusual one. She agreed to join the program in May 2013, when we were selecting 360 families in southern Mirebalais.

At the time, she and her husband Lucner were eminently qualified. They were living with their two young boys in a small ajoupa, a tent-like structure made out of straw. The land their ajoupa stood on didn’t belong to them. A farmer whom Lucner did work for let him put it up in a corner of one of his fields. Louimène and Lucner had no productive assets and no land of their own to farm. The depended entirely on the fifty gourds Lucner could earn on days he could find work as a field hand. At the time, that was just about $1.

It wasn’t at all the way they had started their life together. The two met in Port au Prince. Lucner was a trader, selling soap or rice or women’s underwear. As he put it, “Anything I thought I could sell.” Louimène was working as a maid in a home next to where Lucner’s sister lived. Lucner liked Louimène as soon as he saw her, but he decided to get to know her better. One day, Louimène was sent to Lucner’s business to buy some rice. Lucner volunteered to deliver the rice himself, leaving the business and his wallet with Louimène for the monent. The wallet had all the money from the business in it, over 7000 gourds. “I wanted to see whether she was honest.” When he returned to his business, he found that all the money was still there.

He gave her 500 gourds as a thank-you gesture, and she used that money to buy cookies and crackers, which she began to sell. Soon she had turned that 500 gourds into more than 1000, even while she was working as a maid. “I liked her right away, but when I saw how smart she was I decided to try to make her mine.”

They’ve been together ever since, first in Port au Prince, then back in Mirebalais, when he decided to return to care for a sick brother. That brother’s illness was life-changing because it ate up all the capital the couple had. Lucner could only look for work as a field hand. And they were able at first to live in his family’s yard, that didn’t last long. Louimène and Lucner’s sister could not get along.

So the couple really needed something like CLM. But when the program started, Louimène was unavailable. She had returned to her own home, in Bouli, a remote corner of Boucan Carré, to take care of her sick mother. Initially, Lucner went to the six-day enterprise training workshop in Louimène’s place, but when it appeared that Louimène would not be able to participate in the program herself, the CLM team selected another woman to replace her. Weeks later, when Louimène returned to Mirebalais, she found that her place in the program had been taken.

Fortunately, the couple got a second chance. A woman who was selected with Louimène decided to abandon CLM and move to Port au Prince. The CLM team was able to recover the pig and one of the goats that we had given her. We took back the roofing material we had given her as well, climbing onto the roof to pull the nails one-by-one. Finally, we took back 1000 gourds she had saved out of the cash stipend CLM members received during their first six months in the program.

So Louimène received far less support than members of the CLM program normally do. She got one goat, rather than two, and one flat transfer of 1000 gourds rather than six months of weekly 300-gourds payments. In addition, she received just nine months of weekly coaching, rather than eighteen.

But Louimène and Lucner made good use of what they were given. Lucner kept working hard in in their neighbors’ fields, even as he took primary responsibility for their livestock. Louimène invested the 1000 gourds in a small commerce. She would buy spaghetti and canned milk, put it on her head in Labasti, and walk the five miles into Mirebalais, making sales on the way. Normally, she’d sell out by the time she got to town, and she’d buy merchandise there for the next day. Her business began to grow as she invested some of the proceeds into additional products. On Thursdays, she would find a busy corner of the Labasti market place, and her sales would be strong.

Meanwhile, she and Lucner talked to the landowner about letting them improve the structure they were living in. Often farmers who are open to allowing a poor squatter put up an ajoupa on their land will object if the squatter adds a tin roof. It makes the structure seem more permanent. And Louimène and Lucner wanted to add not just a solid roof, but a cement latrine. But they were eventually able to get permission to do so, in part because of their case manager’s help in the negotiations.

In December 2014, Louimène graduated from the program after having spent only nine months in it. By that time, she had sold her original goat and its young. She had acquired a second smaller pig, but had sold the first one. She used the proceeds from the sales to buy a cow, which she wanted because she had a plan. “We needed land, and if you buy a small cow you can hold onto to it. While it grows, you wait for someone to sell a piece of land, and when the chance comes along, you can sell the cow and buy the land.”

And that’s exactly the way that things turned out. After graduation, the landowner began to resent the family’s presence on his land. He started pressuring them to leave. Since they had no place they could go, the couple put up with his humiliations as best they could. But eventually they found another landowner with a sudden need for cash. They were able to buy enough of a plot to put their little house on for 12,750 gourds. They even spent the extra money and effort to install a simple latrine, having learned of its importance while in the program. One of Lucner’s brothers bought a neighboring plot for a similar amount. It was Lucner who made the purchase, but he was careful to put Louimène’s name on the receipt, rather than his own. “If anything happened to me, I wouldn’t want Louimène to have problems with my family.”

