Category Archives: The Women of Kolonbyè

Laumène François 6

Laumène has reached a difficult moment. It’s a struggle just to keep her household fed. The timing of the spring and summer rains killed her bean crop. She planted in April, and the spring rains stopped too early for her. “The folks who planted in March are the ones who did well this year,” she explains. The family is getting by for the moment main on roasted corn on the cob.

Part of the problem is that her first small commerce disappeared. Between keeping her children fed and wanting to buy at least one 50-gourd share in her savings and loan association every week, her investment withered away.

But she re-established her business with a 1500-gourd loan from her association. She’ll repay it with interest over the next three months. Though her investment is small, she sells a lot of different things: local rum, cooking oil, two different kinds of rice, salami, and macaroni. She keeps track of and restocks each item separately, buying a little bit of anything that’s low whenever she goes to market. She likes to sell a range of products because, “if they don’t ask you for one thing, you need them to need another one.”

She is concerned these days because the school year is approaching and with four of her children the right age to be in school, she’s not yet sure how she will send them or whether she’ll be able to. She has livestock, but not enough that she’s ready to start selling any off. She still has only three goats – though one is pregnant – and her sow. Her first litter of piglets died.

Her poultry is doing better. Her two turkeys are growing quickly, but though she purchased what she thought was a young pair, she now sees that she has two hens. She’ll have to see about buying a gobbler. Her two ducks are flourishing. Here again, she has discovered that she has two females and will need to see about a drake, but in the meantime one of her ducks has seven ducklings and the other has a nest of ten eggs, so she has some reason for hope.

Solène Louis 5

Solène has been worried about repaying the money she borrowed from her savings and loan association to complete her home. We wouldn’t normally encourage someone to use borrowed money to make an investment that won’t earn profit that she can use for reimbursements, but Solène felt that she had no choice. The home she was in had deteriorated so badly that she felt she had to do something quickly. Even so, she also borrowed a little bit more than she needed and bought a very young female goat, one that had just been weaned.

And she’s starting to feel good about her decision. She managed to make her first reimbursement by saving some of the money that her husband earns as a day laborer and by selling some chickens and some plantains.

Selling the chickens is risky because they act as insurance. Normally she would keep them for when she needs a few hundred gourds to do something important, like taking a sick child to a clinic. And selling the plantains hurts as well because since she doesn’t yet have a reliable cash income, having plantains growing in their garden is their best hedge against hunger. But she felt she had no choice. “I had to repay the debt somehow.”

Now she plans to take out a new loan in August, when she’s finished repaying her first one. She’ll use that money to start a small commerce.

She’s very happy to be part of the CLM program, and she makes a particular point of the importance of her case manager. “He knows how I’m doing and what I’m doing, so he can give me advice. Advice is useful. There’s advice that’s worth more than money. My case manager encouraged me to save up money from my cash stipend, and that’s what enabled me to finish my house.”

Marie Yolène Théus 5

Marie Yolène and her husband are doing well. Their harvest was better than that of most of their neighbors, though her husband reports that it was damaged by a mistake her made. “I planted too much pumpkin in my field, and it crushed some of the beans.” She had already fed the children plantain from their own garden by the time I got to the house in the morning.

It was a good thing they had their own produce, because Yolène explained that there would be nothing to buy in the area around her home on a Tuesday morning. The local merchants buy at markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, so by Tuesday they tend to be out of most things.

Their home is almost finished. She needs to put a ceiling under the corner of her roof that extends beyond the walls to form a small covered porch, and she needs to install a new door, and she already has the wood she’ll need for the work. She’s happy about the house. She’s already living in it. “We used to get wet all the time. Now I don’t worry about rain.”

