Category Archives: After Graduation

Aline Merilan – Five Years After Graduation

When Aline first saw CLM staff asking a lot of questions in the area around her home in Divye, a small community in Montay Terib, she didn’t know what to make of it. Montay Terib is a hard-to-access area in the mountains of southwestern Sodo.

Aline was having a difficult time of things. She had four children, but their fathers were not providing support. She had no income of her own, so she had to depend on her parents. “I had problems. I had no one to help me. I had no livestock. I didn’t have anything.”

She joined the program in 2012, and chose goats and small commerce as her two enterprises. And for 18 months she worked hard and began to flourish. She built her own small house on a spot of her parents’ land. She took care of her livestock, and her assets multiplied. By the time she graduated, she had six goats and a small cow.

She also built up her commerce. She would make the weekly hike down to the regional market at Kay Micho, in southern Sodo, and hike back up to Montay Terib with her merchandise. She sold basic groceries—oil and rice, for example – at the mountain market at Ka Boudou.

It was a hard way to live, but she was making it work. She made enough money with her business to keep her four children fed and in school, even with no help from the children’s fathers. When she reached graduation in 2013, as she reports, “Things were good.”

Within a couple of years, however, things took a turn for the worse when her mother died. Funerals are expensive in Haiti, and her one sibling, a sister, was already struggling to get by in Kabare, the closest large town. Much of the expense of the funeral fell on Aline. She was able to manage without taking on debt, but it meant selling most of her livestock. That meant that the full burden of school expenses would have to fall on her business, but she tried to plow ahead nonetheless.

She began, however, to notice that her father seemed to have turned against her, showing signs that he didn’t want her around. To this day, she is not sure why. He started to plant his crops closer and closer to her front door, leaving her and her children less and less living space. She finally made the only decision she thought she could, abandoning her house in Montay Terib, renting a room in Kabare, and moving there with her children. By now she had five.

She knew that she would need a different business living in Kabare, so she came up with a plan. She would buy 2-3 sacks of charcoal at a time, and sell small bags of it retail. A commerce like this one, often called “kase lote,” which means to break into piles, is a key step in the distribution of agricultural goods across Haiti. For something like charcoal, there are smaller and larger rural producers. They might make as few a one or as many as a half-dozen or even more sacks at a time. They either bring them to market or sell them to local merchants, usually women, who bring them to market instead. When they get to market, the sacks are purchased by other businesswomen, who sell them in turn to retail sellers like Aline.

But it was hard. School costs for the children were higher in Kabare, and she was now paying rent. The strain on her business was considerable. She met a man, and became pregnant. It was a hard pregnancy. She was sick much of the time. It made it harder for her to work every day, and every day she missed was a reduction in her sales. And the expense of going to the hospital and buying medication was an additional drain.

She was able to get her kids through the school year, but at the end of the year she sent the four older children to Montay Terib for the summer. They are staying with their paternal grandmother. Aline says they are enjoying the mangos. But Aline’s business finally collapsed shortly before she gave birth.

Her baby’s father is supporting her now, but he isn’t willing to support her older children, and she has no money right now to send them to school next year. She’s feeling better, and would be almost ready to go back to work, but doesn’t yet know when she’ll be able to get her hands on the initial investment that she will need.

Sonia Dormevil – Five Years After Graduation

Sonia is from Montay Terib, or Terrible Mountain, a mountainous area of Sodo, lodged between the fertile center of the commune and the coastal plain to the west. Though it is not especially far from large population centers in Kabarè, Sodo, and even Pòtoprens, it is nevertheless remote. There is no road to or through it that even a motorcycle – much less a car or truck – could travel. All transportation requires walking.

She joined the CLM program in 2011. At the time, she had three children, the youngest a nursing infant. “They took me into the program because I had nothing going on. I was living in misery.” Her family was regularly going hungry.

She chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises, and got to work. By the time she graduated in 2013, she had made a lot of progress. Not the spectacular progress that we sometimes see, but she had increased the value of her livestock by 50%, and her family was eating two meals each day.

She also had a plan. She wanted to continue to increase her livestock until she had enough so that she’d be able to sell some and buy a mule. A pack animal would help her establish commerce, buying agricultural goods around Montay Terib and bringing them to market in Kay Micho, Titayen, or Kabarè. Other graduates from Montay Terib entered Fonkoze’s credit program after they graduated, but she decided not to.

After graduation, things took a turn for the worse. The CLM program had not yet learned to establish veterinary technicians in the regions where it was working, and when the program left the area, her pig died. Then her goats were attacked by external parasites, and several of them died, too. And that wasn’t the worst of it. Her relationship with her husband began to deteriorate. “I think he wanted the house the CLM helped me make.”

