Category Archives: After Graduation

Idalia Bernadin — Ten Months after Graduation

Idalia Bernadin graduated from the CLM program in February 2018. At the time, she was living in Gwo Labou, a hillside community overlooking the river that cuts through Savanèt, a commune in the southeast corner of Haiti’s Central Plateau.

She and her husband, Villon, had moved to Gwo Labou at a low point in their lives. The second of their four sons had just been arrested, and they had felt forced to abandoned their home in Kadèt, in the valley across the mountain from Gwo Labou. Kadèt is in a hard-to-access corner of Kòniyon, the next commune to the south. Villon had been accused of theft. Neighbors said he stole a bunch of plantains out of a garden, and Idalia’s efforts to come to his defense only made things worse. So, they abandoned a home with a good tin roof, on land that Idalia had purchased by selling off some of her inheritance. They moved in with Villon’s sister and her husband.

When the CLM team met them shortly after the move, they were, thus, landless and homeless. They had nothing. Villon tried to continue to work their fields in and near Kadèt, but they are a long hike from Gwo Labou, and his reputation as a thief made it difficult for him to appear in the neighborhood. The couple didn’t have land in Gwo Labou, so they tried to get by working in their neighbors’ fields. 

The CLM team helped them gain access to a small plot of land, so they were able to build a house. Many CLM members work hard to make the biggest, nicest houses they can while they are in the program. Three- and even four-room houses are common, though the program only provides some of the materials for a small, two-room one. Members choose to make the extra expense to take advantage of the opportunity CLM offers them, even if doing so uses up capital that they could use in other important ways.

Idalia was different. She and Villon did as little as they could get away with. They built only one small room. In fact, they had to do so twice, because their first effort was so perfunctory that the CLM director responsible for the region wouldn’t accept it as a bona fidehome. As short as all the members of the family are, even they could barely stand up in that first construction. 

But as glad as Idalia and Villon were that the CLM program had found them, they didn’t want to live in Gwo Labou. Their plan was to remain in the area just long enough to graduate from the program, and then move back across the mountains to Kòniyon. They felt unwelcome in Gwo Labou. The man who made their plot of land available clearly wanted them off of it. He was planting his crops closer and closer to their front door. And they never really made friends there.

It took them a couple of months to prepare their move, but they were back in Kòniyon by June, just four months after graduation. They sold their house for 4000 gourds, or almost $60 at the time, and used most of the money to buy a goat. They sold their large pig as well. Getting it over the mountain to Kadèt would have been a challenge. When they returned to Kòniyon, they bought two smaller ones with the money. There is plenty of good forage where they now live, so Idalia is couting on pig-rearing as a main source of income.

Their new, temporary home.

They did not feel comfortable moving back to their old house in Kadèt. The accusations of theft still haunted Villon there. “That house is still ours.” Idalia explains, “We have four boys, and one of them can take it.” Villon had some land he inherited in Frijè, a neighborhood deeper in the valley than Kadèt, and they built a small shack on it, enough for the couple and their youngest son, Dalison, the only child still living with them. He’s in his mid-teens, and Idalia started sending him to school when she joined the program. He’s in school again this year, though he’s having to repeat first grade. His sickness last year made attendance to spotty.

When she moved to Frijè, Idalia decided that she needed to do something to earn a steady income. Her livestock could increase its value, but she would need much of that money at first to build her new house. She and Villon have farmland in both Frijè and Kadèt, and they would occasionally have harvest to sell, but only a few times each year. Villon works hard. He makes charcoal for neighbors and splits the proceeds with them, but that work is irregular. So, she decided to establish a small commerce.

She started it with 500 gourds from the sale of the house. She made bonbon dous, a kind of gingerbread. It sold well, but she sometimes sold on credit and had a hard time collecting the money that was owed her. “I’m not going to argue with someone about money.” 

