Category Archives: The Women of Kolonbyè

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.”


Modeline Pierre – At Graduation

“The graduation ceremony went well.” Modeline explains, “I took care of everything they gave me, I kept watch over the livestock, and the ceremony was important because I wanted everyone to see my success.”

Towards the end of the 18 months, Modeline had six goats. But one of the kids died, and she had to sell another goat to pay the last of the money she owed to her savings and loan association.

The association offered her opportunities, but her loan didn’t really pan out. She and her husband borrowed money for him to invest in avocados, but the ones he bought never got to market. It was a total loss. And Modeline doesn’t plan to rejoin the association for a second round. “I don’t really like the people who are involved. We could try to start our own separate association, but they’re the ones who have the equipment to run it with.”

She and her husband will continue to focus on their farming. “Farming is what we believe in, and we’ll keep working at it.”

They are making their lives now as farmers in a way they couldn’t have before Modeline joined the program. Back then, her husband Wisnel lived in the Dominican Republic. She lived with their daughter in her mother’s home, helping out as a babysitter. When Wisnel heard what the program was offering his family, he returned for a visit to do his part. He gave Modeline the help she needed to build their new house, and he began taking care of their animals.

But the critical change in their lives came when Modeline’s stepfather intervened. The older man got involved in the same avocado investment that Wisnel made, and though neither man succeeded, he liked Wisnel’s willingness to work. So, he spoke to Wisnel’s mother. She had land that was going unfarmed because she couldn’t farm it herself. She had neither the physical strength nor the resources. The stepfather convinced her to turn the land over to Wisnel, and he went to work on it right away.

With livestock to develop and land to farm, Wisnel and Modeline decided there was no longer any reason for him to return to the Dominican Republic. Modeline says that he might still go work there occasionally for shorts periods if there’s no work to be done on their land. Quick windfalls will always help. But the two now live together fulltime, and Modeline could not be happier about it.

The family still struggles. There isn’t much to eat these days. It has been some time since their last harvest. Modeline can make one good meal a day out of the products of their plantain patch, but with very limited cash, she can’t always make a second meal. And since she does not have a small commerce, regular cash income depends on Wisnel’s occasional ability to work for a day in someone else’s fields. He has to be careful, though. He needs to make sure he has plenty of time to work his own land because good harvests are what they need to continue to transform their lives.

Modeline is already thinking of school in the fall for their first child. “I didn’t send her this year because the path down to the school in Mawotyè is too hard for a little girl like her. I couldn’t carry her down every day because I was pregnant. But that’s what I’ll do next year.” Modeline herself never went to school, but she’s determined that her children’s lives will be better than hers has been.

Solène Louis – At Graduation

Solène thought that the graduation was wonderful, but she was more interested in talking about what she and her family had achieved during 18 months. “When you look at where we’ve gotten at graduation: we have a four-room house, we didn’t have livestock and now we have three goats and a pig. And we send the kids to school without any problems.”

She herself made it through the sixth grade and has occasionally worked as a primary school teacher over the years, so it was especially hard on her when she couldn’t send her own kids to school. Now that she is able to pay for their school, she’s taking their education very seriously. She held them back at the end of last year to repeat first grade. They had passed, but she wasn’t satisfied. This year is different. “They’re starting to understand their schoolwork. They’ll be able to move up this year.”

She found have Ricot, her case manager, working with her every week to be an especially helpful part of the program. “He gave me good advice and helped me to save. When I needn’t to get something important done, he helped me clear the path by letting me use what I had saved. When someone is willing to teach you to manage your things so you can care for your kids, that’s the best thing there is.”

She has plans moving forward. She will work to continue to manage what she has carefully, not letting anything go to waste, and to invest in her children. She’s already purchased an unborn cow. It’s a cheap way to buy one. And the cow should be born in April. It should be weaned and in her hand by the end of the year.

Altagrace Brevil – At Graduation

Altagrace enjoyed the graduation ceremony, but she left it unhappy in one respect. “I didn’t have the chance to make a speech. I know that they couldn’t let everyone come forward, but I wanted that chance.” This is not unusual. Six of the 187 graduated were chosen to make speeches, and a seventh was so distraught at not being able to share her story, that she was given the microphone as well.

Altagrace isn’t hesitant to go through the list of what she’d wanted to say. “There are things I never understood that I’ve come to understand now. The staff related to us so well. My kids weren’t in school; I have no trouble sending them now. I have no trouble keeping them fed. I have goats and pigs. The program helped me put a roof on my house and give it doors. Things are too good!”

She liked being part of her savings and loan association. She saved regularly and took out a couple of loans, using one to buy an additional goat and another to invest in her farming. But she decided not to rejoin the association for a second cycle after the first one ended just before graduation. “I was going to stay in it. I even bought a second savings book for my husband. We were both going to participate. But I decided not to because Martinière won’t be there to keep an eye on things.”