So, in 2014 Sonia took two of her children – her eldest and her baby – and she left. The three moved to Kabarè, a market town north of Pòtoprens, along the coast. She had a sister there whom they could move in with. She got a job as a maid to keep her children fed.

But she soon saw that there was no future for her as a maid. She still had two small goats in Montay Terib, so she hiked up and sold them, hiking back down with the money from the sale. She began selling garlic, onions, and leeks in the Kabarè market. She liked being in business. She liked the bustle of the market. But she wasn’t making much money. She was just barely getting by.

So, she talked to her brother-in-law, and he explained a different business she might try. It is profitable, but also labor-intensive. Kabarè is an important selling point for produce destined for Pòtoprens, so there are markets three days a week. Every market day, she buys a 50-kilo sack of flour and brings it to a bakery, where they turn it into bread. Then she sits in the market, selling what they’ve made.

It’s a struggle. She explains, “I get no help from the kids’ dad. I am their food, and I am their clothes. I pay for school, and I pay our rent.”

But she is managing. She has about 4000 gourds in her business – a little over $60 – and in a week of work, she can earn enough to pay her basic household expenses and to make a 750-gourd contribution to her saving club.

And she has a new plan. “I have no place of my own in Kabarè. I have to rent, and it’s not good for me. I have to pay 3500 gourds or even 4000 every six months. I want to buy a home for me and my kids.”

Three and a Half Years After Graduation

When Carmène joined the CLM program, she and her husband were living in Platon Zèb, a remote corner of a neighborhood called Laferyè, one of a series of neighborhoods along the ridge that separates the Central Plateau from Pòtoprens.

When she entered the program, she and her husband, Yatande, had very little. They had purchased goats with money they earned through a cash-for-work program that cut roads from the national highway in Fon Cheval to the catholic church in Gran Boulay. All had died, however, by the time we met Carmène. Yatande was a homebuilder, but his clients weren’t paying him. Carmène was sometimes able to borrow money to set up a small commerce, but she never could build it up into anything. Clients had trouble paying her, and she didn’t manage it well. Though they had sent their four children to school for the year, they weren’t sure how they were going to pay.

By the time she had spent six months in the program, she was advancing quickly. The program uses a special evaluation form at the six-month mark, designed to help us see whether members are on track. Rather than evaluating their progress against graduation criteria, we look a factors that point towards eventual success: whether the member is building friendships, whether she seeks and uses advice from community leaders, whether she has a plan for moving forward, whether she is using the training her case manager provides, and whether her assets have begun to increase their value. Carmène scored 90 out of 100.

And, in fact, by the time she underwent her twelve-month evaluation, Carmène could have graduated from the CLM program. Her family was eating hot meals twice-a-day, they had three times the assets we originally had given them, and she was confident in her ability to move forward. Asked whether she thought that Fonkoze should worry about her, she said no and then explained: “I’m going to keep working hard and to manage what I have so it will increase.” When she graduated six months later, she had four times as much as we had given her, having added a horse, a young bull, and a pig to the three goats, which had turned into five.

She also had begun a small commerce, selling groceries out of her home. Neighbors could buy rice, beans, oil: whatever they needed to fix a meal. It meant that they had a place to turn if they ran out of something before market day or if they couldn’t get to the market for some reason. When she graduated, she decided to strengthen her business by joining the credit program offered by Fonkoze’s commercial sister, Fonkoze Financial Services, or SFF. She became part of a solidarity group of five women. All five were CLM graduates. Together they took out their first loans, borrowing 3000 gourds each.

The business worked well. Though she couldn’t always collect what her neighbors owed her, most of them paid, and she knew that the ones who didn’t were struggling with problems she had known too well.

In 2016, she and Yatande decided to move. Platon Zèb was her home, but he was from Labasti, a market area down the mountain along the main road into Mibalè. They repaired the small bachelor house he had built years earlier on land he purchased as a young man, and moved down the hill. “It is much better for us here. There’s no water in Laferyè. Here there’s plenty.” Yatande is quick to say that he still has work to do. “This is still a man’s house. I haven’t built a woman’s house here yet.” They were, however, careful to install a latrine, complete with a PVC exhaust pipe, just as those that CLM helps members construct.

Carmène’s business grew, but when she moved to Labasti she had to change it. “I couldn’t keep selling out of my home. Too many of my neighbors were already doing the same thing.” She took out a larger loan, and used it to buy beans in markets in Laskawobas and elsewhere where they are relatively inexpensive. She would sell them retail in the market close to her home, but also to other merchants who would sell them as part of a home grocery business, like the one she had once managed. Her most recent loan was for 20,000 gourds, and she was able to take it as an individual loan. “I always repay on time, right in the credit center, and I never cause any trouble. If I did, they wouldn’t have let me take out my loan by myself.”

