Category Archives: The Women of Kolonbyè

Gwo Labou 4

Laumène has been sick. She hasn’t been able to work around the house. She was having a hard time even just getting out of bed. She felt rotten, but she wasn’t going to do anything about it. “I was waiting for it to pass.”

Her case manager, Martinière, was having nothing of it. “When he got up here to see me, he was really angry. When he calmed down, he called his office on the phone to get them to send a truck to pick me up, then he came back to my house and helped me organize myself.” Laumène credits Martinière with setting things in motion for her. “He was right. My life was important to him.”

Laumène ended up having to spend four days in Mirebalais, between an initial doctor’s visit, lab tests, and second consultation based on results. Thanks to Martinière’s arrangements she felt well cared-for for all four days. “They took care of me at the office, and found a good place for me to spend the nights. All of that took effort.”

The experience left her feeling good about the CLM program and the team she works with, but her own recent efforts have her feeling good as well. Her home repair is complete. She has a little u-shaped house with two small rooms across the base and a separate, even-smaller room on each side. The smaller rooms are only accessible from the outside. They’re not connected to the larger ones. She set one aside as a storeroom. “I’ll keep the key to this room myself. When I start my small commerce, I’ll need a place to keep things secure.”

And for now, her brother has borrowed the other. He’s repairing his own house. “I like having an extra room. If family comes to visit, I can give them a separate room. If our sheets are dirty, they don’t have too see. And I like having larger rooms, too. I’m still not feeling well, so I didn’t feel like clearing my sleeping mat off the floor. But in this house the kids can just walk around it.”

Though she’s been dealing with some set backs around her livestock – she lost a goat and her pig – she’s working hard to overcome them. She bought another goat and a couple of very young turkeys, too.

Miramène is also struggling. She’s been in her new house, but she hasn’t been able to make the other progress she’d like to make. Her goats are starting to multiply, and her pig is growing, but she had hoped to buy a turkey, too, and hasn’t been able to just yet.

Her girl’s father had sent her the money to do so, but since the end of her weekly stipend she’s had a hard time just dealing with daily expenses, so she talked to the man, and they agreed that she would use the turkey money to buy food and some other necessities. He’s promised to bring money for a turkey when he comes back from the Dominican Republic for an Easter visit.

But she knows she needs some way to start earning money regularly, and she has a plan. “I want to start a small commerce. I’ll sell sugar and roasted coffee. My mother sells bread, and her customers are always asking for sugar and coffee, too.” She’s talk it over with her case manager, and he thinks it’s a good idea. They agreed that she’d withdraw 1000 gourds – a little less than $15 – from the account she keeps with him to get started.

That’s when she ran into a problem, however. They made their plan last time he visited, and he even recorded the transaction. Then he forgot to hand over the money before he went to the next house. The whole thing seems to have slipped his mind.

That’s okay in a sense. He remembers now, and will correct his error. It has just set her back a couple of weeks.

But the larger issue is that she let him walk out of her yard without saying anything. She wasn’t comfortable enough to say, “Hey, you forgot to give me the money.” His status as an authority figure, even one whom she’s fond of and trusts, got in her way.

The two will have to works towards building her confidence. She won’t succeed in the long term until she is comfortable asserting herself.

Louisimène was out in the field, working in asosye, to help someone plant beans. So the next house was Juslène’s, and she and her case manager have a lot of work to do.

It is increasingly clear that Juslène has developmental issues in her way. She doesn’t communicate well, nor has she been able to think through even a small part of a plan.

Progress on building her home has stopped, and she seems hard pressed to explain it. She’s been depending on her partner for all the work that the couple must contribute, but he seems responsible for the initiative as well. His focus is elsewhere lately, probably on getting his beans into the ground, so there hasn’t been any progress at all.

But Juslène’s inability to get focused enough to make a decision has broader implications. Her boy is sick. Poor hygiene has left him with rashes on both of his legs. He seems sick, and she’s not planning to get him to help. Though she followed her case manager’s instructions to bring him to a mobile clinic we arrange to check him for malnutrition, she doesn’t think the rashes are important enough to do something about.

Her economic progress has been limited as well. Though one of her goats had a kid, the kid soon died. More importantly, her pig, which was her largest single asset and the one with the greatest potential for return, died as well. Thanks to the intervention of a member of her Village Assistance Committee, she was able to sell it to a butcher. But butchers don’t pay cash for sick animals. They buy them on credit, and Juslène hasn’t seen the money yet.