Her reluctance to trust her neighbors without Martinière’s presence is striking. When I ask whether she is sorry that Martinère is moving on, she says that she isn’t. “L ap kite nou granmoun.” That means that he is leaving them as adults, able to take responsibility for their own lives.

Like many members, she continues to hope to buy a cow. She’s not quite ready, but thinks she’ll be able to afford one in June as long as her bean harvest is okay. A cow is important because it can help you if you need money for something big, like a funeral. As she explains her mother looks on approvingly. Both seem to be thinking of the older woman’s future.

Monise Imosiane – At Graduation

Monise enjoyed the graduation ceremony. She especially liked the singing and the speeches. The program, she feels, worked for her because it can work for anyone willing to make the effort r, as she says, “Depi w mache.” That’s like saying, “As long as you walk the walk.”

When she thinks back on her successful experience in the CLM program, she thinks a lot about her case manager, Martinière. “He gave me good advice, but it wasn’t just that. When I was sick, he made sure I got to the hospital. He helped me find the money to have the door made for my house when I didn’t know how I would get it done. And when my oldest child’s father died, the one man who had sometimes helped me out, he helped me contribute for the funeral. I’ll really miss him. He always had to know how all my children were doing, and on the day of my visit with him he would come back to me long after he left my house if he realized he had forgotten to discuss something important.”

She talks about another quality that made him valuable, too. “He would get angry with me when I wasn’t doing what I needed to do, but he always took the time to understand what was getting in my way. Then, he’d help me find a way out.”

Monise hasn’t returned to commerce yet. The business model she’s always preferred depends on having enough capital to buy merchandise to take to Port au Prince for sale. There was a time when a neighbor was willing to lend her the money, but that ended long before she joined CLM.

Now she is focused on her livestock and her farming. She has three goats, two pigs. A cow that she bought in its mother’s womb was born recently. She’ll take possession of it as soon as it can be weaned. It is a bull, so she’ll let it get a little bigger, and then sell it to buy a heifer in its place.

Marie Yolène Théus – At Graduation

Yolène felt great about the graduation ceremony and she feels good about the progress she’s made. She says that she didn’t waste any of the advice the CLM team gave her and now, she says, “M santi m alèz.” That means, “I feel at ease.” Like many CLM graduates, she puts particular emphasis on the feeling she gets from her new home and her livestock. “I wouldn’t know it was raining if I didn’t hear it, and I have animals to look after when I get up every day.”

She’s had moderate but clear success with her livestock. She was able to buy three turkeys in the last several months. They are valuable, sturdy animals that could make her a lot of money if she takes care of them. We gave her two goats, and now she has five, and her pig has a litter of six piglets. She worries about the piglets. Neighbors will have more and more crops in the ground in the coming weeks, and if they catch piglets in their gardens, they are likely to kill them. But she’s getting ready to put them into a pen, so if she keeps an eye on them, she should be okay.

But she has to be careful. The six are part of her sow’s second litter. The whole first litter died. One or two were killed by rocks, and she suspects that the others were poisoned, though she can’t be certain. Conflict between her and her neighbors has, however, been an ongoing challenge for the CLM members who live nearby, and there are several of them. And, so, it has been a challenge for the three different case managers who work with them as well.

It is a close-knit little neighborhood in some ways, full of siblings and in-laws and cousins. But it is as though their proximity combines with the stress of the poverty they all feel to create stresses in their relationships. They are strongly inclined to be jealous of one another and highly sensitive to real and perceived damages and slights.

The case managers didn’t ever get to the roots of the problems in the community, but they help the women quiet things down. As Yolène’s neighbor Rosana told me, “I don’t get along with my sister-in-law and Denise doesn’t like Yolène, but there are no arguments anymore.” The case managers simply put their feet down, warning the women that they would no longer work with them if they couldn’t keep the peace with one another. We are hoping that the success they all experienced once they got out of one another’s way will help to keep the peace.

Yolène liked a lot of things about the CLM program, but she especially liked the Village Savings and Loan Association. She took out two three-month loans over the course of the year. She used one loan for her children’s school fees, and the other to buy a bed.

She wants to return to her small commerce soon. She buys groceries in downtown Laskawobas and sells them in the rural market closer by, in Kolonbye. But she borrowed the capital out of her business because she needed extra money to invest in her farming right away. It’s time to plant beans in the farmland she rented. Her plans for the future are to keep working her land, and take good care of her livestock. She hopes to be able to buy a cow before the end of the year.

Rosana Mitil – At Graduation

Though she far from satisfied with where she got through 18 months of work in the CLM program, Rosana was happy to be at graduation and happy about the progress she’s made. “I’ve my livestock is increasing, and I don’t owe anything to my savings and loan association. I signed up for another year in the association, too.”