That is when things started to get more difficult. Lucner got sick. He was unable to work for a couple of months. The couple sold off their second pig and, eventually, their small commerce. By the time Lucner was working again, the couple was back almost to square one. They had their own house, and it was covered with a good tin roof, but they had no assets and no small commerce. Eventually they made a difficult decision: Their children would move in with Louimène’s mother, who lives in Bouli. Louimène would seek work as a maid in downtown Mirebalais until she could save enough money to return to business.

For two months, now, Louimène has been working for 2000 gourds-a-month. Her employer doesn’t normally eat a home, so Louimène is on her own for her meals. Louimène goes hungry much of the time so that she can send money to her mother for her children’s upkeep while she saves up as much as she can towards the day when she can go back into business. But after two months, she’s saved 1000 gourds. And now that Lucner is healthy, they may not be far from their dream of bringing the family back together and sending the kids to school.

Claudette and Franckel, Two and a Half Years After Graduation

Claudette and Franckel

When Claudette joined the CLM program, she and her husband Franckel had very little. They were living with five children in a single room they rented near the Labasti market, which sits along the main road between Port au Prince and Mirebalais. Four of the children were theirs, and one belonged to Claudette’s brother Manny, who lived nearby. She had been living with her aunt and uncle for years.

The couple struggled to send both their oldest girl and Manny’s girl to school. To pay the tuition and other expenses Franckel would turned wood that belonged to neighbors into charcoal and take half the revenue. He also did day labor to keep the family fed, earning less than $1 a day in their neighbors’ fields. Occasionally, he’d getting a job on a team milling sugarcane for a few days. That would be a windfall. Claudette didn’t contribute to the household’s income. With the couple’s twin toddler girls and the infant boy who followed them, her hands were more than full.

They chose goats and a pig, and got to work, taking good care of their livestock. They couldn’t afford to buy land to build a home on, so they talked to Franckel’s brother. He gave them a small plot downhill from a larger one that he claimed from their half-siblings. The brother is a difficult man, a bully. That’s what enabled him to claim the land from their siblings. It didn’t really belong to the half of their family that he and Franckel were part of. But the brother presented the only way that Franckel and Claudette saw of establishing their own home, so they dealt with him as best they could. To make things worse, the man was jealous of their participation in CLM. He and his wife had been too wealthy to qualify. So Franckel and Claudette had a lot to do to manage the relationship.

Things weren’t easy, and their frustration built as their livestock failed to multiply. By six months into the program, their pig was growing, and it would soon have piglets. But the piglets all died. Even at twelve months, their two goats were still just two goats. So the couple prepared to make a difficult decision. Their baby was no longer breast feeding, so Claudette would leave their area to seek work as a maid in Port au Prince. The work would be poorly paid, but it would be regular income. Franckel would have to manage things at home with the help of their older girl and their niece.

But something got in the way. Claudette’s brother Manny became dangerously sick. He had severe constipation and accompanying stomachaches. Franckel’s brother was close to a Vodoun practitioner who made money as a healer, and he convinced the couple to let his friend take care of Manny. Claudette could only watch as Manny’s condition deteriorated.

One rainy afternoon, however, seeing Manny in agony, Claudette made a courageous decision. She took him from the healer’s compound, put him on a motorcycle taxi in the midst of a tropical downpour, and rushed him to the Partners in Health University Hospital in Mirebalais. Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove the blocked section of his intestines, and so saved his life.

The cause of his trouble was extra pulmonary TB, and Manny would need at least six months of treatment after he left the hospital, so the couple built a small shack next to their own, where they could keep Manny with them while protecting the children from possible infection. He became a full part of the household. They helped him get to his follow-up appointments, and cared for him as he recovered. As he gained strength, he began to help with housework. He had long been a hard-working farmer, but initially he could just manage the smaller chores. He was anxious, however, to do whatever he could.

Meanwhile, the couple’s livelihood was undergoing a transformation. They found a landowner who was willing to let them work a small plot as sharecroppers. They would do all the work, and keep half of any income. Franckel first cultivated it for the charcoal he could make from the wood growing on it, and then invested the money from charcoal sales into planting a crop of beans.