Idalia has made some progress since we last saw her. She’s settled into the idea of remaining in Gwo Labou until she graduates from the program. Then she plans to return to her home in Jinpaye, in the mountains between Kolonbyè and Granbwa.

But she doesn’t want to stay in Gwo Labou permanently. She and her husband were able to build a house and install a latrine on a small piece of land that overlooks a rental plot they farm and another plot they work as sharecroppers. But she doesn’t like living on land that isn’t hers. What’s more, she doesn’t feel comfortable with her neighbors. “They’re the kind of people that don’t bother to ask us how we are, even though they’re my husband’s family.”

So she’s decided make her investment in her home minimal. She had her son build the house so that he could get the stipend that CLM provides to builders, but he isn’t really a skilled builder, and the work he did was poor. She, her husband, and two of her boys now live in one small room, and though it is covered with tin, the roof is much lower than CLM homes normally are. Not only that, but she and her husband decided not to buy the palm trees they would need to wall the room in sturdily. They used tach, the palm-seed pods normally used as the roofing material of the rural poor, so the house is very fragile. She and her case manager will need to talk over that decision.

She is struggling with her livestock, just as Juslène is. She lost both her pig and one of her two goats. Like Juslène – and Laumène, for that matter – she hasn’t been able to collect the money she’s owed for the lost livestock. All three had livestock sold for them by a committee member, but of the three, only Laumène seems comfortable pursuing the matter.

She took the first steps to getting her older boy to a doctor, but her youngest one is asthmatic, so he really needs to get treatment, too. Getting them care is possible. Her case manager can work together with the CLM nurse to ensure that the boy gets seen if Idalia can bring him to the hospital, but she has consistently been missing or showing up late for appointments. The hospital is so overloaded, that its staff feels it has to be strict about the way it provides care. So if Idalia can’t learn to arrive on schedule, her children may miss out on the care they need. That’s something for her case manager to work on with her.

Rosemitha is making progress, though she’s still struggling. Her three goats are now five, with one of the adult females ready to have kids.

Her small commerce nearly disappeared when a load of plantain ripened before she could get it to market, but she and her husband decided that she should try again. So she took the 600 gourds – about $8.70 – that remained, and she bought tomatoes and onions at the market in Kolonbye. She then carried that load for sake in the main market in downtown Savanèt.

Her results were poor. She returned with only 500 gourds, though she resisted her desire to snack during the day. She thinks she made a mistake, but she’s not quite sure whether she bought too dear or sold too cheap. She had calculated a profit after her purchase, but when she got to Savanèt she fold that she had to break up her merchandise into larger piles than she had anticipated. Customers expected a pile of six tomatoes for the price she had expected to sell a pile of only four.

She and her husband have decided that she should give it one more try with tomatoes and onions this coming week. If she doesn’t make money this time, she will think about another business.

Fon Desanm and Kaprens: 4

As a CLM regional director, I was responsible for three cohorts of families: 250 in Northern Boucankare, 350 in Western Tomond, and 360 in Southern Mibalè. What I didn’t notice at that time was that the three regions shared an important characteristic. All are areas where the high quantity of clay in the soil means that poor families can build their homes out of rocks and mud. If the mud is well mixed and allowed to set, it can serve as reliable mortar.

This makes a big difference to CLM members, for whom home construction or repair is one of the central parts of the package. The program expects members to contribute considerably to repair or build of their home. We provide only roofing material and cement for a floor. Structural lumber and the material for the walls are the family’s responsibility. Providing the rocks and mud for walls involves only finding them and carrying them to the construction site. Members do not normally have to buy them. Where members have to use palm wood, however, they have to buy trees and then pay to have them chopped down and cut into planks. It can add several thousand gourds to their costs.

So it should not be surprising that completing home repair and construction is one of the biggest challenges that CLM members in Kolonbyè face as they approach nine months in the program. When the six in Fon Desanm and Kaprens were asked how they are doing, they all responded as though I had asked them how their home construction is progressing. The chance for a new home, and the serious challenges they must overcome to complete one, is dominating their thinking these days.

