Category Archives: After Graduation

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.

Claudette and Franckel, Two and a Half Years After Graduation

Claudette and Franckel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vilanie Assé, Fours Years After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orana Louis, Four Years After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Resilience of Graduates

Orana Louis lives in Bay Tourib with her husband Sòn and their six kids. Few of her neighbors know her by that name. They have called her Jaklin ever since she moved to the area from Mannwa with her mother Mirana. Her father had passed away, and her mother came to Bay Tourib to move in with another man. Jaklin and Mirana both graduated from the CLM program in March 2013, and Jaklin’s time in our program was especially transformative.

When we first met her and her husband, they were struggling to get by with farming. They had no assets to speak of except the land that belonged to Sòn’s family, but they didn’t have the resources to invest in seeds. They depended completely on seeds they would borrow from a local peasant organization. They didn’t have a home of their own. They were living in a small house that belonged to one of Sòn ‘s brothers.

Their main source of local income was agricultural day labor. Jaklin and Sòn would do work when they could find it in their neighbor’s fields. Sòn often went to the Dominican Republic for months at a time, and when he returned to Haiti, he’d try to come with some extra money. Jaklin would use it to buy plastic sandals in Tomond, which she’d sell in the rural markets around Bay Tourib. Each time she would restart her business it would work for a while, but eventually collapse. Often the problem was pregnancy. She couldn’t run her business because she was busy nursing a child. And whenever Sòn was away, she’d have to dip into her capital to manage her household. The family was hungry most of the time.

Things began to change when she joined the CLM program. She chose small commerce as one of her two enterprises, and so received an infusion of capital into her business as a transfer that she didn’t need to repay. She also received coaching, which helped her keep better track of her business.

She decided to expand the same business she had been trying to establish for years. She continued to buy sandals at the market in Tomond, the nearest town, and lug them for sale to the remoter markets in Koray, Regalis, and Zabriko. With her older children now big enough to watch the younger ones sometimes, and Sòn around all the time to give her a hand, her business started to take off. The couple saved money from her regular cash stipend to invest in their own farming, and they had a couple of good harvests. These harvests, in turn, enabled them to invest more in the sandal business and, more importantly, to buy a horse and then a mule to carry merchandise.

Between the added capital and the pack animals, Jaklin was able to expand her business dramatically. She was soon sending Sòn to buy her merchandise in Port au Prince, where the variety was greater and the prices were lower. And their growing business made further investments possible: farmland, a grain storage depot, and better schools for their kids. They built a house of their own on the family land they had been living on, and they bought a large garden from Sòn’s mother.

And their progress continued despite setbacks. When Sòn lost most of the capital in the sandal business during one of his trips to Port au Prince, they shook off the loss and kept moving forward.

In 2015, Jaklin became pregnant again. And this last pregnancy was especially difficult. Her labor went poorly, and she had to be rushed down to the Partners in Health hospital in Hinche. The doctors’ care there was free of charge, but the hospital is badly undersupplied with medications and other supplies, so Jaklin and Sòn had to spend the capital in the sandal business to pay for what she needed. She eventually required a C-section. She gave birth to a healthy boy, and asked the attending doctors to make sure that Rivalda was her last child.

When she got back to Bay Tourib, she was stuck nursing another baby, but the baby was healthy and she gradually regained her own health as well. Her sandal business, however, had been reduced to nothing. When she was ready to start getting around again, she had no merchandise and too little capital to buy any.

So she and Sòn made a new plan. Instead of the larger investment that the sandal business needed, she decided to go to the rural markets every week and buy up all the beans she could afford. Each week, she would take a load down to Tomond. She wouldn’t make a lot, but the income would be reliable. The standard rural unit of measure in Haiti is a large coffee can, a “mamit”, and Jaklin would be sure to make 15 to 20 gourds for each mamit she’d sell. “The sandals take more money,” she explains. “But once we harvest our beans in the fall, we’ll have the money to buy sandals again.”

So she and Sòn have a plan and the confidence to know they can manage. They are not at all a wealthy pair, but they are smart and resilient, so their future is bright.

Jacklin with her five younger kids

Jacklin with her five younger kids

Cenecia Tranquil

Cenecia grew up in an extremely poor family in Dubuisson, an area of northeastern Saut d’Eau. Her parents had ten children, but though the family often had to go without, her mother and father kept the family together. “Back in those days, people didn’t send their children away. There weren’t so many orphanages.”