They also found someone willing to sell them 2000 gourds worth of sugarcane on credit. Claudette explains the opportunity: “Making money from cane is a lot of work. Some people would just as soon take the easy money and be done with it. But Franckel’s not like that. If he sees a way to make an extra 50 gourds, he’s always willing to make the effort.” They used the income from that sale to buy another load of cane. “Franckel found someone who had a cane field they had already harvested. But he thought it looked like it had a lot of cane still in it, small plants that would grow if they had a little more time. He bought the harvest for 5000 gourds, and eventually sold 15,000 gourds worth of cane.”

But even as they were beginning to find a path towards financial success, their lives grew more difficult socially. Franckel’s brother was angry that they had turned their back on his friend, the healer. And his jealousy only intensified as he watched his brother’s lot improve. So he decided to run Franckel and Claudette off the land he had provided for them.

Fortunately, it was at about this time that their first bean harvest came in, and it was a good one. They sold it off and made good use of the profits. They bought a horse, and made a down payment on a small plot of land that they could build a house on. They threw up a three-room shack. They wanted Manny to have his own room. It wasn’t much, but it put a tin roof over their heads and it was theirs. They had to sell off their goats to get the house built, however, so they were left with farming as their only economic activity. And with Manny and five children on their hands, things were very tight.

When Claudette graduated from the program, the couple had their horse and a couple of chickens, but all their other money was in the fields. And Claudette was pregnant with what would be their last child. As Franckel explained at the time, “We know that our family is already large, but we want one more, and we are sure that we can support all our kids.”

Their success with sugarcane is what changed their lives. Claudette and Franckel began to buy all the cane they could, and would rent local mills to turn it into molasses. They’d then sell the molasses to rum distilleries. With each new purchase, they had more to invest. Soon, they were farming sugarcane, too, paying five-year leases on plots of land. Eventually, they had over three hectares under cultivation and a sugar mill of their own.

And as they rolled over the capital that they invested in sugarcane, they invested in the quality of their lives as well. They poured concrete over the packed dirt floor of their home, and repaired and painted the planking that made up its walls. They re-did its small porch with cinderblocks and cement. They bought the plot in front of the house to plant a garden. Their three younger children joined the two older girls in school.

Many CLM graduates are successful, but Claudette and Franckel know that few have been as successful as they have. “Some graduates are willing just to keep the things they have,” Claudette explains, “but we always are trying new opportunities.”

Each has an explanation for their success, and their explanations converge. Each credits the other. Franckel says that Claudette has two qualities that really help them. “She works hard with whatever we have, and she never complains when we have nothing.” Ever since she weaned their youngest child, he’s made sure that she always has some capital to manage a small commerce. She buys loads of whatever produce is in season, and sells it in local markets. “Since she manages the house with her business, I can focus on bigger things.” For Claudette, it’s Franckel’s willingness to work hard wherever he sees an opportunity. “He doesn’t worry about doing things the easy way. When you are in a difficult situation, if you see a path out of it, you have to be willing to take it.” For both of them, it starts with their willingness to discuss all their decisions and make them together.

And they seem well on their way to continued success. With money from the sale of their sugar mill and 100,000 gourds they borrowed from a local credit union, they made a down payment on another hectare of land. This one they will own. Their next cane harvest should enable them to complete the purchase. Here, there is a small disagreement between them. Franckel wants to build a new, larger home on the new plot. Claudette would rather stay where she is and use the new land for farming. “We’ll have to discuss it,” she says.

And Claudette is making progress in another sense. This year, she found an afternoon school program for adults at her church and she entered the first grade. “I go to meetings and there are folks old enough to be my parents who can read and write, and I can’t. It’s embarrassing.” She had never been to school before.

Vilanie Assé, Fours Years After Graduation

When Vilanie joined the CLM program in 2012, her life was difficult. Seven of her ten children were still living at home, in a house that didn’t belong to her. She and her family were crowded in a small, broken-down house on the main road running through Chapèl, just below the Roman Catholic church in Bay Tourib. She struggled to keep her children fed and in school.

But she joined the program, and she got to work. She chose goats and small commerce as her two assets, and though the goats didn’t develop especially well, her small commerce flourished. She bought merchandise — either produce or charcoal — in Bay Tourib and sold it in local markets. She quickly added a second business. She was a good cook. People liked to eat her food. So she established a business preparing food at the market in Koray. She go early on Saturday morning with the ingredients she needed, and she always managed to sell out whatever she prepared.