Her livestock is increasing. The goats’ progress has been slow. She had to sell off the two we gave her initially because they couldn’t stay healthy. The one kid that one of them produced died almost right away. But her case manager was able to find replacements she could afford that were pregnant already. So she should have young soon. Her pig had eight piglets, and though one died already, she is taken god care of them and has reason to hope that as many as six of the remaining seven will mature until she can sell them. She’d like to sell them off to buy a cow because a cow is the insurance that protects you from every kind of problem and it’s a step towards buying land.

She’s been enjoying her savings and loan association. She goes to the weekly meetings and buys shares. Share’s in hers cost 50 gourds, and members buy from one to five each week. They can take loans from the fund, which they repay with interest, but Yolène is focused mainly on saving. At the end of the year, members of the association will divide up the pot and each will receive a payout that depends on the number of share’s she’s purchased. Yolène plans to invest hers in beans. She’s calculated that the payout will come when the prices are low, and she’ll just hold onto hers until planting time, when the prices are much higher.

Her biggest issue recently has been the health of her son. He felt out of a tree and was cut badly. She rushed him to the Partners in Health clinic in La Colline, but because of the nature of his wound, the boy was referred to the better-equipped and better-staffed hospital in Mirebalais for further tests. When Yolène got to Mirbalais with the boy, she couldn’t get anyone to see him, so she brought him back to La Colline, and they took care of him without the tests they had hoped for. The boy’s now healing well, and Yolène feels good about having gotten him the care he needed.

Monise Imosiane 5

Monise’s livestock is flourishing. Her two goats are now five goats. One had a single kid, and the other had a pair. And the first is pregnant again. She smiles when I tell her to tell the goat she wants more than one kid this time. She says that she’ll tell it to have two or even three.

Her pig is growing. She chose to raise a boar rather than a sow. “My mother farms so much that I was afraid of having the piglets around.” The pig has grown considerably, and she thinks it’s now time to focus on fattening it. She hopes to sell it in December.

The best way to fatten it up is to supplement the food she can forage by purchasing pig feed. And she has a plan for this. She planted eight coffee-cans of beans this spring, and they are ready to harvest. She can’t yet tell with certainty how good her yield will be, but her mother’s already harvesting and the older woman’s yield hasn’t been bad. Monise should get 40 to 80 cans, which will be more than enough to buy pig feed and make other investments as well.

She has continued to make progress on her home. She needs to buy one more palm tree to get the planks she’ll need to enclose its second room. She had been counting for a long time on her baby’s father to help her, but he remains in the Dominican Republic, and she now says definitively, “We’ll not together anymore.” She has realized that she cannot count on him, and she seems resigned to the fact. As young as she is and with four children to support already, it’s probably for the best if she has come to realize that she needs to and can count on herself.

And she isn’t really on her own. Until CLM, she lived in her mother’s house, and she is building her own house in a corner of the older woman’s yard. And her mother seems willing to help in every way. She announced that she would buy the palm tree that Monise needs, and when she heard about a man from the neighborhood who was complaining that he couldn’t carry a set of planks up the mountain to complete his house, she scoffed, saying she’d be happy to buy the planks – they’re hard to come by in Fon Desanm – and she’d carry them up the hill. No small feat for a healthy young man, not to mention for a grandmother. Monise’s mother seems proud of her ability to work hard and committed to doing what she can for her daughter and grandchildren.

Altagrace Brevil 5

Altagrace and her husband have completed construction of one of the largest houses that we have seen among CLM members in Kolonbyè. The key was her decision to build the house together with her mother. She and her family were sharing her widowed mother’s home when she joined the CLM program, and their initial thought was to move out. “Parents get to be a nuisance. She and my husband were always arguing.”

But the more she thought about it, the less sense it made to her. On one hand, they would have a hard time mobilizing all the resources they’d need to get the house built. On the other, she started thinking about her mother. Altagrace is the only one among her siblings who lives nearby. If she moved out entirely, the older woman would be left alone. So she and her mother talked, and they talked with her husband, and then decided to pool their resources, enlarging and completing a house that her mother had already started rather than building a new one from scratch.