Rosana’s made good progress with hers. Three of the walls are complete, and a fourth is partially finished. She needs some palm wood planking to finish the fourth wall, and then six planks of hardwood for the doors.

But as far as she’s come, that leaves her with a lot to accomplish still. Palm wood isn’t sold by the plank, so she’ll need to buy another tree, even though she doesn’t need all of it. She can save money because her husband has the tools and the skills to prepare the planks himself, but she still expects to have to come up with another 3,000 gourds to finish their new home. That’s more than $40.

And her commitment to getting it done has already made her life harder. She had been sharing responsibility with her husband for earning the money they need to feed themselves and their children. He does day labor in their neighbor’ fields, and she had her small commerce, selling bread, sugar, and coffee out of her home. But she drained the capital out of her business buying palm trees for the house, so the family has had to eat on the 50 gourds – less than $1 – that her husband can earn for a day’s work. And there are eight children.

Keeping their children fed is especially hard this year. They are farmers, but they lost both of their most important staple crops. Their millet was destroyed for the second consecutive year by disease, and their pigeon peas were eliminated by Hurricane Matthew. They didn’t have enough cash to plant anything this year for next year’s harvest, so they’ll need to increase their other forms of income just to get by.

Rosana took a first step towards building up her income by taking out a loan from her Village Savings and Loan Association. These are organizations that we are now establishing everywhere we work. Members buy from one to five shares at weekly meetings. Share prices are determined when the group meets together the first time. They can take out loans for as much as three times what they have contributed, and they repay them with interest. At the end of a year, the whole pot is divided, each person receiving a portion determined by the number of shares she purchased over the course of the year.

Rosana took out a loan for 2,500 gourds, and she invested it in beans. She would buy them each week in Savanèt, and then sell them in Kolonbyè. She’d be able to buy about 30 mamit, or cans full, and make about ten gourds per can. But here, too, a thousand gourds of her capital ended up going into buying palm trees, which left only 1,500 in her business. That wasn’t enough to make her trips to Savanèt worth her while. So for now she will go back to selling bread, sugar, and coffee. She’s still trying to figure out how she’ll repay her VSLA loan.

Marie Yolène hasn’t gotten nearly as much done towards building her new home as Rosana has. She needs three more palm trees and the lumber for her doors, and she isn’t yet clear how she’s going to take the last steps.

One of her goats had a kid, but the kid didn’t survive. The other is pregnant. Her bigger hope rests right now on her pig, which should have piglets in April. Like Rosana, she and her husband lost their millet and pigeon peas last year. Since she has no small commerce at all, they are entirely dependent on the 50 gourds her husband can earn as a day laborer.

Like Rosana, Marie Yolène would like to borrow money from their VSLA, but Marie Yolène feels she needs to do it just to buy what she’ll need to finish her house. And if she borrows money for something other than commerce she could have trouble repaying the loan, as other VSLA members are discovering.

Monise has made some progress on her home, but she still has a long way to go. She started out with an advantage because she was able to take some of the palm wood planking that she needed from an extra room in the home she was already living in, and her older boy’s father sent her enough money to buy another palm tree. But she still needs two or three trees. And the man was killed in an accident in Port au Prince. He was changing a truck’s tire, with the truck up on a jack, when it was hit by another truck and fell on him.

She seems to have begun taking a more clear-eyed look at her situation, though. Until recently, she had been counting on her infant’s father to return from the Dominican Republic and help her with the expenses of setting up her new house, but a couple of promised visits failed to materialize, and she now recognizes that she has no idea when or even if he’ll come back. “Now I’m both mother and father to my kids,” she says.

One of her goats had a healthy kid, and the other is pregnant. She’s taking good care of her boar, and it’s growing. She hopes to use it eventually to buy a cow. “Cow’s are more valuable. And if you have a female, it will give you calves.”

She gave up her small commerce for now. She felt that she’d be better off using the money to plant a crop of beans in April. If her harvest is good, it could really help her progress.

Altagrace is close to finishing her home because she decided to take a short cut. After sitting down with her husband and her mother, who owns the house they all live in now, she decided to repair that house rather than building a new one. “I wanted to stay with my mother. I’m all she has. And my husband agreed to the plan.”