As that first money evaporated, she knew she had to come up with a different business plan. So, she went to the market in Pòtino with 1000 gourds of the proceeds from the sale of a crop of beans. She bought basic provisions: rice, sugar, oil, seasonings, etc., and began selling them out of her home. She now makes the trip to Pòtino every Sunday to restock. She still has trouble collecting what people owe her sometimes, but she’s found a wholesaler in the market who will sell her on credit when she needs it, so she’s able to keep her business going. It’s enough to manage her household expenses, at least when it’s combined with their farming and other activities. Her poultry is starting to flourish, too. She just sold two small roosters to buy a cellphone.

She’s optimistic about her future. Her son was released from prison. He behaved so well while inside that one of the guards now pays for him to go to school. He’s now living in Pòtoprens with family so that he can take advantage of the opportunity. She’s focused on building a new house. She knows it will take some time, but one of her goats just had kids, and that’s just the sort of progress she needs to make.

There is one more piece of this story I should share that speaks to Idalia and her relation to our program. It is hard to express just how out-of-the-way Frijè is. I was in Mable, in the mountains near the border between Savanèt and Kòniyon, when I went to look for her. I knew she had family living near Mable, so I was able to get some information there about where I might find her new home. But it was a hike of more than three hours each way, and coming back was uphill. I found the home, but did not find her there. I had a long talk with Dalison, whom I know well from some time he spent in the hospital in Mibalè. I learned a lot about the family and the changes they had made since moving, but I didn’t get to talk with Idalia. She was at the Kourèt market, selling the roosters and buying her phone.

A few weeks later, Idalia came looking for me in Mibalè. It was a hard, four-hour hike for her to get to the taxi stand where she got a motorcycle to Mibalè. But she had heard that I had come to see her, and she was unhappy that she hadn’t been there. “If I had been home, you wouldn’t have hiked backed the same day you came. I would have made you spend the night.” And she added, “CLM did a lot for me. I have goats and pigs now, and a way to keep going on.”


Perrona and Soiye – Five Years after Graduation

Perrona and her family are probably unique among the roughly 7000 families who have participated in the program so far. As far as I know, she is the only member to have been part of two different cohorts. I wrote about her once before. (See: here.)

When we first selected her, she, her husband Soiye, and their two boys were living in a small shack he had built on her cousin’s land in the outermost corner of Lalyann, a small community on the northern edge of Mannwa, in Boukankare. Perrona spent a few weeks in the program at that time, but eventually decided to drop out. I remember the conversation we had when she announced her intention. She said that she and Soiye had decided to “fè yon to kanpe.” I understood that to mean that she wanted to take a little break from the program, and answered that we did not offer “breaks.” They were either in the program or out of it.

We went back and forth a number of times. I felt strongly that the family needed us, so I wanted to see whether I could change Perrona’s mind. She is a very short woman, so I normally tower over her. But I was standing downhill, and the slope was steep, so she was looking down at me for a change. When I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I accepted her ID card and her pink information book, and made the long hike back to Viyèt, where I had left my motorcycle.

Within months, she a Soiye were sorry they had left the program. They both came from poor families, and both had relatives in the program. Soiye’s older sister lived in nearby Boukankola, and Perrona’s mother near Zaboka. Both were making real progress. Perrona had allowed jealous neighbors to convince her that the program was the devil’s work, but now both she and her husband were seeing the good it was doing for people they knew very well.

Normally, there would have been nothing we could do. We serve one region after another, and when we’ve passed through a neighborhood we do not return. But Perrona had been forced out of her home in Lalyann even before she left the program. She and Soiye had approached her cousin about the opportunity they had as CLM members to build a better house. The cousin had been apologetic, but she had said, “No.” The land was inherited, and she was not the only person with claim to it. She couldn’t allow a permanent structure on it because the others might object. Perrona and Soiye then moved to Nan Joumou, which was right next to an area where we were already selecting a new group of members. So, we simply invited them to join the new group.