Carmène’s is an encouraging story, but not all the women who graduated with her in December 2014 are doing as well.

Safine lives in Redout with three of her seven children. She isn’t from Redout, an area along the highway into Mibalè just above Triyanon, the largest town between Mibalè and the ridge. She grew up in Difayi, in Boukankare to the north. She moved to Redout about ten years ago to join a man from there, but he died in Pòtoprens in the 2010 earthquake. She was eventually able to buy a small home with money she earned through a cash-for-work project. “I took a shovel and would clear out the run-off canals along the highway.”

But she did not own the land the house was on, and its owners were constantly trying to get her to leave because she had nothing she could pay the rent with once the cash-for-work dried up. She had almost nothing: no livestock or any capital she could invest in small commerce. On the scorecard that Fonkoze uses to measure poverty, she scored about a low as one could. She could occasionally get rent money from her younger children’s father, a man named Maxo, but he didn’t pay regularly.

That wasn’t the worst of Maxo. He was abusive. Her case manager, Hilaire, had to work hard with her to help her out of the relationship. That work culminated when Maxo attacked her in front of the new home she was struggling to build. Hilaire helped Safine through the process of having Maxo arrested, and then with negotiations with his family, who wanted to keep him out of prison. She eventually received a guarantee that he would leave her alone along with help completing construction of her home.

Hilaire also helped her buy a small plot of land that she eventually built a small home on. She chose goats and a pig as her assets, but they didn’t fare well, because she had no place they could graze. And she was too close to the highway. She occasionally lost a young goat to passing traffic.

She eventually established a small commerce, and easily met the program’s graduation criteria, but struggled throughout the 18 months. She would occasionally have to spend the money she used for her business buying what she needed to take care of her children. Her case manager would then help her get a job in the kitchen of one of the numerous training workshops that the CLM program provides its members. She could then use that money to re-establish her business.

After graduation, she continued to struggle. Her remaining goats died, but she rented a plot of farmland and started to work it. She planted plantains and manioc, crops that would yield both food for her children and something to sell. This year, she’s planting corn as well.

She hasn’t been able to sustain her small commerce. She explains, “I get no help from the children’s father. My commerce has to pay school fees, books, uniforms. It buys sandals for their feet and barrettes for the girls’ hair. It pays for the food they eat.” She occasionally goes to Pòtoprens to work as a maid for a while when she doesn’t know what else to do. But she and her children are healthy, and the children continue to go to school, even if she isn’t yet quite sure how she will pay of the balance she owes for the current school year.

Elda Derilais – Two and a Half Years After Graduation

Elda was born in Byeneme, an area in the northern mountains of Laskawobas, overlooking the Artibonite River. Her parents were farmers, not wealthy but with the means to send all their children to school and, eventually, to buy a small amount of land lower down the mountain, in Lonsi, so that their children could be closer to school and church. “Land was cheaper back then,” Elda explains, “and school was just too far.”

She finished primary school in Lonsi and started to attend high school at the public school near downtown Laskowobas. Then she met a man. He was teaching elementary school at the church school near her home. When she became pregnant, he took her to his parents’ home in Lezangle, on the far end of southern Haiti, hours away from anyone she knew. He was away teaching at various schools most of the time, so she was alone with his parents when she had their first child. When their boy was ready, she moved to Petyonvil, where the father had an apartment, so the three of them could be together.

Their small family didn’t last long. Elda’s partner began to show signs of frustration. “He was mad because he was earning money, and I wasn’t. I just took care of our baby.” Finally, the man threw Elda out of their home. She took their child, and moved back in with her parents, in Lonsi. At the time, she was three months pregnant with their second child, a girl, but neither of them knew it.

When she first returned to her parents, Elda depended on them for everything. “I couldn’t work while I was pregnant or when I had the baby in my arms.” She finally found an opportunity through World Vision, an international non-profit. They included her in a training for rural health agents. She enjoyed the training, and got her certificate, but then World Vision pulled out of the area. Her family took to calling her, “Nurse,” but she never had the chance to do the job she trained for. When Fonkoze’s CLM team met her during the selection process, she had nothing: no assets, no income, no home of her own – just two little children dependent on her for everything.