Their shared home has four rooms and a covered space across the front, and Altagrace is really happy about it. Like most CLM members, she talks about not getting wet in the rain any more. “And the house could never have been finished without CLM.”

Altagrace has been taking good care of her livestock. One of her goats had kids, and she used savings to buy another mature female to add to her small herd.

But she and her family depend primarily on agriculture, and unlike some of the other famers we’ve been working with, this year’s first harvest is very promising for her. She got together the resources she’d need to plant 13 cans of beans. That’s over $40 worth. She took some of the money from savings that came from home construction. The CLM program provides two stipends of 1500 gourds to the builders who work on members’ homes. One for the person who sets up the frame and puts on the roof, and the other for the person who builds up the walls. Because they only had to complete a project that had been started, her builders only charged 1000 gourds each, and Altagrace held on to the other 1000 gourds. Then she borrowed 2000 gourds from her savings and loan association, figuring that she and her husband would be able to make her reimbursements out of his day labor and the occasional sale of avocados. And like many of the farmers in her region who got their beans into the ground early, she’s now looking at a harvest that appears as though it will be strong.

Rosana Mitil 5

Rosana hasn’t been feeling well. She’s suffering from conjunctivitis, which has been sweeping through the region. But she also has a stomachache and a toothache. The latter is especially debilitating, because it makes it hard to sleep. The only smile I can get out of her is when I talk about my own fear of dentists.

She hasn’t been able to see a doctor, because all her money is tied up in her small commerce and she hasn’t felt well enough to go out and sell her merchandise or even to collect that’s money that’s owed to her by customers who bought on credit. “They’ll pay, but I have to go to them. Depi w malad, zafè w malad.” That means that when you’re sick, your business is sick too.”

Most of the ones who paid her already paid in beans. This is not uncommon around harvest. Farmers who have little cash until they sell their beans use some to pay debts. Rosana will sell the beans, and should end up earning more than she would have had she taken cash at the time of purchase. But it leaves her short of cash right now, at a moment when she needs some. Medical care might be free for members of CLM – it’s nearly free for anyone who goes to a Partners in Health clinic – but transportation to the clinic can be expensive, and since a doctor is likely to order lab tests, a simple consultation can involve three trips.

Money continues to be very tight for Rosana and her husband. Feeding all the mouths they have to feed while finishing work on their house has been more than challenging. Since April, “nou pran chyen voye sou chat.” That means “we take the dog and toss it onto the cat,” and it’s a way for her to say that she’s been robbing Peter to pay Paul. They’re finished with the house, so things should start easing up. Purchasing the palm wood that was used for its walls has eaten up a lot of her resources.

Her goats have been multiplying slowly. She now has six. But she doesn’t want to start selling any yet, especially not to take care of her expenses. She’s planning to sell some off when there are enough to allow her to buy a cow with the proceeds. She wants a cow because it can unlock even larger investments, eventually making it possible for her to buy land to add to what she and her husband already have.

Once she’s feeling better, she’ll get back to her small commerce. She now has over 4500 gourds, or about $75, in it. That is about three times what we initially provided, and is very encouraging, especially for a woman who has as many mouths to feed as Rosana does. She lives with her eight children and her grandchild, so keep them from eating everything takes considerable discipline.

Rosemitha Petit Blanc 5

Rosemitha says, “Bagay yo bon. Mwen santi, mwen se yon lòt moun.” “Things are good. I feel as though I’m a different person.”

When I last spoke to her, she was struggling with her new business. She had bought tomatoes and onions in Kolonbyè and sold them farther up the road in downtown Savanèt. It didn’t go well. She had made her first trip, and the price she could get for her tomatoes was too low. She ended up returning home with less money than she started with. She was discouraged. She planned to make one more attempt with tomatoes and onions, but was resolved to switch products if it didn’t work.