Her most limiting factor initially was the size of the load and the distance she could carry it. She had no pack animal, so she had to carry everything on her head. So a soon as she was able, she used savings from her weekly stipend and earnings from her commerce to buy a horse. And that’s when her business took off. By the time she had spent twelve months in the program, she easily met all the graduation criteria. She and her husband had purchased a small plot of farmland, and she had 3000 gourds of savings in her bank account.

She built her CLM-house, but when the same landlord that had been pressuring her to leave the house she was squatting in saw her begin to progress, he offered her the chance to buy the house on reasonable terms, and she jumped at the chance. Its location made it a great spot to extend her business. She started serving her meals every day, not just market day, and her profits increased. She is careful to cultivate her customers, and the care pays off. “If you have a regular customer, and their short of cash one day, you sell them on credit. They almost always pay you back, and it keeps them buying from you. Sometimes if they’re hungry and can’t pay, I just give them a little something for nothing. It means they’ll keep thinking of me when things are better for them.”

With a horse to carry loads for her, and her sales growing, she combined her two businesses. She would bring loads of produce to market in Thomonde, where she would buy the ingredients for the meals she’d prepare. Her produce brought a higher price in Thomonde, and the ingredients her food stall required would be cheaper.

Her husband worked the farmland for them. She would use money from her business to buy seed, and supplement that with five coffee cans full that they could borrow each year without interest from the local peasant association. Before long, they had rented an apartment in Ench for two of her boys. She wanted them to go to better schools than they could attend in Bay Tourib. It was expensive, but to her the investment was worth the effort.

She was part of an evaluation we did of CLM members one year after graduation, and Vilaniee’s data shows that she continued to prosper. Her business grew, her fields yielded strong harvests, and her horse had a healthy colt.

In the three years that have passed since that post-graduation evaluation, Vilanie’s life has seen some ups and downs. Like many farmers in the Central Plateau, the last two years have produced weak harvests. She and her husband suffered a total loss of their entire millet crop two years in a row. That’s put a lot of pressure on her business because it has forced the family to live of what she can buy, rather than what they can grow. And it is doubly hard because she has to buy food both for her own household and for the boys in Ench. Last year, she made the difficult decision to sell off the colt to pay the boys’ tuition. It was a sacrifice, but she had a bit of luck that made up for it. Her mare’s second pregnancy resulted in a mule. The mule will eventually carry much more of a load than a horse and will be a more valuable asset if she ever chooses to sell it.

So the future for Vilanie and her family is looking bright. Her business is thriving, and she and her husband have planted ten cans of beans, enough for a major harvest if the weather is moderately favorable. She’s grateful for the tools that CLM put in her hands, but she knows very well that she is the one who changed her life. “I was careful with everything they gave me. I didn’t waste it. And now I have something to show for it.”

Orana Louis, Four Years After Graduation

It’s been four years since Orana graduated from the CLM program. She was part of a group of 350 women we worked with in Bay Tourib, an area of western Thomonde. She and her husband Sonn were able to transform their lives during the program’s 18 months and the couple of years that followed.

Previous to joining CLM, the family depended on what Sonn could earning working in the Dominican Republic. He would return to Bay Tourib whenever he had money he could bring with him. Orana would have to stretch out what he brought her to make it last. Now and again she would start a small commerce with some if the money, rather than just spending it on food, but frequent pregnancies got in the way. The couple had no livestock, and though they had access to land that belonged to Sonn’s family, they couldn’t afford to plant it. They frequently went hungry.

But the livestock Orana received as a CLM member encouraged Sonn to stick around. It gave him work to do. And the couple was able to use savings from their food stipend to begin investing in their fields. They took some of the proceeds from their harvest, and invested it in Orana’s small commerce. She sold plastic sandals at the local markets. Their lives took off.

There were bumps in the road. Sonn was the one who travelled to Port au Prince to buy Orana’s merchandise, and on one of his trips all their money was stolen. They had to start over again. But by the end of the program, Orana had a small but steady business. They couple had been able to buy a mule, so that she didn’t have to carry her merchandise to market on her head. More importantly, after she graduated they had been able to purchase the land they lived on and some additional farmland as well. They even started leasing additional plots to plant even more. Neither Orana nor Sonn was ever afraid of hard work, and they finally had resources to work with.

But the last two years have been hard. The couple feels as though they’ve taken a step backward. It started with Orana’s last pregnancy, her sixth. It was difficult. Though her boy was born healthy, she required expensive hospitalization in its last days, and the couple had to sell off her commerce to pay.

