Category Archives: The Women of Kolonbyè

Rosana Mitil 6

Rosana was initially reluctant to have her picture taken during our most recent conversation. “Jodi a m two lèd.” She had rushed from her home to the last day of the three-day refresher training she was attending, and she felt that she hadn’t given herself a chance to look good enough for a picture. A couple of the other women, however, encouraged her, and she eventually agreed. She put her foot down, though, about looking towards the camera.

Otherwise, she was in a good mood. She’s happy in her new house. From the program’s perspective, it’s finished. She herself, however, sees a couple of additional things she’d like to do. She wants to install a door between its two rooms, and she wants to paint it. She’s already chosen the colors: blue and chocolate-brown. The two rooms may seem very small. She and her husband have eight children and a grandchild living in it with her. But they spread somewhat into the one-room extension that they added to their goat shed as a temporary residence while the new house was going up in the old one’s place, and they make do.

She’s already registered three of the school-age children for the coming school year. She’d like to do more, but some of the younger ones, she thinks, can wait. They’ll have to.

The size of her household also makes her success at small commerce surprising. She took out a four-month loan of 7500 gourds, or about $120, from her Village Savings and Loan Association to get started.

She chose the sort of business our team might have been least likely to suggest. She sells basic groceries – rice, sugar, oil, and the like – out of her home. Such businesses are always hard to sustain in rural Haiti, even under the best circumstances, because the women who run them are under so much pressure to sell to their neighbors on credit. The women need to find ways to make sure they get paid without alienating potential customers, who can expect or even need special consideration. For CLM members, things can be even tougher, because they start with little respect from their neighbors, who can also tend to look at anything they have as a gift that they don’t really deserve. And it is also that much harder with a husband and nine children to feed. A household of eleven, with nine of eleven growing fast, can probably never have enough food. The tendency will always be to reach into the merchandise any time the kids seem a little hungry. Rosana must show great discipline to keep enough merchandise in the business itself.

She seems to understand the issues she’s facing very well, and continues to believe she can make it work, even though her goal for the business is limited. “There’s no profit in this. The profit is the food we eat.” She even knows that the business couldn’t and doesn’t stand up on its own. Her husband contributes to it regularly from his income selling day-labor to help keep the capital from drying up. But it enables her to keep her children fed while she looks to other areas to begin to build up her family’s wealth.

Her livestock is doing well. We gave her three goats, and she now has six, each of the original ones having produced a litter of one. Only one of the young is a buck, so within months she could have five reproducing nanny-goats. And she has a plan to add a small sow as soon as she harvests her fall crop of beans.

The crop will be critical for her. She has consistently attributed the hardships that she and her family have faced since entering the program to bad harvests. Two consecutive years of millet lost to disease, combined with the loss of last year’s crop of beans to high winds and heavy rains, have made it hard to keep her children minimally fed, let alone to make any progress. But the success of her small commerce enabled her to set aside the money she needed to prepare the family’s farmland to plant about eleven cans of beans, and she’s been able to buy eight cans of beans as seeds already. Fall crops tend to be more reliable than spring ones – though last year’s didn’t work out – so she seems hopeful, maybe for the first time since I met her.

Modeline Pierre 6

Modeline’s baby has been sick with diarrhea, but she’s been taking good care of her. She received oral rehydration fluid from the Haitian government’s child vaccination agent at his last visit, and she’s been making sure the baby drinks it. She was also pleased to learn that she can use coconut water, because there are plenty of coconuts where she lives.

Her livestock is increasing. She’s up to four goats from the two we gave her, and three of the four are pregnant. She worries some about her sow, though. It hasn’t gotten pregnant yet. She should probably sell it and buy another, but she can’t bring herself to do so. “It’s so tame! Even if it gets untied, it just strolls over and waits in the shade in front of my house.” She’s too happy with how easy the pig she got is to manage. This is something her case manager, Simon, will have to discuss with her, because if her sow doesn’t reproduce, there isn’t much use to having it.

Her house is almost finished, but a few final touches remain. Her husband has already prepared the palm planks they need to complete its last wall, and the hard lumber for its doors is ready too.

She says that her husband has been working really hard to get the work done. “L ap pase anpil mizè.” That means, “he’s suffering a lot,” and it’s indicative of the central change in Modeline’s life since she joined CLM. He used to spend most of his time working in the Dominican Republic. He was good about supporting her, but he wouldn’t stay around much because he couldn’t see how he could make a living at home.

But now he’s committed to staying at home with her, because the resources that CLM has made available to her enables him to work where they live. And both of them are much happier living this way. His mother was always willing to make land available for him to farm, but he never had the resources to take advantage of it. He now not only farms land she assigned to him, but he farms her land as a sharecropper, too. And they have a plan for further progress. One of the crops he planted is malanga, a starchy root. He and Modeline plan to use the proceeds from that crop to rent additional farmland. In the meantime, it’s avocado season, and the cash she’s been able to save allows him to buy avocadoes off their neighbors’ trees so he can lug them down for sale at the side of the road to passing produce trucks.