Elda chose goats and small commerce as her two activities, and while she has always taken good care of her goats, her focus was on her commerce from the start. The CLM team made 1500 gourds available for her to start the business, which must have been about $30 at the time, and she knew what she wanted to do from the beginning. She had seen how some of the other women she knew in Lonsi had managed mabi businesses, and she thought she could succeed with one, too. “I decided to sell mabi because you can start with only a little money.” Her case manager, Lénort, encouraged her plan.

Mabi is an herbal drink popular in Haitian markets. It’s made from the bark of a tree, which is flavored with cinnamon and vanilla extract. The concentrated liquid is then combined with sugar and served with ice. The final result is a bitter and dark brown. Many Haitians find it refreshing on hot days.

Elda needed all of her 1500 gourds to get started. She bought two buckets for 125 gourds each. She’d carry her mabi in one and her cups and ice in the other. She spent 500 gourds on the bark that mabi is made from, 250 gourds on ice, 250 gourds on cinnamon, and 250 gourds on vanilla extract.

The business requires a lot of getting around because it sells best in the markets themselves. She can sell in Laskowobas on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Nan Kas on Mondays, and Kwafè on Thursdays, but none of the three markets is especially close to her home.

Her business took off. She soon found that she could keep her children fed and in school. When she graduated from the CLM program, she joined a credit program offered by Fonkoze’s sister organization, Fonkoze Financial Services, but she left it quickly, dissatisfied with the service she received from her credit agent and unconvinced of her need for the credit.

Even without credit, she was able to use her income both to save and to invest. She has purchased two cows with her profits, and has almost 28,000 gourds in savings. And she has a plan: “The house I built with help from CLM is starting to break down. I want to buy a small plot of land and build a new house for me and the kids.”

But she hasn’t been thinking only of herself. Shortly after graduation, she participated in a day-long meeting with about 30 CLM graduates. They got together to discuss their experience and the problem of extreme poverty in rural Haiti. Four of that meeting’s participants were selected to present a workshop at Université Quisqueya, in Port au Prince, that brought together members of women’s groups from various parts of Haiti who were interested in hearing about the situation of the rural women who live in extreme poverty. There was a lively exchange after their presentation, and Elda came away from the meeting impressed by the women she met.

When she got home, she decided that Lonsi needed a women’s group, too. So, she formed OFVP, the Organization of Tough Women of Pitifon. Pitifon is the larger region that Lonsi is part of. She felt that she had begun doing well herself, but she could see other women around her who stilled need help. Together with the women she recruited to lead OFVP with her, she would offer council and training based, at least at first, on the lessons she learned from CLM. Eventually she hopes they will be able to attract funding that they can invest in neighborhood development.

In the meantime, she works hard making and selling her mabi. Her kids’ father has started calling to ask how the kids are doing, but he never offers any support, instead just asking whether they can come visit him during vacation. Other men now flirt with Elda, but she says she’s careful. “They’ll want you to have their child, but then they’ll abandon you and you’ll be stuck with more trouble.”

Rosa Marie: Three years after Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miraclide Joseph, Three Years after Graduation

I wrote a short piece about Miraclide in early 2015, just after she graduated. At the time, she was struggling to manage her small commerce. It had grown considerably since she established it with savings from her weekly cash stipend, but she was finding it hard to get her customers, who often bought on credit, to pay what they owed. For that reason, she had decided not to join the credit program offered by our sister organization, Fonkoze Financial Services. She was afraid she’d end up unable to pay back her loans if her customers’ payments were late. (See the original post here.)

Three years later, her life has really changed. Her three daughters are in school, but not at the small community school that was once all she could afford. The youngest, in her first year of kindergarten, was just a baby when Miraclide graduated from CLM. And she decided to send all three to schools down the road in Mirebalais. “The schools there are better, and education is the most important thing you do for your kids.”

She’s a single mother, but she’s lucky. The father of the two younger children helps her out. But she still is spending a lot. Just the transportation – a contract with a motorcycle taxi driver whom she trusts – is expensive. She pays 3000 gourds, or almost $50, per month for him to take the three girls to school, and then pick them up and bring them home every day. Then there are school fees, uniforms. The money their father gives – a little more than $8.25 per week for both his girls – allows her to make sure they go with a little snack in their school bags.

She still has two goats, but she sent them to her mother’s house for her family to look after them. She worries that as closely as she lives to the main road, they would always be at risk of theft. And she admits that she was never very focused on raising livestock, even when she was part of the program. Though even now, she’s planning to buy a small pig as soon as she can.

For her, getting ahead always meant starting a small commerce. When she joined the program, she was living on the 75 gourds that her girls’ father would occasionally send. She chose to receive goats and a pig when she joined the program, and she managed to increase their value a lot over 18 months, but her business was the heart of her plan for the future. By the 12-month mark, her it was worth 2000 gourds, and just five months later, when she was evaluated for graduation, it was worth 5000, which was more than $100 at the time.