Their 18 months in that second cohort were challenging. They were able to build a small house on land owned by Soiye’s family, right next to one of his older brothers. And they took good care of the livestock the program gave them. Soiye even established a business that continues to serve as their main source of income even five years later. He buys livestock, primarily poultry, at rural markets and resells them, either at other markets or sometimes even at the very same one.

Their biggest challenge had to do with their relationship with each other, and at first the CLM program might have made things worse. They had a very bright and motivated case manager, Titon, who wanted only the best for them. He hit it off with Soiye, and included him in his work with Perrona. As Soiye’s business took off, he and Titon spent extra time together, Titon feeling perhaps that work with Soiye was the most effective way to help the family progress.
But the close relationship between the two men only seemed to add to Perrona’s frustrations. She felt left out. She wanted to leave her in-law’s land in Nan Joumou. She wanted to establish her own small commerce. She wanted to feel more an equal partner. Eventually, she abandoned Soiye and their children, and moved to Mibalè, where she quickly found work as a maid.

At this point our situation was complicated. We needed to continue to support the family, but we couldn’t be sure how to do it. Our inclination was to think that they would be best off if they could stay together. We had never, whether from Perrona or elsewhere, heard any suggestion of either abuse or infidelity in the relationship. But Perrona needed to have the freedom to decide what she wanted. And, unfortunately, her case manager had more-or-less disqualified himself from talking her through the issues by having appeared, in her eyes, to have lined up with her husband.

So, we called on another case manager, a woman named Sandra. Perrona already knew Sandra slightly because Sandra had worked on the first cohort that Perrona had been part of. She was very happy to talk with her. Sandra first confirmed that Perrona had not suffered abuse and was not accusing Soiye of infidelity. She talked to Perrona, trying to understand what Perrona really wanted. As it turned out, she didn’t want to leave either Soiye or her children, but wouldn’t live in Nan Joumou. She felt trapped there.

Now it was time to talk to Soiye. He was angry and hurt that Perrona had left him, but he didn’t want to split up either. He presented two practical problems, however. On one hand, he had crops in the ground. He didn’t want to lose them. He didn’t think he could afford to. On the other, his business involved long hikes through the mountains to distant markets in Nan Sab and Regalis. These markets would be much harder to reach from Mibalè. But the couple eventually reached a compromise. Perrona would return to Nan Joumou and stay there with Soiye through the upcoming harvest, then they would leave the area together.

I’m making the path they took look much straighter than it was. There were setbacks and other complications. But five years later they live together in their own house in Mibalè. Soiye still deals in poultry, but instead of hiking to Nan Sab and Regalis, he rides trucks and motorcycles to Mayisad and Nan Kas. Perrona has learned to do business, too. She buys beans in Difayi on Mondays and Domon on Fridays. On Tuesdays, she hikes through Mibalè, selling her beans as she goes, and on Saturdays she sits selling them in the Mibalè market. She buys about 25 cans of them, at 55 gourds per can, and sells them for 60 to 70. “It’s not much, but it helps buy the things we need,” she explains.

When I ask them whether they are glad they moved to Mibalè, they say that they are. When I ask Soiye in particular whether he sees that Perrona was right and he was wrong, he says he does. “When two people live together, they have to listen to each other.” He adds, “If I hadn’t moved to Mibalè I never would have made enough money to start to buy the land we’re living on.”

The couple still has problems. They have four children now, and with their fifth due this month, their expenses are higher than they’ve ever been. Two of their three older children are in school this year, but they are not yet sure how they will send their second boy. And it will be a struggle to pay what they still owe on the land that they are purchasing. They say their fifth child will be their last, but they hadn’t planned to have four, either.