His increased presence had another consequence: their second child. But they are committed to family planning now. They have two children now, and two is enough. “If you’re always having children, you’re bound to move backwards.” She says she’s talked about this her husband, and he’s in full agreement. “He had to agree.”

The one area of her life that has seen little progress so far is small, but important. After more than a year in the program, Modeline still can’t sign her name. She appears to have some dyslexia, and if she is to get past it in the coming months, she and her case manager will have to work hard.

Below is her attempt to copy her name from my example:

Monise Imosiane 6

Monise says, “Things aren’t really good yet, but they are on their way.” She is into her new house, even though there is still some work to be done. It needs windows and a new door. She bought the tree that will be used to cut the lumber for 750 gourds, or about $12, but she needs another 750 to pay the men who will cut down the tree and slice the trunk into planks, and she doesn’t have that money yet.

Her livestock is doing well, despite a recent setback. She started with just two goats, and got them up to five. One of the kids, the largest of the three, just got sick, however, contracting diarrhea. She and her mother treated it with the natural remedies they know, but the kid was dead within a day of the first symptoms. Now she’s looking at its mother, which never grew the way that Monise had hoped it would, and she’s thinking of selling it. She plans to add some money to whatever she can get for it, and then buying a bigger, healthier-looking nanny-goat.

Her pig has flourished. She initially chose to raise a male and fatten it up for sale, rather than having to deal with a sow and its litter of piglets. Her mother already had a healthy sow, and two sows producing piglets in the same yard seemed like it would be too much to handle. The pig has grown well, though, and should be ready for sale by the end of the year. If all goes well, she’ll get enough for it to buy a small cow.

We often encourage members, especially those relatively successful with a pig, to set aside some of the money from the sale to buy another small pig, but Monise wants to reserve all of the sale’s proceeds to buy the best cow she can. So, she made another plan. Her mother’s sow is pregnant, but the older women has said that she’ll sell it after it weans the current litter. It is, Monise said, getting old. But the two women like raising pigs, and they want to have a female in the yard, so Monise took 500 gourds and purchased a piglet from her mother even before the piglet is born. She plans to take a female. Buying the piglet so young will mean that Monise’s profit will be much farther down the road, but it also enabled her to get it for a quarter or even a fifth of what she would pay for a weaned female in the market, which was important because with the school year ready to start she’s short of cash.

She’s managed to buy uniforms for only two of her three school-age children so far, having finally faced up to the fact that she cannot count on the children’s fathers. But she’s not sure how she’ll pay for the third child. She’s still not back in small commerce, and won’t be able to start again until she can get her hands on some capital. She’d like to borrow it from her Village Savings and Loan Association, but she ended up paying late fees on the first loan that she took out, so the Association and her case manager, Martinière, with whom they consult closely, has been slow to agree to a second loan.

Altagrace Brevil 6

Things are going well for Altagrace. We originally gave her three goats, and now she has six. Hers haven’t really reproduced yet, but she’s created some opportunities for herself to buy the additional ones.

For one thing, she and her husband had a good bean harvest because they got their crop planted early spring. Families in the area who decided to plant in March this year were generally successful, while those who waited until April were not. She and her husband planted in late March, so while their crop was not great, it was good.

They planted 13 coffee cans of beans in two plantings. She used 2500 gourds of savings from her cash stipend for the first planting, and 2000 gourds that she borrowed from her Village Savings and Loan Association for the second one. They harvested 37 cans. She used 2850 gourds from her harvest to buy a large nanny goat and 1800 gourds to buy a smaller buck. “I bought the buck because we sometimes have trouble finding them to mount our females, but I’m going to sell him at the end of the summer to help send the kids to school.”

She bought another female with 2000 gourds that the CLM program gave her to replace money that she lost because she accepted counterfeit bills the first time she tried to set up a business. She’s like to start a business again, but the model that appeals to her won’t work without a horse, donkey, or mule. She wants to buy loads of produce from farmers along the hillsides on each side of the river that runs from eastern Savanette to Mirebalais, and bring it to market for sale. She’s hoping that she’ll be able to buy the horse she needs once she sells her fall harvest of beans.

One of the most striking things about my conversation with Altagrace, however, was how confident she’s grown of her own worth. When I first met her she was shy, happy to let her husband do most of the talking for her. And he seemed to want to do the talking for them, too. He spent a lot of that first conversation ridiculing Altagrace, making fun of her because she had to leave school pregnant when she was just 13. He spoke dismissively of her and of her mother, whom they live with, too.

When I reminded her of the episode now, she just laughed. “He was just joking. He knows very well what I’ve done for him.”