And she ended up switching after one more trip. She decided to invest in kerosene and cooking oil instead. She buys cooking oil because she needs it at home and can make a little money with it while always ensuring she has enough to cook with. But her main business is kerosene. By moving it from Kolonbyè to Savanèt, and separating it into small portions, she can make about 100% profit on her investment of 500 gourds, or about $8.30. She makes the trip once a week, and her commerce is now what her family mainly lives on.

Her husband is busy working in their rice field. He’s able for the first time to invest all his time. In the past, he would have to take time off from his own farming for day labor. Unless he brought in something every day, the family wouldn’t eat. Now he can just focus on their harvest. It looks good, and when it comes in, they will be able to eat even better. All this means that Rosemitha feels great about herself because she knows that she’s contributing. “He contributes, and I contribute, too.”

Idalia Bernadin 5

Idalia’s main concern over the last several weeks has been the health of her youngest son. He suffers from shortness of breath, a condition all the more debilitating because they live on the face of a steep slope. She had been especially frustrated by her feeling that her case manager Titon wasn’t taking her problem seriously.

There were, in fact, problems of communication between her and Titon. Planning a visit to the hospital in Mirebalais is complicated. The hospital is over-busy, and though our close partnership with Partners in Health means that we can get our members care, it does not mean that getting them the care is easy. The hospital’s staff have to insist that we do things in very particular ways to get our people through lines that others might not be able to get through, so case managers and our staff nurse give members detailed instructions as to when they must appear and where, and Idalia seemed to always ignore them.

She doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the importance of exact instructions. Doctors want her boy to undergo a series of tests, both blood work and an x-ray. Getting it all done involves waiting in the right lines in the right order at the right time. Nurse Ezianie gives Idalia specific instructions, and Idalia says that she understands, but then she doesn’t follow through. She ends up doing something else. If Ezianie asks her to repeat the instructions, she can’t do it.

We will have to work with her on this, or find another solution. One of her older boys lives in downtown Mirebalais, not far from the hospital, and our first thought is to recruit him to accompany his mother and brother. The younger boy was eventually hospitalized the first time she brought him, and she was told to bring him back after he was released, but she’s not sure when she will do so. Titon will need to work closely with her to make sure she can see the path to the care her son needs all the way through. For the time being, it is at least good to see that she realizes that Titon and Ezianie are on her side.

In the meantime, Idalia is making progress in other areas. Her home is almost complete. It needs mainly some finishing work, and she thinks that she has the materials that she’ll need to get it done. She’s waiting for the builder to become available, but in Gwo Labou builders are also farmers, and at a time when there is a lot of work to do in the fields, it is difficult to get one to spend a day doing anything else.

And though her pig died just as several of the pigs that belonged to CLM members in her area, and though she like others has had trouble collecting the money that’s owed her for its meat, her situation with her goats is starting to improve. She purchased a third goat out of savings, and it appears to be pregnant.

Juslène Vixama 5

Juslène is still struggling. Her pig died, as did one of her goats. And she hasn’t been able to collect the money she’s owed by those who bought the meat. She and her partner planted corn, and they’re waiting for the harvest. They have access to other land that they could have planted with beans, but couldn’t afford the investment.

The two of them and their toddler still depend heavily on her sister-in-law, her partner’s sister, for much of what they eat. They’ve been living in the older woman’s home for some time now, ever since their own house was destroyed by a storm. Their new house is nearby, and it is almost finished, but they don’t have the nails they need to put the palm wood planks that the walls will consist of into place. The only nails that CLM provides are the ones used to attach the tin roofing to the frame.

Juslène had saved some money to buy the nails with, but it disappeared. She says it was stolen, and she probably believes that it was, but we have our doubts. We know from experience that she has trouble keeping track of things. It is part of whatever her developmental issue is, and it is affecting her ability to progress in various ways.