Part of the house is already covered with tin roofing. There are just a few rusted sheets that need to be replaced. After that, she’ll need about ten sheets of the sheets we gave her to cover the rest of the house, which is still covered with tach, the roofing material that poor rural Haitians get from palm trees. When she’s finished, she may even have tin left over that she can sell to neighbors.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this plan is that it seems to have been hers, motivated less by the cost savings than by her desire to continue living with her mother. In our early meetings with Altagrace, her husband would sometimes dominate the conversation. He seemed very much in charge and not very respectful. When, for example, she told us that she had her first child as a 13-year-old sixth grader, he injected with a smile that she was in too much of a hurry though he, too, had been a student at the time. And we think that, at least at first, he was making most of the decisions about the weekly stipend she received. So we’re happy to see signs that she might be establishing a role as a decision maker.

The two still need to work together, because since Altagrace does not have a small commerce, they depend on day labor to keep the household fed. “I’d like to earn the money myself, but things are hard.” They work in fields in two different ways. Most of the time they simply vann jounen or “selling a day.” That means one of them, usually her husband, works in someone’s field for 50 gourds and a meal. He can bring home the cash and, perhaps, some of the food as well. But sometimes they work asosye, or “in association.” One or both of them will work in a large field as part of a team that’s hired as a team. Here they are paid for a job – whether weeding or planting the whole field, for example – and the team divides the fee. For the time being, their relationship seems to be working, though we hope we’ll continue to see signs that Altagrace is able to assert herself.

Solène’s home is almost finished. It lacks only doors and windows, and the hardwood planks she’ll need to make and install them is ready. She’s just waiting for the carpenter to finish his job. She may have felt more rushed than other members of this group. “I was living in the shed we made for my goats, and we’d get soaked every time it rained.”

But getting her new home to the point that she could move in took everything she had and more. She used the money she had in a small commerce to buy some of the palm trees she needed, and then borrowed money from her VSLA to buy the rest. But now she and her husband depend on his day labor both to feed the household and to repay the loan.

It’s just not enough. The first installment of her loan was about 800 gourds, and she was short almost 300, even though she cut down on household expenses so much that she felt she had to stop sending her children to school. She can’t afford anything for them to eat first thing in the day.

Her livestock is beginning to develop, but it will be some time before she can count on it for any returns. So for now things will just stay difficult.

Modeline is excited about the progress that she has been making. Ever since her child’s father moved back to her from the Dominican Republic, his collaboration has helped her move ahead.

He came for a holiday visit with some of the money that they needed to buy lumber, and they now lack only a palm tree and some hardwood planks. And ever since he returned he’s taken over much of the work of caring for her livestock.

She’s also excited just to have him around. In the past, he’s come to Haiti only for short visits, but now he seems ready to stay for a while. “He’ll always go back and forth, but now he’ll stay more because we have something for him to work with.” Because he’s decided to stay in Haiti more, his mother is letting him farm some of her land, too, which only gives him more reason to stay around.

Having him in Haiti has had an unplanned consequence. Modeline thinks she’s pregnant,

Right now, the two are focused on organizing the funds they need to make sure he can farm the land. Most of it comes from saving a few pennies out of the 50 gourds he earns in the field every day.

So there isn’t much leftover that they could invest in the rest of the lumber they need. He will probably cross the border in May, when he’s done planting, to try to earn some quick cash.

Idalia Bernadin 3

Things are not progressing smoothly for Idalia. She’s lost some livestock, and she’s not settled into a constructive relationship with her case manager.

She was feeling chastised as we started to talk. He case manager’s supervisor had called her out in front of other CLM members because she has been out and about, missing more than one of her case manager’s visits. Members know when the case manager is scheduled to see them, and they make a commitment to be at home. “I know I was wrong to be away without telling him, but the way the other women smiled. . .. It was like they thought I did something really bad, like selling my animals.”

We gave her two goats and a pig, but she hasn’t been able to make much of them. One of the goats died early in her experience. She remained optimistic when her other goat had a litter of two kids, even though she never thought the nanny looked particularly robust. It hasn’t grown and looks sickly. She was not surprised when one of the kids died.

Now she’s not sure what to do. Her neighbors say that she should try to nurse the nanny goat back to health enough so that she can sell it and use the money to buy another. She at leave needs to keep it as long as the kid is nursing. She’s struggling to keep the kid healthy, too, but it hasn’t been growing they way it should be either. It has sores around its mouth that may be interfering with its nursing and eating, and she’s been treating them the way her neighbors suggest, but she’s had no results so far.