Rosemitha Petit Blanc 6

The last month or so has been a sad time for Rosemitha. Her mother-in-law passed away in the hospital at La Colline after a short illness. Rosemitha is heartbroken. “She was always the one that took care of me.” Rosemitha’s husband spent much of his time in the Dominican Republic, trying to earn money, before the family joined the CLM program, leaving his wife and his mother back home with the kids. “When I had my child, she helped me and bathed me in the days afterwards until I could bathe myself.”

And the death did more than make Rosemitha sad. She had been proud of her new-found success as a businesswoman, and her husband was increasingly proud of her. But she spent all the capital in it taking care of the older woman, most of it even before she died. Care at La Colline was free, but either Rosemitha or her husband had to stay with her all the time, and whoever it was had to eat. Whatever was left of the money passed as part of funeral expenses, along with the income from the small patch of beans that her husband planted in the spring. And the couple still owes the coffin-maker 7500 gourds, or about $120. The CLM program can eventually help offset that debt, but Rosemitha doesn’t know that yet, so she is worried.

Without the income from her commerce, food in the home has once again become a challenge. Much of the time she’s reduced to feeding the family little more than plantains and greens from her small yard. The rice field her husband planted should help eventually, but in the meantime, times are hard.

She wants to get back in business as soon as she can, but she, her husband, and her case manager will need to figure out where she’ll get the money. And without her mother-in-law, she’ll face another challenge because she always felt good about leaving the children with her. As things stand, she can’t even leave the two younger kids with her stepdaughter because during his mother’s illness, her husband sent his daughter to live with a relative of his near La Colline. Her stepson and baby are too young to be left alone.

Idalia Bernadin 6

Idalia continues to worry about her youngest son. He’s been in and out of the hospital, suffering with shortness of breath. It turns out to be connected with a condition that causes him to have too much blood, which makes it harder for his blood cells to get the oxygen they need. That’s at least how I understand it. The only solution so far has been for doctors to remove some his blood every few months.

This has, in fact, provided a small measure of relief, though only a temporary one. But neither Idalia nor her husband want her boy to continue the treatment. None of the explanations they’ve gotten from doctors has made sense to them. They see doctors taking blood from their boy without feeling as though he’s getting much better. And they just can’t imagine that it could be good for him to be losing so much blood. Her case manager, Titon, will need to continue talking with both Idalia and the boy’s father to figure out what to do next. He might need our nurse’s help as well.

Her next older boy has needed medical care as well. Titon helped Idalia get him to the hospital, after a doctor visiting a mobile clinic we organized for CLM members and their families told them they needed to take him. The boy has been scheduled for hernia surgery, but the operation won’t happen until December. It will be free of charge at the PIH University Hospital in Mirebalais, but the hospital’s capacity is limited, so operations that don’t seem urgent can end up getting put off for a long time.

Idalia now has three goats: One of the two that we gave her died, but she and her case manager bought her another. That new goat had a kid, and it’s pregnant again. She’s worried about the second of her original two, however, because it has been mounted by a buck a couple of times without getting pregnant. She needs to trade it for another, but hasn’t gotten around to doing so yet.

She gave the goat that died and her pig, which also died, to Michel, a member of the local committee, to sell, and she’s worried because it has been months and she still hasn’t seen any of the money. The situation is delicate for her, because Michel is the same one who gave her access to a small piece of land to build her new home on. She and her husband had no land in Gwo Labou. She’s afraid to make him angry. She’ll need her case manager’s help to follow through.

She’d like to send her youngest boy to school this year. The older ones are probably too old to start. But she doesn’t see the money yet. The bean harvest she had built her hopes upon was weak, and with only three goats, she doesn’t feel as though she can sell one yet. So, the kid may have to wait another year.

Meanwhile, she already has her eyes on the future. She is very unhappy where she lives. She feels as though her neighbors only want her ill. “As soon as they see that you’ve begun to make progress, they start to hate you.” She no longer wants to return to Jinpaye, however. That’s the community her family fled before they settled in Gwo Labou. It is, if anything, even more remote than Gwo Labou, a long hike away from Gwo Labou up into the mountains that separate Savanette, in the Central Plateau, from Cornillon to the south.

Her plan now is to try to rent a room in Mirebalais. She feels that she will have less hostility to confront there, but she’ll have to figure out a business that will enable her to earn a living. And moving will present challenges as far as maintaining her farming and her livestock. She and her husband may have to figure out how they will split their time and their work.

Juslène Vixama 6

Juslène says she’s been feeling really good. And she’s especially excited these days because her baby seems as though he’s feeling good, too. From our earliest visits to the neighborhood, we had expected that he was undernourished, and we encouraged Juslène to get him evaaluated.

