Category Archives: Chemen Lavi Miyo

Marie Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boukankare – Ten Years After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boukankare: Eight Years After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrémène and Jean Benoit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what of the women in all this?

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

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

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

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

Hébert Artus

Marie Maude Fontus: One Year into the Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling her okra “kase lote” in Ench.

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

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

Laumène François — One Year After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosemitha Petit-Blanc — One Year After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fidelène Darilien — Apre Gradyasyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fidelène ak maman l.

Fidelène Darilien — At Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fidelène with her mother.

Sisters-in-Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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