Then they suffered some poor harvests. Like most farmers in central Haiti, they would normally depend on millet, but the last two years’ millet crops were total losses. Some kind of parasitic invasion destroyed the millet in much of Haiti. Their pigeon peas were lost this year because of heavy rains that fell at the wrong time, and like most farmers who planted their beans late last winter, their current crop looks unpromising. “The folks who got their beans planted early are seeing a good harvest. But our land is hot. We have to wait longer. And it doesn’t look like we’ll get very much.”

Orana’s quick to point out that the kind of problems she and Sonn have now are nothing like the ones they used to have. She doesn’t have trouble keeping her children healthy and fed. “We have plantains and corn. We planted some malanga that should be ready in a few months, and we have pumpkins growing all around us.” They have another mule — they sold their first because it wasn’t strong enough — and they still keep goats. “I can pay for school for the kids, and as long as you have a few animals you must be doing ok.”

But Orana does have one problem, an unusual but a serious one. It concerns Daben, her fourth child. “He won’t go to school. And it’s not as if I couldn’t pay to send him. He doesn’t want to go.” Orana explains that Daben’s problem is teasing. He was born with both male and female sexual organs. I call him “he” because he identifies unambiguously as a male. The school is full of the kids he grew up around, and they torment him because he’s different. Orana isn’t sure what to do. “He’s a healthy boy. He’s never sick. There’s nothing wrong with him. But because of the way he is, he won’t go to school. And these days you’re not supposed to bring up your kids to be ignorant.” This last note has an especially strong ring to it coming from Orana because she never got to spend a day in school herself. “I think about it all the time. Even his younger brother’s in school.”

It’s gotten bad enough that Orana has thought about giving Daben up for adoption. “I wonder whether it would be different if he was living where no one knew him.” For now, she just wants medical advice to help her understand what options there might be.

Solène Louis 5

Solène has been worried about repaying the money she borrowed from her savings and loan association to complete her home. We wouldn’t normally encourage someone to use borrowed money to make an investment that won’t earn profit that she can use for reimbursements, but Solène felt that she had no choice. The home she was in had deteriorated so badly that she felt she had to do something quickly. Even so, she also borrowed a little bit more than she needed and bought a very young female goat, one that had just been weaned.

And she’s starting to feel good about her decision. She managed to make her first reimbursement by saving some of the money that her husband earns as a day laborer and by selling some chickens and some plantains.

Selling the chickens is risky because they act as insurance. Normally she would keep them for when she needs a few hundred gourds to do something important, like taking a sick child to a clinic. And selling the plantains hurts as well because since she doesn’t yet have a reliable cash income, having plantains growing in their garden is their best hedge against hunger. But she felt she had no choice. “I had to repay the debt somehow.”

Now she plans to take out a new loan in August, when she’s finished repaying her first one. She’ll use that money to start a small commerce.

She’s very happy to be part of the CLM program, and she makes a particular point of the importance of her case manager. “He knows how I’m doing and what I’m doing, so he can give me advice. Advice is useful. There’s advice that’s worth more than money. My case manager encouraged me to save up money from my cash stipend, and that’s what enabled me to finish my house.”

Marie Yolène Théus 5

Marie Yolène and her husband are doing well. Their harvest was better than that of most of their neighbors, though her husband reports that it was damaged by a mistake her made. “I planted too much pumpkin in my field, and it crushed some of the beans.” She had already fed the children plantain from their own garden by the time I got to the house in the morning.

It was a good thing they had their own produce, because Yolène explained that there would be nothing to buy in the area around her home on a Tuesday morning. The local merchants buy at markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, so by Tuesday they tend to be out of most things.

Their home is almost finished. She needs to put a ceiling under the corner of her roof that extends beyond the walls to form a small covered porch, and she needs to install a new door, and she already has the wood she’ll need for the work. She’s happy about the house. She’s already living in it. “We used to get wet all the time. Now I don’t worry about rain.”

Her livestock is increasing. The goats’ progress has been slow. She had to sell off the two we gave her initially because they couldn’t stay healthy. The one kid that one of them produced died almost right away. But her case manager was able to find replacements she could afford that were pregnant already. So she should have young soon. Her pig had eight piglets, and though one died already, she is taken god care of them and has reason to hope that as many as six of the remaining seven will mature until she can sell them. She’d like to sell them off to buy a cow because a cow is the insurance that protects you from every kind of problem and it’s a step towards buying land.