But motivating Juslène to do so was challenging. It is not as though she doesn’t care or that she is too lazy to do what she needs to do. Juslène seems to have intellectual/developmental challenges. Her trouble in this case was focus. She didn’t seem able to attend closely and persistently enough to the problem to follow through.

Our nurse’s screening suggested, however, that the boy’s malnutrition was severe, and that added urgency to the matter. Thanks to our close collaboration with Fonkoze’s own health department, it also made funds available to help Juslène with transportation to and from a public health clinic. Even so, it initially took some hounding from her case manager, Titon, to get her in motion.

Then she started to see the difference that the fortified peanut butter that is prescribed for malnutrition here was making in her boy. “He’s gotten stronger. He plays more, and he’s naughtier.” And that was all she needed to see. She’s excited now to go with her boy for his weekly appointments, and is delighted about his progress. She seems to feel rewarded by her sense that she’s taking good care of him now.

She’s still a little behind with her home construction. The new house is mostly finished, and she and her family have moved into its one room. But they need the wood from one more palm tree to close off the second room, and then they’ll need another door. And Juslène doesn’t see yet where she and her husband will get the money. She says they don’t even have a plan. And motivation may be an issue here too, because she is already very happy about where she is. Until they moved into the house, she, her husband, and their boy were living on the floor in his sister’s home. “I feel good now because I don’t live with someone else.”

My translation, “I don’t live with someone else,” doesn’t do justice to the strength of her sentiment. What she said is, “M pa rèt a moun.” The power of those last three words comes from a context in which they are frequently used. “Rèt a moun,” is often used to describe the situation of Haiti’s many restavèk children, who are sent by their parents, who often cannot keep them fed, to live with other families, sometimes as no more than unpaid servants, sometimes subjected to the worst kinds of abuse. It is as though she had classed herself among these modern-day slaves.

Economically, Juslène’s life hasn’t yet changed dramatically since she joined the program. Her two goats are still just two goats. They haven’t yet reproduced, because they haven’t been very healthy, and this poor health is another result of Juslène’s apparent intellectual challenge. Initially, Titon couldn’t understand why they weren’t prospering. Juslène appeared to care about them a lot, and she was always very good about making sure they were tied up in the yard every time he came for a visit. Through long conversations and several unscheduled visits, however, he discovered that she was so fond of them that she kept them tied up close to the house all the time. She wasn’t taking them each day to places where food was plentiful. She didn’t want to let them out of her sight. They were starving.

So Titon had a long talk with her, going back over a lot of the details of goat care that seemed not to have made an impression on Juslène, and he says that she’s getting better. For now, the family still depends largely on what her husband can bring in through day labor, though the couple has already learned how to stretch their money so that Juslène can save money by buying one or two 50-gourd shares in her savings and loan association at each weekly meeting.

Louisimène Destinvil 6

Louisimène has just been through a rough period. “I’m okay now, but I was really sick. I didn’t think I’d make it, but thanks to the Lord, I’m still here.”

She went to the small public health center in Kolonbyè rather than the better-equipped PIH hospital at La Colline. Even Kolonbyè is a long walk from her home in Gwo Labou, especially for a woman who isn’t feeling well, but it is much closer than La Colline. The care itself would have been cheaper at La Colline. Services at PIH clinics is almost free for everyone and it is free for members of our program. But she couldn’t walk all the way to La Colline, and she couldn’t afford the price of getting there any other way.

She and her family are still struggling because of the loss of their last bean harvest, but they are getting by. They have some plantains they can harvest, and these days both she and her husband can find day labor in their neighbors’ field to buy the rest of the food they need to eat.

Louisimène still believes that farming is her key to moving forward, though, and she and her husband are looking around to see where they can borrow a couple of cans of beans to plant for the fall harvest, which is generally more reliable than the spring one.

Her livestock has increased some, but not much. She now has three goats rather than the two that we gave her, but her attempt to raise a pig has led to a problem. The pig died early on, and she immediately did as she was instructed to do. She got help from a member of the CLM Village Assistance Committee in her neighborhood to sell the meat. The sale raised 2750 gourds.

But such meat is almost always sold on credit because the seller really has no choice. They need to get rid of it right away. Louisimène’s case was no different. But it has been months, and Louisimène hasn’t seen any of the money yet, nor does she have any idea when she might. Louisimène is shy about addressing Michel, the man who undertook to sell the meat, about her money. She will need her case manager’s help to get what she is owed. She already knows that she’ll do with the money. She wants to buy another small pig.

The slow progress of her livestock and the loss of her beans has put her in a quandary. She had been hoping that she would finally be able to send her girl to school this year, and the girl very much wants to go, but Louisimène doesn’t yet see where the money will come from.

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. The small, inexpensive school that had been struggling to function just up the slope from her home appears to have failed, and sending her kids to another one, which will involve their having to ford the river below her home every day, will be more expensive. 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.”