One of her two goats died, and the other is failing to flourish, and we think it is mainly due to her lack of care for them. Normally members keep their goats tied up, but they move them around during the day, making sure they can find food and are out of the sun. But Juslène’s case manager, Titon, discovered that Juslène hardly moves her surviving goat at all. He had always complimented her for making sure that the goat was in her yard whenever he came by. We ask all our members to do this so that their case manager can have look each week. But when Titon went by once on an off day, he found the goat right where it always is when he comes by. A little tough questioning – and a short conversation with the sister-in-law—revealed that Juslène had just been leaving it in one spot, so it wasn’t getting enough to eat. She knows, in some sense, that she needs to move it around, but she just doesn’t think of it. Titon decided to enlist the sister-in-law’s support to help Juslène focus on what she needs to do, and the woman seems willing.

But Juslène’s problems enter other areas of her work as well. I watch a case manager hand her a 250-gourd bill to pay for the nails, and when he asked her what the bill’s denomination was, she couldn’t tell him. She just hid her face in her hands. As Haitians say, Juslène “pa konn lajan.” She doesn’t know money. We regularly find such women among those who join the program, and we have to work with each on strategies that help them adapt.

And here is where Juslène showed us an encouraging sign. After hiding her face in embarrassment at her inability to identify the bill, she ran up to a neighbor, who is also a CLM member. She showed her the bill, and asked her its value. Then she pulled down the neckline of the other woman’s jersey, and stuffed the bill into her bra.

It was a striking scene. There were a couple dozen of us there: two case managers, a bunch of CLM members and their husbands, and I. The case managers were vaccinating the gathered members’ goats, and we all had to giggle. But what we all saw is that Juslène has found a friend whom she trusts to guide her and, in a sense, to protect her from herself. She asked the case manager to explain to the other woman what the money was for, and seemed relieved to get the problem out of her own hands.

Louisimène Destivil 5

Louisimène is pretty frustrated with her progress to date. She now has three goats, rather than the two we started her with, but her pig died, and she hasn’t yet been able to collect anything from the people who bought the carcass.

Rural Haitians typically sell dead or dying animals to local butchers unless the cause of death is something known or thought to make the meat harmful to consume. Or the cut the animal up themselves and sell portions to their neighbors. But these sales are made on credit. Whether the animal is purchased as a whole by a butcher or in pieces by individual consumers, the transaction usually includes a payment date, which can be months away. CLM members can have a difficult time collecting these debts. Their lack of status in their communities make them easy to fail to pay, especially since their neighbors are often jealous of the benefits they receive, especially of their livestock. Case managers or members of the village assistance committee often help them by arranging for fellow CLM members to buy the meat in small lots and then sharing responsibility for collections, but though these arrangements help ensure that a member gets paid eventually, they make it harder for the CLM member herself to feel empowered to collect what’s owed her. Louisimène feels that she herself can’t collect, that her case manager will have to do this for her.

But her real source of frustration comes from the failure of one of her harvests. Farming is the activity she really believes in. “Tout sa pou fè w miyò se yon gode pwa w plante.” That means, “It’s the cup of beans you plant that can make your life better.”

She had taken 1000 gourds – or, about $16 – of her savings to start a small commerce, but it wasn’t working. She couldn’t keep from selling on credit, and couldn’t get people to pay what they owed. “When I saw that people were just carrying off the money in my business, I decided to use it to buy beans instead.” But she planted them too late. Farmers in her area who planted in March got all the rain they needed, and are seeing a strong harvest, but she planted more than a month later, and her beans are a total loss. “Life’s treating us badly. I look at what I planted and it’s all lost.

The curious thing about this is that it is not really all lost. I know from a case manager that she also planted beans in March in one of her fields and that, like her neighbors, she looks to have a strong harvest from that field. But Louisimène is so focused on her failure that she doesn’t even think about her success. That’s something for her case manager to talk with her about.

The one part of her life that she’s happy about these days is her home. She’s finished repairing it, and feels great about that. “I still want to add a door between that two rooms, but the doors to the outside are up. We don’t get wet in the rain anymore.”