She would try selling one thing after another. “I started with milk, sugar, and soft drinks, then moved to cosmetics. Whenever something didn’t work, I tried something else.” More recently, she’s sold groceries. She put her commerce aside recently when a nearby mission started some construction work. She can earn 250 gourds, or about $4 per day, hauling the water that the builders need to mix the cement, so she’s doing that for now. She’ll start selling again soon, however. She’d like to take out a loan to re-start her business on a bigger scale, but she lost her government ID a few years ago when someone picked her pocket, and worries that she wouldn’t be able to get a loan without one.

But her biggest problem when she joined the program, and the area of her greatest progress as well, has to do with her home. When she joined the program, she was living in a rented room. She had reached the point at which she could no longer pay for it, and her landlord wanted her out. She didn’t know where she might go.

Shortly after she joined the program, she was able to find a plot of land nearby to rent. Her case manager helped her get a signed, five-year lease. The lease is critical. As we have learned from our interviews with graduates over the years, their progress is unreliable if their access to the land they live on is not assured.

Miraclide built a simple, two-room home for herself and her girls. Its walls were woven out of sticks that the builders covered with mud, but it had a good roof of new tin, so she and the kids were dry and comfortable. As her business grew after graduation, she invested more in the house, replacing the walls of sticks with more solid ones of cinder blocks and cement.

But she still wasn’t satisfied. She spoke to her landlord about his willingness to let her stay on the land long-term. Her lease is up in 2018. He told her that he wasn’t planning to sell the land and that she could continue to rent. He promised that if he does decide to sell, he’ll offer the land to her first. It’s a good plot, with two large mango trees, that provide her a saleable harvest every year. With her place secure, she started building a new, larger house. She isn’t finished yet, but the walls are almost complete, and soon she be able to add the roof.

As hard as she’s worked to get the house near to completion, she gives a lot of the credit to CLM. But she doesn’t talk about the livestock she received or the cash stipend that helped her get her business started. “Before CLM, I didn’t know how to manage what I had. That’s what I learned. I don’t know what other people say, but CLM did a lot for me.”

Isemène Pierre, Four Years After Graduating

When Isemène joined the CLM program, she was unusually poor even by the standards of a program designed for the very poorest rural families in Haiti. Her husband had recently died in Lachapèl, where they were living at the time. Isemène sold everything that the family had to pay for the funeral.

With nowhere to live and nothing to live on, she wandered to Sodo with her seven children. Sodo is home to one of the largest annual parish festivals in Haiti, and it attracts a lot of beggars. Isemène says, “M t ap mache tcheke lavi.” That’s a little hard to translate. It’s like saying she decided to take to the street to see whether she could find a way to live. While at the festival, she met a local man, a stranger, who heard her story and was willing to let her boys set up a shack for the family on a corner of his land. That’s where we found her when we went through the area.

Isemène chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. And though her livestock never really flourished, she was able to add a small cow by the end of her time in the program. She also established a steady source of income. Using a thousand gourds that she saved during the six months of her weekly 300-gourd stipend, she started buying scrap wood and turning it into charcoal, which she would sell by the sack in Mirebalais. She also started sending her younger children to school, something she had been unable to do since her husband’s death.

Perhaps even more importantly, she bought a small piece of land in an empty area along the road to Sodo. She completed the purchase at a critical time, just as her youngest child, a boy just hitting his teens, suddenly died. When our team interviewed her, she explained that the most important thing about owning the land was that it gave her someplace to bury her son.

Four years later, her life has changed in some ways, but remained the same in others. Her livestock is gone. She had grown impatient with its slow growth, so she made the risky decision to sell it all and use the proceeds of the sale to buy a cow much larger than the one she sold. The new one grew well, and soon it was pregnant. But the areas along Sodo’s main roads see a lot of theft. The unpaved, mountainous route from Sodo to Titayen is a favorite passage for smugglers and thieves into Port au Prince. One day, Isemène’s cow disappeared. She finally found its butchered remains – including the unborn calf – in the bushes. Though she reported the theft to a justice of the peace, there was nothing he could do to make up her loss.

Her two older boys eventually moved out of her house, building their own homes on their mother’s land. One lives with his wife and two children, supporting them by farming as a sharecropper. The other learned his mother’s business, and supports the child he had with a woman from whom he is separated by selling charcoal. Isemène and the boys have planted trees in the yard, and it is beginning to feel like a lakou, the sort of the collection of homes that is the basis for Haitian rural life. Isemène glows when she speaks of how happy it makes her to know that she and her children have a place that is their own.