She likes the association, because her house full of children makes managing her cash flow a constant challenge. “If you are at a loss for a small sum to get something important done, you can borrow some money from the association and unblock your path.”

Her boys still help her take care of her livestock. She keeps goats and a pig. She worries because she thinks that other CLM members are already selling off the livestock they built up in the program. She herself, however, insists that she won’t do the same. “I don’t yet have goats or pigs to sell. I’m still working to increase what I have.”

She works hard to keep her small commerce going. It’s extremely difficult because she has so many mouths to feed. It takes great discipline because she sells basic groceries – rice, oil, and sugar – and could always add more to any meal she prepares.

But even with the progress that her livestock and her commerce have made, she still thinks of them as sidelines. Her main enterprise is farming. Though the decision comes with risk, she decided to invest all her proceeds from the saving association’s first year into her fields.

Her husband and her oldest son work as part of a team. Team members take turns working in one another’s fields, and they also sell labor to outsiders. It means saving a lot of money. Her fields were worked for nothing as part of the arrangement. Even so, she had to come up with the money to feed a team of 17 men every day they worked. And that was after spending money on the seeds they would need.

If her harvest is good, it will have been worthwhile. Rosana’s plans for the future involve a big increase in her expenses, and she’ll have trouble succeeding unless her farming takes off. She wants to rent a room near downtown Laskawobas for her children so that they can go to school there. She says that they’ll be able to attend much better schools than the one they attend now in Mawotyè, and the walk back and forth will be much easier than the hike up and down the mountain that they are stuck with now.

Laumène Francois – At Graduation

Laumène has been struggling for a long time. She and her first husband lived with their two kids just up the mountain from where she lives now, but poverty drove the man to leave for the Dominican Republic to try to earn a living. Not long after he left, she heard that he had been killed by a gang of livestock thieves.

She and her children moved in with her parents when her late husband’s siblings drove her off the family’s land. She stayed with her parents until she became partner of a man who already had a wife. He built a shack for her on a corner of his land, and that is where the home she built with the CLM program’s support now stands. She had more children with this second man, but as his secondary wife, she could never count on his full support. When it was time to graduate, he was not the one she invited to enjoy the celebration with her. Instead, she asked her daughter to come from Port au Prince. The younger woman came in the role of her mother’s godmother, appearing at the celebration with a graduation gift in hand, her one duty as godmother.

Laumène appreciated the present, and she enjoyed the graduation, but the certificate was the most important thing about graduation to her. “I’ll always be able to look at it to think about the program I was part of.”

In many ways, she flourished as part of the program. She is especially happy about her new home. Completing it was, she says, the most difficult challenge that the program put before her, but also the most important. Having a home is like have a bank account. “It is,” she explains, “what provides whatever else you need.” She could never have nice things because rain would ruin anything she tried to keep in her house. Since she finished building her home, however, she added the touches she always wanted: a table, tablecloths, and curtains. She now feels really comfortable for the first time.

Some program members are reluctant to join the program initially, or even if they join they doubt that it will lead to anything good. But Laumène insists that she never had any hesitation. “If someone calls you, either they have something to give you or something to say to you.”

She was happy with her case manager, Martinière, from the very start. “Other women said he seemed too mean, but if I had had another case manager it would have been a great loss. Martinière never tired of hiking to see me or of talking to me once he got here. He’s really been a father to me and the other women.”

When she talks about the progress she’s made in the program, she talks about more than her new home. “Now I have chickens, ducks, turkeys, and goats in my front yard.” And her pig just had piglets. She’d like to take another step forward and buy a cow. She thinks she can afford one. But she’s cautious. She’s heard rumors that there are neighbors jealous of her progress. She’s heard that they say they’ll poison a cow if she buys one. So, she’s holding off for now. She’s been talking with one neighbor, another successful CLM member who’s facing the same problem, and they are trying to figure something out.

But beyond her home and her livestock, she talks about having money when she needs it. “When you have money, you are close to anywhere you want to go.” She had to sell off one of her goats to pay the last installment of the loan she took out from her Village Savings and Loan Association. She had borrowed the money to finish work on her house and pay a balance she owed to her children’s school. But she chose a goat that had been refusing to nurse its young. It had little long-term value for her. And she had money left over after the sale to invest in her farming.

Rosemitha Petit Blanc – At Graduation

Rosemitha thought that the certificate she received was the most important thing about the graduation ceremony. It showed that “we did good work, so we finished the program well.”

But she pivoted almost immediately from talk about her certificate to talk about her frustrations. “I would have made more progress if my livestock had done better.” Her goats’ first two litters died. The two she now has just had another litter of two kids each, and though one of the four kids died, the others seem healthy, so she can be cautiously hopeful. She and her husband also have a pig that gave birth to six piglets. And if they survive they will provide a windfall.