Christella Fleurissaint – Almost Four Years After Graduation

I’ve written about Christella before. (Here.) She lives in Labasti, across from the space that becomes the largest market in southern Mibalè every Thursday. On market day, the space along the side of the road, in front of where she sits with her business, fills with dozens of motorcycle taxis, the drivers waiting to take on passengers as they leave the busy market to return downtown, or wherever they need to go. The livestock market across the street has been growing steadily over the last years. Strong demand for meat in Pòtoprens sends buyers who by dozens of animals – goats, pigs, cows, and horses – to truck them into the capital for butchering and distribution.

When I first met her, Christella was living in a rented room with two children a short distance north of the same market. The children’s father was starting to pull away from her and his kids, spending more and more time in Pòtoprens and providing less and less support. She wasn’t sure how she would pay the rent when it came due. She had been keeping herself and her children fed by selling fresh vegetables in the market, but she had been doing it with money borrowed from a neighbor, and one week of disastrous sales left her unable to repay what she owed. Soon after that the business collapsed entirely.

But her 18 months in CLM were productive. She made great progress, much of it connected with a change in her personal life. She met another man, Michelet. Eventually, they moved in together. We know that progress is much easier for women with reliable partners. That isn’t surprising. Michelet was struggling at the time, just as Christella was. He was a construction worker, but he had broken his leg badly in a motorcycle accident, and the leg had been mis-set, leaving him with a bad limp. Without a crutch, all he could do was hop on one foot.

But he was willing to work hard. He brought in small bits of farming income and helped her with the various kinds of work that success in CLM requires: managing livestock, assembling construction materials for home repair and latrine construction, etc. He began earning extra income by working at a roadside tire-repair shop. It was reliable money, but very little. None of the equipment was his, so he owed the owner half of everything he made.

When he and Christella saw how much money tire repair could bring in, they came to their case manager with a plan. They would sell out their livestock, which had begun to multiply, and buy a full set of tire repair equipment for Michelet, including a used gas-powered air compressor. The case manager agreed that the investment made sense, so the couple went ahead. Christella graduated in December 2014, easily meeting all the criteria.

But that time, Christella had gone back into the vegetable business as well, but it was a very up-and-down endeavor. Selling perishables was always risky. Every once in a while, she’d take a loss, and they’d have to replenish her capital from Michelet’s tire-repair income. But it wasn’t a problem, because he was making enough. They even started replacing the livestock they had sold off to buy his compressor.

When the first compressor broke down, they were able to replace it with another. When the second one broke down, they chose not to. They initially used the money they got from selling it to buy more livestock, but eventually they turned around that livestock by selling it to buy a used motorcycle. They paid 22,500 gourds, or about $350. Michelet would start driving a taxi. Christella gave him money out of her business to repair the motorcycle, and he took additional money out of a field of sugarcane they had planted together.

That’s when things changed for the worse for Christella. “The motorcycle is what broke up my family.” Michelet started getting around more, and he found a girlfriend. Soon he had left Christella. They have two children together, in addition to the two she had when they first met, and Michelet hasn’t been supporting them at all. She now depends entirely on her small business to support herself and all four kids.

But she’s no longer selling vegetables. She sets up her table next to the road near her house every day and sells cookies, crackers, lollipops, and chewing gum. “I sell a little bit throughout the day to kids who come by and want a snack.”

Those snacks, however, are not her main business. Her main business is cigarettes, snuff, and kleren, the local rum that is popular throughout Haiti. She sells the clear rum, but also knows how to flavor it. Her table usually holds a dozen bottles or more of different rum-based concoctions, flavored with various herbs, spices, or fruits. Cinnamon, passion fruit, and ginger are popular. She buys the raw rum by the barrel for 17,500 gourds. She has wholesale clients, mostly women who have businesses like hers and buy a gallon or two at a time, in addition to her consistent retail trade.

She’s not happy about the situation. She’s understandably angry at having been abandoned by Michelet, enough to have carefully tracked all the money that he took out her businesses to help himself. But she’s confident of her ability to do what she needs to do for her children, with or without his help. She’s ready to send them to school in September, and she plans begin buying more livestock. “This business can take care of me and my children.”

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.