She still supports her younger children with the charcoal business. She’s never been able to increase it, but she makes sure it doesn’t shrink. After four years, she still depends on the same one thousand gourds of capital. She makes 1000 to 1500 gourds of profit each time to sells a load in Mirebalais. She knows she could make more if she took the time to sit in the market and sell it in small bags, rather than by sacks, but she worries that the women who buy her sacks so that they can divide them into retail portions would resent her if she took over both roles. She also believes she could grow the business if she was able to get the kind of loan she heard about before graduation. CLM members who live in areas served by Fonkoze’s microcredit operations receive training in the use of credit. But she wasn’t able to find women interested in forming a five-person solidarity group with her.

And though her income is enough to keep the family afloat, her inability to make it grow has become a problem. Tuition prices at local schools have gone up considerably over the last couple of years, and this year she could not afford to send her children. She can’t yet imagine how she might send them next year, either. Her one hope in this regard is for her teenage boy. He saved up enough money from doing chores for her and for neighbors as well that he was able to buy a small pig. If it survives, it could allow him to pay his own way to school next year.

The Women of Bakè, One Year After Graduation

Bakè sits along an important, though unpaved secondary road that branches off the main one from Mirebalais to the Dominican border. The road through Bakè leads to Mache Kana, one of the important rural markets in the lower Central Plateau. Twice each week Mache Kana fills with merchants from Port au Prince, who come to buy produce by the sack. They take truckloads back for sale in Port au Prince. Bakè is at the entrance of the road, well before the market. The road through it is wide enough for the large produce trucks and for the dump trucks that come to collect rocks for construction at the Gaskoy River, which the road crosses.

The CLM team is now working around and beyond the market, but until April 2016, it was working in Bakè. The members there were part of a cohort of 300 families. Most lived in various neighborhoods of Eastern Mirebalais, along the main road.

Angeline Michel was a member of the cohort. When the CLM team met her in late 2014, she was living with a toddler and an infant in a small room in another woman’s home. The woman was a member of her church. As Angeline says, “Not even a relative.” But when she saw that Angeline had nowhere to go with her kids, she offered her a small space to sleep in. The children’s father lived nearby, but he didn’t really help support his kids. On the contrary, he was inclined to waste anything either he or Angeline managed to earn.

Unlike almost any woman who has entered the CLM program, Angeline had a job at the time. She worked as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool. The biggest part of the job was to manage children who either wet or soiled themselves. It paid 1500 gourds, or about $25, per month. It wasn’t – it couldn’t be – her main source of income because she rarely was paid. Principals of rural schools can find it challenging to collect school fees. Parents just can’t pay. The schools depend on that revenue, however, so it is hard for principals to pay teachers and other staff, too. Angeline’s salary was more a plan than a reality.

Instead of depending on her job, she depended on small commerce. “I would go to the market after school twice-a-week and buy laundry soap on credit. Then I’d carry it around the market until I sold it all. I’d pay for the soap at the end of the day, and I’d go home with whatever my profit was.”

When Angeline joined the CLM program, she chose goat-rearing and a pig-rearing as her two activities. Taking care of the goats didn’t go very well. Hers got sick and died. But she had better luck with pigs. She chose to raise a female, and it grew quickly. It only had two piglets in its first litter, but they were healthy.

She also saved up 1000 gourds and invested it in small commerce. She would buy fruit in and around Mache Kana, and then bring it to downtown Mirebalais, where she could sell it for much more. It was hard work, because the prices she was able to ask were highest if she was willing to walk up and down the more residential streets, carrying the fruit on her head, selling it piece by piece to customers at their homes. And she couldn’t invest much more than 1000 gourds because she could only carry so much merchandise around on her head. Nevertheless, it was a business model that worked. She would leave the school where she worked every day as quickly as she could, and then spend the afternoon selling her goods.

She struggled with her husband’s selfishness. When he sold off her two piglets, she quickly fattened up the sow, and sold it to buy a cow. Rather than keeping the cow herself, she gave it to a member of her family to look after. The man she chose for the job will have a right to every other calf her cow bears as his fee, but it means the cow is in safe hands, beyond her husband’s reach.

Angeline’s work at the school went well. The school’s owner appreciated her effort. “He saw that I tried to learn everything the teacher was doing.” Eventually, he promoted her to preschool teacher, with a raise from 1500 gourds per month to 2500. She took care of her children with the money from her business, and used the payroll – whenever the school director got around to paying it – to invest. Soon she had three small pigs. Her husband eventually sold them to buy the papers he would need to work legally in the Dominican Republic. Once he left, however, he began, at least occasionally, to send money to help her with their kids.