The situation with her pig is, if anything, even worse. She received it on a Monday in February, months behind schedule because a shortage of pigs in the local markets combined with an increase in pig diseases in the region to make pigs hard to acquire. By the very next day it was showing the symptoms of Teschen Disease, a viral infection that is fatal in about 85% of cases. So she had the pig slaughtered on Thursday. The whole proceeding at least suggests a willingness to act, to take responsibility. Many CLM members struggle to emerge from an initial passivity, but Idalia is ready to act. She should receive money from the butcher eventually, but rural butchers buy sick animals with credit, not cash. It could be weeks or even months before she’s paid.

Work on her home is proceeding slowly as well. At first, she didn’t want to build it at all. She’s living right now in Gwo Labou, but she doesn’t think of Gwo Labou as home. Home is Jinpaye, a community on the other side of the mountain, in Kòniyon commune. She fled Jinpaye because her husband got in trouble with neighbors, but she wants to go back. She and her husband have land they can farm there. “I can go into my own field and harvest things to eat. If I want land to farm here [in Kolonbyè] I’ll have to buy it or rent it.”

Eventually, she accepted advice from case managers who told her that she should construct at least a small home in Gwo Labou to live in, even if it’s just for the time being. They reasoned, she says, that the program would not be able to help her in Jinpaye. So she’s decided to invest effort in getting a room built. She may eventually sell it or break it down so she can move, but it will give her a secure and dry space to live in for at least a time.

So she’s fallen behind many of her fellow members, but that’s not what’s bothering her these days. Her teenage boy has been sick. She took him to a mobile clinic that we organized, but couldn’t get help. There is only so much doctors can do without the diagnostic equipment that mobile clinics lack. Then she took him to the University Hospital in Mibalè, but he wasn’t even seen. Here again she showed willingness without know-how. The hospital is big and complicated, and she didn’t know how to navigate its various lines. The CLM team has a nurse who works effectively as a patient advocate, ensuring that members and their families get care, but Idalia didn’t think of contacting the nurse. Her case manager would have helped her do so, but he wasn’t aware how worried she was.

And that’s the heart of her problem. She feels as though her case manager takes her boy’s sickness too lightly. And his inability to communicate his care for the boy has pushed her to try to rely on her own devices. It’s also made her other communication with her case manager poor. She hasn’t told him about her struggles to keep her goat’s kid alive, and it’s a shame because between his own knowledge and the knowledge he could mobilize from the CLM team he could greatly improve her chances of success.

Idalia has a long way to go in the program, and her case manager has time to win her trust and help her turn things around. But the sooner he invests the time and attention it will take to reach out to her, the better her progress is likely to be.

Rosemitha Petit-blanc 3

Rosemitha feels as though she has made progress. “I was really in a bind. I never had the money even to buy a little oil to cook my rice with. Now I buy what I need to go with our rice.” They had a solid rice harvest on land that she and her husband work as sharecroppers. It won’t provide any income, because she thinks she’s better off storing it for food than selling it. “I’d only have to use the money to buy us food.” But it should keep the family fed for awhile.

Her goats are doing well. Two of the three we gave her had young already, and although one of the three kids died, the other two seem healthy. The third mature goat is pregnant and should have its litter soon.

Not everything has been smooth, though. She started her small commerce with 1500 gourds — or about $23 — worth of plantains. Her business plan was to buy plantains in the hills around her home and then transport them for sale to Mibalè. And the plan started to work. But then on two occasions she had trouble arranging transportation for her merchandise. The plantain ripened before she could get them to market, so she could only sell them as individual bananas locally. Her 1500 gourds had increased to 2000 when she was selling plantains by the bunch, but the loss she took reduced her capital to about 750.

Instead of using that money to keep buying plantains, she and her husband made a decision. They decided to invest it in black beans to plant on land that belongs to her mother-in-law. She still wants to have a small commerce, however, so when they harvest the beans, she plans to use income from the sale to buy kerosene and oil. She might not make as much as she would with plantains, but it will be less risky because neither product can spoil.