As she talked about the livestock, and about other aspects of her experience in the program, she was frequently interrupted by her husband. He would jump in, then I would ask her to continue. But his interruptions would change her focus, adding to the confusion that my questions sometimes initially provoke. He’d insist that she didn’t know anything about their livestock, that he was the one who took care of the animals.

People call him Patekwe, which means “did not believe.” Things were a lot easier for the couple before Patekwe’s mother died. Her illness and then funeral were a major expense, setting them back on the path forward they had started to trace. It cost them their entire first littler of piglets, money that could have enabled them to achieve their first objective already. They might have been able to afford a small cow. And the older woman played an important role in the household. She was a reliable babysitter for the children and a good friend to both her daughter-in-law and her son. Patekwe complains, “Now one of us always has to be here with the baby. If Rosemitha leaves, I have to stay home.”

The couple’s plans moving forward are a little unclear. Two of their three children no longer live with them. Both Rosemitha and Patekwe brought children into the relationship, one each, but his daughter now lives with a cousin in Lakolin, near the hospital where his mother died. The cousin encouraged him to leave the girl with her while the older woman was sick, arguing that she’d have better access to an education. Patekwe visits regularly, and he’s happy with his daughter’s new situation. Rosemitha’s boy has moved in with her father, who lives nearby. Rosemitha is glad to have someone living with the older man, but her decision was also affected by her sense that her boy had grown less welcome with Patekwa than he had been when he was a younger brother and a playmate for his girl.

Rosemitha says she wants to return to small commerce, and she knows she can sell a goat to get the money to do so, but neither she nor her husband think it’s time to do that yet. And she and Patekwe will have to decide who will look after the child if she starts going to the market regularly. His mother’s boyfriend would spend time with them at first after his mother died, but he’s moved on to another woman. They aren’t seeing him much anymore.

In addition, what Rosemitha has told me in the past, but will not say in front of Patekwe, is that it is hard for her to sustain a business around him. When he is focused on farming their land – he inherited the plot above their home from his mother, and has been renting another for a long time – he doesn’t have time to earn cash by working for other farmers. So, he turns to any cash she might have to manage his expenses. When he isn’t busy, he likes to hang out in the market in Kaledan, down the road from where they live, and that involves having money in his pocket for gambling and snacks.

Idalia Bernadin – at Graduation

Idalia liked everything about the graduation, and she thinks it is an important part of the program. She explains that “it is something everyone can enjoy. As long as you march straight, you’ll graduate.”

She graduated with six goats, including two young kids, but she already used one to make an investment. Her husband was preparing their land for planting, and they needed the money to buy seeds. The goat sold for 3000 gourds, or about $48, and she was able to buy seven large cans of beans.

Her boar is starting to grow. She bought a small one when she collected the money that was owed her for the meat from a goat that died. It wasn’t much, so she had to buy the smallest, least expensive pig she could find. Now she’s eyeing the right moment to sell it and replace it with a sow that can give her offspring.

Her family’s medical issues persist, however. Unfortunately, our team was not very successful at helping her learn how she should follow up. One of her sons was diagnosed with a hernia, but he missed the follow-upappointment at the Mibalè hospital. Idalia says that he was waiting for a phone call, but the boy lives in Mibalè, near the hospital, and he knew the date.

Her youngest son’s situation is more complicated, but also not good. He has a condition that leads him to produce too many red blood cells. His blood ends up getting too little oxygen, so he’s short of breath all the time. The only treatment is regular removal of some of his blood, and we helped Idalia get him started down that road. It appeared to help. But Idalia and her husband are convinced that “they took too much blood,” so she isn’t bringing him back for further procedures. And the boy is very short of breath again.

And things are only going to get more difficult. Idalia and her husband are committed to leaving Gwo Labou, where they’ve been living since just before our team met them. They want to return to Jinpaye, but Jinpaye is even farther into the mountains, with more difficult access to care, than even Gwo Labou. Even if Idalia was inclined to get her boy the treatment he needs for his blood condition, she wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere near where she plans to go.

The family had originally fled from Jinpaye when they got into a conflict with neighbors about the rightful owner of some plantains. When we met them, they were living in a small space within a cousin’s home. The cousin himself eventually gave them the very small plot of land they built their house on.

But they feel as though they have no future in Gwo Labou. The cousin who gave them land to build on clearly wants them gone now that the program is over. Last year, he let them plant a very small garden around their house. This year, he planted his own crops to within ten feet of their front door. And with no land to farm, life is simply too expensive. Idalia’s husband has taken to traveling back and forth to Jinpaye to farm their land there, but that means he has to spend days at a time away from his family.

They don’t yet have the money they’ll need for the move. Their old house needs extensive repairs. But between their livestock and the crops they are planting in Jinpaye, they expect to be ready by the beginning of next year.