The money he sends became important because she had to give up her small commerce. She originally could go to Mirebalais in the afternoons because she had a neighbor she thought she could leave her children with. But one time while she was away, her baby wandered into the street and was hit by a passing motorcycle. Fortunately, he suffered only a broken leg, but she decided that she couldn’t trust people to keep an eye on the kids. So, now when she comes home from school every day, she stays with her boys.

The three of them live off food she buys on credit from a local merchant. She pays whenever she receives her salary or the boys’ father sends money from the D.R. “I haven’t made progress since I graduated from CLM,” she says, “but my boys and I live comfortably.” And she has a clear plan. “I’m keeping an eye on the cow. It hasn’t gotten pregnant yet, and I may have to sell it and buy another. I’m also saving whatever I can to buy a pig. I’ve done well with them.”

Nannan Cinéas hasn’t done as well as Angeline. She joined the CLM program in the same cohort of 300 families. A mother of seven children, she lives with five of them. Two others live with the father, from whom she is separated.

Before she was a CLM member, she was a successful business woman. She had over 5000 gourds in her small commerce. At the time, that was more than $100. But sending her children to school was the most important thing to her, and paying school fees for the four school-age kids who were with her gradually ate away her capital. When she joined the program in 2014, her business was no more. She depended on gifts of food or cash from neighbors or family – a cup of cornmeal or rice, 25 or 50 gourds – just to get by.

Like Angeline, she chose goats and a pig as the assets for us to give her, but none of those that we gave her survived. She worked hard and saved her money, and was eventually able to replace them. By the time she graduated, she had three goats and a pig. She also found a job as a cook in the same school that employed Angeline.

And like Angeline she used support that CLM gives all of its members to build a house. She finally had a place of her own to raise her children.

Or so she thought. The house and the accompanying latrine were hers, but she built them on land that she rented with her case manager’s help. Shortly after graduation, however, her landlord told her he wanted his land back. He wasn’t willing to have her on it anymore.

So, she sold her house for 6000 gourds and rented a small room for 2000 gourds per year. By then, her second set of livestock had died. Without livestock that she could sell to send the kinds to school, most of the money from the sale of her house went to pay the fees. What’s worse, she lost her job because her last pregnancy left her unable to work for several months before and after the birth of her child.

With no job, no livestock, and no commerce, Nannan feels as though she is back to zero. Once again, she depends on gifts from family members and friends. And with the due date for her rent approaching, she has no idea how she will raise enough money to keep her room, nor has she figured out where else she could go. She has no plan.

Béatrice Marcellus finds herself in similar straights. She’s a single mother with two young children and a third on the way.

She had better luck with her livestock than the other two women. When she graduated from the program, she had three goats, a growing pig, and some turkeys as well. Because she has fewer children than Nannan, she pays less to the local school, too.

But like Nannan, she built her CLM home on rented land, and the land’s owner decided to force her off it. “He didn’t just ask me to leave. He went out of his way to humiliate me. He would tie animals up in the front yard, and litter my yard with straw.”

She sold her house for 5000 gourds, and found a room to rent. She sold her pig and her turkey because she no longer had any place she could keep them, and her goats died because she didn’t keep them well fed. The place she found to rent is expensive, though. It costs 7500 gourds per year. She had the cash when she needed it because of the sale of her house and her pig, but there is very little chance that she’ll be able to raise as much money once again when the rent comes due.

We on the CLM team can and must learn a lot from the experience of the women from Bakè. The staff who worked with them closely seem to have done a poor job. On one hand, though it is not unusual for some members to lose some of their livestock, the losses that these three women suffered are unusually high. It seems likely that either the animals were poorly chosen in the first place, that the women were not taking good care of them, or that they were living in situations that made success with livestock unlikely. Good case management might have corrected any of these issues. And our team seems to have failed to work with the important people around the women: Angeline’s husband and the other women’s landlords. But part of our failure here is probably tied to a general fact about our program, one that needs to change.

We work hard with our members to help them learn to plan for the future. Research in behavioral economics and our own experience both tell us that people living in ultra-poverty, people poor enough to suffer from hunger a lot of the time, tend to be so focused on their daily struggle that they have no space in their thinking for considerations of the future. We believe that helping them get themselves to the point at which they can establish a clear plan is a key part of enabling them to make progress that can endure. They need to have a sensible objective, a practical strategy for attaining that objectives, and a realistic timeline for accomplishing each step in their plan.