She and her husband finished repairing their house, but they’ve had problems there, too. One of the palm trees that they bought for the walls was too fresh. The planks that were made from it shrank as they dried after they were nailed in place, leaving wide gaps between them. There’s really no solution except to buy another palm tree and let it season before they cut it into planks. And until they harvest their own beans, they won’t have much income beyond the 50 gourds her husband makes every day that he works in their neighbors’ fields.

Juslène Vixama 3

Working with Juslène is going to be challenging. She is cheerful and seems willing to work, but she also seems to have some kind of developmental disability. The people around her say she is egare, which means something like scatter-brained. Her memory seems to be very poor. She can’t say, for example, how many months old her infant boy is. And she seems to lack basic knowledge. She could not, for another example, identify by name a couple of colors I pointed out to her. She is still marking receipts with a thumbprint even as her fellow members begin to sign their names. Though she and her case manager work dutifully in her copybook every time he visits, she cannot yet reproduce even the J her name starts with.

She’s moving forward with construction of a new home. In her case, there was no question of repair. She has been living in a corner of her sister-in-law’s house ever since her own was destroyed in a storm. So she and her husband have to build a new one. And since they have no land to build it on they rented a plot a couple of hundred yards from the sister-in-law’s place. They’ve had the frame built, and will put the roof on soon.

But Juslène has forgotten how much of her money they paid, and she’s forgotten how many years they’ve leased the plot for. When I try gently to provoked her memory, her sister-in-law chimes in rudely from across the yard with the rental price — 2500 gourds, or about $37 — and she adds a few choice words about Juslène.

Juslène has had trouble with her livestock as well. Her pig died of Teschen disease. She will be able to recuperate some of the loss. She sold the meat. But when a butcher buys an animal that has died, she generally does so with credit. The woman who bought Juslène’s pig says that she’ll pay in March.

One of Juslène’s goats had two kids, but they both died almost right away. According to Juslène, they never had the strength to stand. The other goat is pregnant, and though we teach CLM members to keep careful track of their livestock’s pregnancies, Juslène can’t say when the goat got pregnant or how long the pregnancy will be.

When I ask Juslène what she is planning to do to keep herself fed once her stipend runs out in just two weeks, she still doesn’t know. But she responds cheerfully, “M pa konnen. M ap rete.” Or, “I don’t know. I’ll do without.”

In a sense, it is not surprising that we find women like Juslène among those we work with. For someone like her, it might be difficult not to be extremely poor. Titon, her case manager, has his work cut out for him. The most reliable way to improve the family’s situation might be to work more with her husband than with her. And that’s probably part of what Titon will do. He’s dealt with similar cases already. But he’ll need to do it without dismissing Juslène or locking her out of the picture. Only a commitment from him to integrate her into everything he does with the family offers any hope of help her personally make whatever progress she can make.

Louisimène Destinvil 3

Louisimène has a nickname. If you want most of her neighbors to tell you whether they’ve seen her, you have to ask for Mizè. They’re not sure who Louisimène is. “Mizè” means misery. She explains that her mother gave her the name because it was an especially difficult pregnancy. Her husband’s nickname is harder to understand. They call him “Apretan,” which means after time, and not even Louisimène really knows why.

Like several of the women in Kolonbyè, Louisimène decided that her home could not be repaired. The lumber was rotten. It wouldn’t have been about to support a tin roof. But the little hillside clearing her home was built on doesn’t have room for another house, and since much of the hillside is solid rock it would be hard to enlarge the clearing. So she and her husband tore down their home, and began to set up their new one on the spot where their old one stood.

It meant building a little shack for them to live in while they work on the new house, and Louisimène is happy with the care her husband took with what they hope will be a temporary dwelling. It’s only one room but he took the time to set up a frame that is solid and straight and carefully made tight buddies of dried palm leaves that he tied together vertically as walls. He collected and prepared good strips of palm-tree seedpods, or tach, to use as roofing material. Louisimène works hard to keep the shack clean as long as they have to live in it, and she took the trouble to hang curtains. She wants it to feels like a home.

She’s concerned about finishing the new house, though. She will need to buy more nails — CLM provides nails for the roof and the frame, but not for the walls — and she plans to do that with money from her weekly stipend, even though it is about to run out. But she still needs to buy some lumber, too, and she’s not sure when she’ll be able to do so. “We don’t have the money to buy palm trees,” she says.

