Category Archives: Graduates Who Migrate

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.”

Dalison

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.

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.”