She’s been enjoying her savings and loan association. She goes to the weekly meetings and buys shares. Share’s in hers cost 50 gourds, and members buy from one to five each week. They can take loans from the fund, which they repay with interest, but Yolène is focused mainly on saving. At the end of the year, members of the association will divide up the pot and each will receive a payout that depends on the number of share’s she’s purchased. Yolène plans to invest hers in beans. She’s calculated that the payout will come when the prices are low, and she’ll just hold onto hers until planting time, when the prices are much higher.

Her biggest issue recently has been the health of her son. He felt out of a tree and was cut badly. She rushed him to the Partners in Health clinic in La Colline, but because of the nature of his wound, the boy was referred to the better-equipped and better-staffed hospital in Mirebalais for further tests. When Yolène got to Mirbalais with the boy, she couldn’t get anyone to see him, so she brought him back to La Colline, and they took care of him without the tests they had hoped for. The boy’s now healing well, and Yolène feels good about having gotten him the care he needed.

Monise Imosiane 5

Monise’s livestock is flourishing. Her two goats are now five goats. One had a single kid, and the other had a pair. And the first is pregnant again. She smiles when I tell her to tell the goat she wants more than one kid this time. She says that she’ll tell it to have two or even three.

Her pig is growing. She chose to raise a boar rather than a sow. “My mother farms so much that I was afraid of having the piglets around.” The pig has grown considerably, and she thinks it’s now time to focus on fattening it. She hopes to sell it in December.

The best way to fatten it up is to supplement the food she can forage by purchasing pig feed. And she has a plan for this. She planted eight coffee-cans of beans this spring, and they are ready to harvest. She can’t yet tell with certainty how good her yield will be, but her mother’s already harvesting and the older woman’s yield hasn’t been bad. Monise should get 40 to 80 cans, which will be more than enough to buy pig feed and make other investments as well.

She has continued to make progress on her home. She needs to buy one more palm tree to get the planks she’ll need to enclose its second room. She had been counting for a long time on her baby’s father to help her, but he remains in the Dominican Republic, and she now says definitively, “We’ll not together anymore.” She has realized that she cannot count on him, and she seems resigned to the fact. As young as she is and with four children to support already, it’s probably for the best if she has come to realize that she needs to and can count on herself.

And she isn’t really on her own. Until CLM, she lived in her mother’s house, and she is building her own house in a corner of the older woman’s yard. And her mother seems willing to help in every way. She announced that she would buy the palm tree that Monise needs, and when she heard about a man from the neighborhood who was complaining that he couldn’t carry a set of planks up the mountain to complete his house, she scoffed, saying she’d be happy to buy the planks – they’re hard to come by in Fon Desanm – and she’d carry them up the hill. No small feat for a healthy young man, not to mention for a grandmother. Monise’s mother seems proud of her ability to work hard and committed to doing what she can for her daughter and grandchildren.

Altagrace Brevil 5

Altagrace and her husband have completed construction of one of the largest houses that we have seen among CLM members in Kolonbyè. The key was her decision to build the house together with her mother. She and her family were sharing her widowed mother’s home when she joined the CLM program, and their initial thought was to move out. “Parents get to be a nuisance. She and my husband were always arguing.”

But the more she thought about it, the less sense it made to her. On one hand, they would have a hard time mobilizing all the resources they’d need to get the house built. On the other, she started thinking about her mother. Altagrace is the only one among her siblings who lives nearby. If she moved out entirely, the older woman would be left alone. So she and her mother talked, and they talked with her husband, and then decided to pool their resources, enlarging and completing a house that her mother had already started rather than building a new one from scratch.

Their shared home has four rooms and a covered space across the front, and Altagrace is really happy about it. Like most CLM members, she talks about not getting wet in the rain any more. “And the house could never have been finished without CLM.”

Altagrace has been taking good care of her livestock. One of her goats had kids, and she used savings to buy another mature female to add to her small herd.

But she and her family depend primarily on agriculture, and unlike some of the other famers we’ve been working with, this year’s first harvest is very promising for her. She got together the resources she’d need to plant 13 cans of beans. That’s over $40 worth. She took some of the money from savings that came from home construction. The CLM program provides two stipends of 1500 gourds to the builders who work on members’ homes. One for the person who sets up the frame and puts on the roof, and the other for the person who builds up the walls. Because they only had to complete a project that had been started, her builders only charged 1000 gourds each, and Altagrace held on to the other 1000 gourds. Then she borrowed 2000 gourds from her savings and loan association, figuring that she and her husband would be able to make her reimbursements out of his day labor and the occasional sale of avocados. And like many of the farmers in her region who got their beans into the ground early, she’s now looking at a harvest that appears as though it will be strong.