And she’s concerned about her daughter as well. Though she managed to send her to school this year, the girl is now missing days for the second time in the last few months. Her shoes are torn, so she has nothing to wear on her feet, and can’t go barefoot. The first time the girl tore her shoes, Louisimène bought a new pair. The kind she bought are called “boyo,” and they’re made of cheap plastic. A pair costs about 100 gourds, or less than $1.50. But money is tight with her new house still unfinished, and she hasn’t decided to by another new pair yet.

Despite it all she’s happy about the progress she’s making. “I used to get wet when it rained, and soon I’ll be able to stay dry. And now I have goats and a pig to take care of.”

Miramène Georges 3

Miramène is moving forward quickly. Each of her goats has given her a litter. One gave her two, and the other only one. So she now has five. Her pig is pregnant and growing. She keeps good track of all of her animals, and is quick to talk to her case manager any time she thinks one is sick. She’s especially excited about her new house. She was the first CLM member in her area to have finished the work.

Her baby’s father came home from the Dominican Republic for a week during the holiday season, and she was proud to show him the progress she had made. He “pote kichoy,” which means that he brought money for his family back with him. So the couple was able to buy all the lumber they needed while he was around. And once all the construction materials are ready, the sort of small houses that our members construct go up quickly. He returned to his job in the D.R. after the week with Miramène and their child, but she says that he plans to return around Easter. He’s promised to bring her enough money to buy a goat.

She has been building up savings in the account that her case manager keeps for her, but she doesn’t know how much the account holds. Her case manager gives her the total every week. She just doesn’t keep it in mind. But when I saw the two of them together, her case manager gave her the new total for the week and listed all the deposits he thought she had made. Then she corrected him. He had forgotten one, and quickly added it. So her memory is good enough.

She doesn’t show much interest yet in starting a small commerce. She doesn’t want to wander very far while she has an infant to deal with. Other women might work something out with her siblings or parents, who are her closest neighbors, but she doesn’t seem to want to do so. So if she decide to sell anything, it will be something very small, like cookies or candy that she can sell out of her home. That won’t feed her, but she still shares in the food her mother and older sister make.

Laumène François 3

Laumène has been making progress since she joined the CLM program. “Things are starting to work for me, except that some of my livestock died.” Work on her new house is moving forward, but it’s slow. “I had eleven good sheets of tin that were covering half of my old house, and I thought I should add them to what CLM gave me. That would give me a bigger house.” But the bigger house means that she will have to spend more than other women do to complete the project, and with her livestock not yet ready to provide income, finding the extra money she needs is slow.

One of her goats had its first pair of kids, and she feels good about that, but one of the kids died. “I’d be more discouraged if I had lost the mother.” The other is pregnant, and should have its first litter soon. Her sow had six piglets, but rolled over and smothered four of them when they were first born. Laumène is determined to keep close watch over the last two. She knows if she can protect them until the are ready for sale, she’ll have a good way to move her life forward.

She manages her stipend carefully. In addition to the portion she saves with her case manager, she always tries to set aside something at home. She managed to save enough to by a pair of ducks, and she made a little basin in her mountainside yard so that they’d have some water to play around in.

Her case manager Martinière has been trying to convince her to start a small commerce. She has plenty of savings that she could use to begin. Her weekly stipends will stop in just a few weeks, and Martinière wants her to have a plan for feeding her kids once that happens, even if the beginning she can make is small. He explains with a proverb, “Boukane tann bouyi.” That means “Roast while you’re waiting to boil,” and it refers to the way that Haitian children will put something — sweet potatoes or corn, for example — to roast quickly in the fire while they’re waiting for a meal to cook in the pot above it. Laumène may not be ready to get into a bigger business, but Martinière wants her to get something going while she works for something big.

He doesn’t insist, though, because she explains her reason. “If my husband sees that I have my own activity he’ll stop contributing to the household entirely. He has another wife.” She says that once her husband puts a woman in a house, he leaves the rest of the household expenses to her.

Her plan is to wait until he helps her finish her house — he’s providing much of the lumber — and then she’ll start her business. She wants to sell groceries out of her home and rum. She’s especially confident about the rum. “You listen for noises at night, and whenever you hear a celebration, you put your gallon of rum in your bag and go sell. You won’t ever come home without money in your pocket.”