But when we talk with our staff about future planning, we focus heavily on our members’ investments. How will they continue to earn money, and how will they be able to continue their growth by investing a part of what they earn? We probably don’t focus enough on the other aspects of their lives that require planning: establishing a secure housing situation or managing a prodigal partner. Until we teach case managers and CLM members as well to look at future planning as it relates to all the aspects of their lives, the progress that some of our members make will remain fragile.

All the CLM team’s experience over the last ten years suggests that our poor results with Béatrice and Nannan are very much the exception, not the rule. Our research partner, the Institute of Development Studies, in Sussex, England, is currently helping us study the program’s long-term impacts as a way to confirm that this is so. But even if it turns out the Nannan and Béatrice are a tiny minority, it is critical that we correct whatever went wrong for them.

Mimose Estiverne: Almost Three Years After Not Graduating

Mimose and her husband Osène live with their four children in Mazonbi, an isolated community sitting on one of the jagged ridges that separates the Central Plateau from the plain to its south. Mazonbi is sparsely populated and strictly agricultural. The secondary ridge it sits on twists northward along a steep, rocky path from the primary ridge in Gran Boulay.

She joined the CLM program with the group of 360 families in southern Mirebalais that graduated in December 2014. But Mimose did not graduate.

This surprised us. When we evaluated her after twelve months, she scored as ready to graduate. She had been flourishing. But her inability to meet our graduation criteria after 18 months had a lot to do with timing and bad luck.

Midway through her 18 months in the program she became pregnant. In the program’s last months, she had to discontinue her small commerce. Her pregnancy made it impossible to get her merchandise to market. Even the small markets nearby were too far for her to hike to with a load of merchandise on her head. And a series of setbacks left her without goats. A neighbor killed three of hers in a dispute with Osène, and negotiations for recompense left them with only two much smaller ones. Both of these died within a couple of months. At graduation, she and Osène had almost nothing.

Even so, after 18 months in the program she showed a sense of progress. The baby boy she had had when she started CLM had been consistently sickly. With her case manager’s advice, however, she learned how to get him the medical attention he needed. He started on the program of fortified peanut butter used to treat malnutrition in Haiti, and by the time Mimose left CLM, he was healthy most of the time. The family also had a two-room house with a good tin roof instead of the rickety, leaf-covered shack they had lived in previously.

She and Osène are hardworking farmers, and before long things were beginning to look up again. They made a commitment to family planning so that their four children wouldn’t become five, six, or more. Their first bean harvest after graduation was strong. They were able to use it to buy a cow, and soon the cow had a calf behind it. When her baby was ready, Mimose returned to small commerce using income from their farming as capital. “I really like having a small business. It helps me out. I use it to keep my family fed.” Almost a year after graduation, she was even able to send her older children to school for the first time. And within another year, the couple had made another important purchase: they used income from a harvest to buy a horse. It could have been life-changing because Mimose would no longer have to carry her merchandise to market on her head, but the pregnant mare died shortly after they bought it.

Soon they confronted a new opportunity. A neighbor offered them a chance to buy a half an acre of farmland. They jumped at the chance, managing a down payment out of farm income. When the same neighbor offered another half-acre next to what they had already purchased, it was a more difficult decision. They didn’t have the cash. But they decided to take a risk. They sold the cow and its calf for 30,000 gourds, or about $500. They would owe a little bit – about $125 on the total for the entire acre – but the seller was willing to wait.

Farming all that land would be expensive, and they made a second risky decision. At the beginning of 2017, they took all the capital in Mimose’s business and invested it in planting their crops. They bought seeds, and they paid and fed a team of neighbors to help them. They planted the entire plot.

Last week, things took an unfortunate turn. Though Hurricane Irma missed Haiti, there were heavy rains in spots. The farmland in Mazonbi is steep and rocky, and the downpour washed through their garden, taking most of their potential harvest with it.

With neither livestock nor a small commerce, they’ll need the little bit that remains just to feed their kids through the fall. Once the year’s avocado harvest is over, they are unlikely to get much more out of their land that they can sell. Osène will have to work in their neighbors’ fields this fall just to raise enough money to plant again next spring. And they are suddenly uncertain where the money for the final payment on their land – due in December – will come from. What troubles Mimose the most, however, is that she won’t be able to send her children to school this year. “I was counting on the harvest to buy uniforms and books and to pay their school fees.”

Looking ahead, the family should be in good shape. Osène is currently ready to put a crop of sweet potatoes in the ground, and they have other plans to get by until their next harvest. But without the diverse investments that the CLM program encourages its members to make, Mimose and Osène are destined to have a difficult few months.

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.