When she first joined the CLM program in 2010, she was living alone in a straw shack with her four youngest children. Her three older kids were living with their father – who is not the younger children’s father – in Port au Prince. She and her kids were struggling. “Things were really bad. We were barely getting by. I’d make some charcoal now and then or go to work for a neighbor.” The father of her younger children was in the Dominican Republic. He had gone looking for work, but he hadn’t been able to send anything back to Cinecia. The children attended school on and off, but Cenecia never knew whether or when she’d be able to pay their tuition. There were days when she didn’t even know what she would give them to eat. She owned no livestock, not even a chicken.

She joined the CLM program, and she got to work. She chose goats and poultry as her enterprises. Her case manager gave her two young female goats and a variety of birds: hens, a rooster, and a couple of turkeys, too. And though most of her poultry died, her goats had offspring.

But her real progress came through small commerce. “I saved up some of the money from my weekly stipend, and my case manager Josiane taught me how I could use it to start a business.” She sold groceries – staples like rice, oil, and the like – from her own home and at the local markets. The commerce worked well, and as she moved through the program, her profits increased steadily.

And she needed the profits, because she had a lot she wanted to accomplish. The shack she was living in had a roof made of tach, the thick, fibrous seedpods that grow on palm trees. It offered no protection from the rain. And the walls were much too shaky to repair. She wouldn’t be able to cover it with a tin roof. She’d have to build something new. That meant finding the support posts and cross beams. CLM doesn’t provide the lumber that home repair requires. And she’d have to do it by herself, without a husband’s help.

When her husband returned from the Dominican Republic, he was surprised to find Cenecia and the children living in a new house with a good tin roof. The CLM program had offered Cenecia fourteen sheets of tin, but that wasn’t enough for the house that she wanted. She used profits from her business to buy 16 additional sheets so that her house could have two rooms. Now she’s glad she went to the extra expense. “My girl sleeps in one room, and my boys in the other. They’re getting older so I don’t want them sleeping in the same room.”

When she was ready to graduate, Cenecia felt as though she was facing a problem. She wanted to add to her business by joining Fonkoze’s credit program, but she was afraid to do so with the business she had. “People were always buying on credit, and they wouldn’t want to pay.” In rural Haiti, sales made in the marketplace are usually made with cash, but the neighbors who come to buy groceries at someone’s home often expect to be able to buy on credit. If Cenecia couldn’t count on collecting what neighbors owed her, it would always be hard to repay her loans. Right before graduation, Josiane had organized a meeting, and she asked whether any of the graduating CLM members owed money to other members of the program. She wanted to settle the debts before she left. The experience marked Cenecia. “When I told her about the women who owed me, they got mad. Even to this day, there’s one who won’t speak to me.”

Cenecia would be joining Fonkoze’s Ti Kredi program, a special credit program featuring very small loans and extra support from specially trained credit agents. She would start with only 1000 gourds, which was worth about $25 at the time and only about a third as much as Fonkoze’s standard first loan. But she didn’t want to risk it with a business in which customers might not pay. So she gave up her grocery business, and moved into the charcoal business instead. At first, she would buy the charcoal by the sack, and then split it into smaller portions that customers would buy for household use. Sometimes she would buy tree branches, and her husband would turn them into charcoal. Instead of selling out of her home, she sold at local markets, where all sales were for cash.

The business took off. She took larger and larger loans as her business grew. Soon she was buying and selling charcoal by the sack. She’d sell several sacks at a time in a single trip to Port au Prince. And she started selling lumber, too. She’d buy trees that she’d have cut into planks for furniture makers or home construction, or she’d buy planks that had already been cut.

As her income grew, her life changed. The two-room house she built while part of the CLM program began to feel too small. So she and her husband added a second building, with three rooms, next door to it. It has the family’s kitchen, a storage room, and a bedroom for the two of them. The children can be noisy. She also rented a room in Port au Prince so she could send her three older boys to trade school there. One’s studying ceramic tiling, another is learning plumbing. Her children were eating better, and there was no problem paying for school any more.

Her last loan was for 50,000 gourds, worth about $1000. She used it to make the first payment on a plot of land that had been planted with sugarcane, the second cane field that she’s purchased with Fonkoze credit. The land will eventually cost 105,000 gourds. She managed the first three repayments on her loan with money from her commerce and other of her own and her husband’s earnings. She’ll make the last two payments with sales of syrup milled from the land’s cane. But she plans to take a much smaller loan when she’s repaid this one. “I don’t yet have a plan for 50,000 gourds. I’ll take 25,000 instead.”

But she also has an ambition that goes beyond taking care of her family. She wants to start speaking to new CLM members when they first enter the program. “When I tell them where I was and where I am now, that will help them have hope for themselves.”