Modeline Pierre 3

Modeline was excited about her New Year’s holiday. Her baby’s father came back from working in the Dominican Republic. She returned to the abandoned house they had been sharing until she moved back in with her mother’s house while he was away, and got a lot of encouragement from him when he saw her changed situation. “He was really happy. He saw the roofing tin they gave me, and he jumped into the work. He started to prepare the support posts” for their new house. And what’s more, she said that he’s now planning to stay around. “His mother gave him a little bit of land for him to farm.”

She has made no real progress at writing her name. She works at it seriously but seems dyslexic, though our team doesn’t really have the expertise diagnose her issue. Normally, we just write members’ names clearly for them to copy it in a notebook, and with practice they improve. Some can learn the whole name in one go. Others need to start with a few letters or with only one. But Modeline can’t copy something she looks at. Her case manager, Ricot, will start tracing her name lightly for her with a pencil to see whether she can learn by following the letters her draws for her.

She’s enjoying taking care of her goats and her pig, even though she has to find money to buy the feed that the pig requires. She has only one way to buy the feed right now, and that’s by using money from her weekly stipend. That would be putting pressure on her ability to feed the family, except that she still takes care of younger siblings every day, so her mother still sends her some of the food she prepares.

The relationship with her mother has gotten tense, however. “The case managers tell me to respect my mother, but I yelled at her the other day.”

The issue is her birth certificate. Modeline doesn’t have one, and Modeline blames her mom. Her mother says it was lost in a fire, and Modeline complains that she doesn’t want to help her get a replacement. Modeline’s watched the way the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture has been working to get livestock registered in rural areas, and the ear tags on her own goats, and it only frustrates her. “They say that even animals should have papers, and my mother won’t help me get mine.” What makes it worse is that her daughter will be ready for school next year, but won’t be able to go with a birth certificate and Modeline thinks that she can’t get one for her child without one of her own. Ricot will have to work with her to help her both to get the two birth certificates and to mend fences with her mother.

As I talk with Modeline, I find her cheerful and energetic. But she lacks clarity as well. When I ask her what she would like to do with the money that she’s begun saving, she says that she’d like to buy a mature nanny goat to add to the two that we gave her. It is a good and modest plan. But when I ask her how much she’s saved so far, she has no idea. It is recorded on a sheet that her case manager leaves in her keeping, but she can’t read the sheet and hasn’t kept track of what her case manager tells her. This is a pretty serious issue, because unless she learns to keep careful track of her own things, she’ll have a hard time managing her life.

She has a bigger hope for the future. She wants to move to downtown Lascahobas, where she thinks she’ll find better schools for her little girl. But it is just a hope right now, not yet a plan. She doesn’t know how to do it. “Her father will have to see what he can do,” is all she can suggest.

Solène Louis 3

Jan bagay yo te ye, yo komanse chanje. Mwen gen twalèt. Mwen chanje bèt.” Solène is anxious to talk with me as soon as I appear. “Things aren’t the way they were. I have a latrine. I have livestock I take care of.” She lives on a little hill, just 15-20 feet about the land that surrounds it. The hill has enough room for her own house, but not much else.

The house her mother-in-law gave her, which she was living in when she joined the program, is gone now. She had it torn down. She needed the better pieces of lumber she could scavenge from it and the space it was on for her new home. Right now, she lives with her husband and children in a temporary shack they threw together of straws walls and a roof made of palm seedpods.

Work on the house is moving along. “They told us from the beginning that they’d help us build a new home, so we started getting ready.” She continues by citing a Haitian proverb discussed at her training. “Se avan dòmi nan jè w, w ranje kabann nan.” That means, “You make your bed before you get sleepy.”

Building a new home is costing a lot of money, however. She can’t use the livestock that she received from CLM. Neither her goats nor her pig have produced anything that she can sell yet. So she depends mostly on careful management of her weekly cash stipend and the 50 gourds her husband can earn most days by working in neighbors’ fields. That’s less than a dollar. They have a third source of income, their plantains. They can harvest some to feed the children and some to sell so that they can buy the things they need.

That garden points to their continued fragility. It was planted on rented land, and Solène can already see that she and her husband won’t be able to take the plot for another year. The money they are investing in their home leaves them with nothing to pay the rent with.

But Solène remains optimistic, and she points to the program’s role in her optimism. “I’m on my way. I never had money or a plan for how to spend it. The program pushes you to move yourself forward.”