Emania’s first four months in the CLM program have been eventful, almost disastrous.
One day in late February, her baby was sick and she arranged through the CLM nurse, Lavila, to take him to the hospital in Gwomòn, just down the road from where they live. Partners in Health does not have a facility in the area, and the local hospital charges fees for most services. Fonkoze will cover those fees if Lavila informs the hospital that the member’s visit is covered. The hospital then bills Fonkoze. The baby saw a doctor, received medication, and Emania took him home.
That evening, her mother was preparing a meal by the light of a kerosene lamp, and the baby fell backward into the lamp. He was badly burned. Emania rushed him to the hospital. The hospital staff then called Lavila, to confirm payment for services. Once Lavila confirmed payment, staff at the hospital could get to work, but they quickly saw that the case was beyond them anyway, so they referred the child to the larger hospital in Gonayiv, the much bigger city down the road.
But in Gonayiv, doctors had to say that they didn’t have the facilities to treat a serious burn either, so they put the baby and his mother in an ambulance and sent them to the Partners in Health hospital in Mibalè, a good three hours or more away. Even Mibalè, however, lacks a burn center, so after offering a little basic first aide staff there put the pair in another ambulance. This time they were sent to the Doctors without Borders burn center in Port au Prince.
Emania and the boy spent more than a month at the facility. He received a couple of skin grafts. But he also needed blood. With Emania’s most likely donors, her family, a long way off in Gwomòn, CLM staff travelled to the hospital from Mibalè to donate. The boy is now at home and recovering well.
And despite the interruption in her work, Emania is moving forward. She completed construction of her latrine and the repair of her home. This latter task was made easier by the fact that she merely fixed up her mother’s home, which was severely damaged in the earthquake of 2018. The two single women live together. “The walls had holes so big that you could have walked by and stolen one of the kids right through them.”
Her biggest challenge right now is building an income. She asked the program for two goats and a sheep, and has received the goats. But none of that livestock will bring in regular income anytime soon. And things are only going to get harder for her and her mom. Her sister recently moved into to a room in the house with her kids after splitting up with the children’s father. It isn’t yet clear to the CLM team what resources that other sister brings to the household, or whether she brings any.
And Emania presents challenges to her case manager, Pétion, and to the CLM team as well. He and the team did nothing for her that they would not have done for any CLM member. But Emania appears to believe that she is able to get special treatment by pursuing help vigorously. Pétion’s heard other CLM members say that she told them that they can get what they want from Pétion if the “fè l cho.” That means “if they make him hot,” which is a way of saying, “by nagging.” Emania is apparently telling CLM members to nag Pétion to get what they want.
The attitude is positive in the sense that it shows she credits herself for the help that she’s getting. We want CLM members to see themselves as agents. But it is hard to Pétion to find out that a member looks at him that way. Though perhaps he can take comfort in the attitude displayed by the members who told him what Emania has said.
Marie is a 35-year-old mother of two girls, age 18 and 16. They live in Tyera Miskadi with Marie’s husband, Honora, and the older daughter’s baby boy, who was abandoned by his father before he was born.
A cohort that included families from Tyera graduated in August of last year. And in a simpler world Marie and her family would have been part of that cohort. The CLM team’s plan, after all, is to pass from one community to another, always identifying everyone in the community who belongs in the program.
The reality, however, is more complex. Fonkoze depends on grant money to implement CLM, and grants always come with a number of families attached to them. We might receive funds to serve 50, 200, or even a thousand families at a time. But once we’ve selected the number we have funds for, we have to stop. Even if we are in the middle of a community. Tyera was the last community we entered during the prior cohort’s selection process, and we hit our limit before we completed work there. So Marie, her family, and other families as well were out of luck.
Neither Marie nor Honora are from the area. Marie is from Tomasik. She moved to Tyera with her mother when the older woman came to care for a grown daughter, Marie’s sister, who was sick. “My mother brought me along, and we just stayed.” Honora is from Senmichèl, a large town northwest of the Central Plateau. “He’s a field worker. He came to work in someone’s field, and he saw me.”
They have a house on a piece of land that they don’t own. “We stayed with various people for a while, but when you’re staying with people, now and again they make you feel ashamed. So someone said we could build our house on this piece of land.” The family doesn’t, however, live in the house any more. Its roof has deteriorated so badly that even the mildest rain gets through. So they took a single room in a nearby house. Its roof isn’t great either, but they are partly protected from at least the lighter rains.
Before they joined the CLM program, the couple really struggled to feed themselves and their kids. Honora earned all of their income. At first, he just did field work. Then he got a job substituting for the man who is supposed sweep the yard of the local school every day. That job would have paid very little, even in principle. But the school’s principal hasn’t been around for months, so Honora hasn’t been getting paid at all. He also takes care of someone’s cow, and the cow’s owner helps him occasionally. “When he sees we are going through a bad moment, he sometimes gives us something.”
The couple also takes care of three goats for their owners, who live in the Dominican Republic, and that should be a source of capital. Normally, the person caring for a female goat will be paid in offspring. But everything the couple has made through this arrangement has disappeared. “Some of the kids died, and some had to be sold to take care of our daughter.”
Their younger girl has a badly swollen foot, and it has been that way for years. Though they have taken her to see doctors, and spent a lot of money in the process, they’ve never found a solution.
Marie already sees possibilities in the program she’s entered. “I really liked the training. We learned a lot about keeping things clean. My daughters are still pretty lax, but I am keeping after them, and it’s starting to work.” She refused to spend the transportation stipend that the program provides during the initial training. Six days brought in 450 gourds — a little less than $5 — and she used the money to buy a pair of ducks. She thinks the female is ready to start laying eggs.
She chose goats and a pig as the enterprises for the program to transfer to her. She knows that small commerce could help her in ways that the livestock cannot. Only small commerce has a chance of providing steady income. But she doesn’t think that small commerce is possible right now. “There is no commerce these days.” She feels as though the local economy has slowed down so much in the last year or so that she’d have no way to make money.
Her ambition for her time in the program is straightforward. “I’d like to live differently.” But her explanation is unusual. Normally, new members talk of becoming wealthier, about acquiring things that they don’t have. Marie says nothing of the kind. “I want to apply what they said in the training and keep me and my daughters from being careless.”
Sophonie Duclaire lives with her husband and three of their five children near the little market at the Palmis Tanpe intersection, where merchants sell seasonal fruit and charcoal to motorists passing along the national highway through Savanèt Kabral, in Tomond. Her two oldest kids were taken by members of her family when they reached secondary school and Sophonie could no longer afford school fees. The more advanced classes are more expensive, and Sophonie couldn’t hope to pay.
Sophonie had been sick, and she and her husband had sold everything to try to get her well again. When CLM staff members first met her, she was sitting in the yard in front of her shack, across from a pile of the filthy clothes and bedsheets that she had used during a short hospital stay. She couldn’t lay her hands on the ten gourds she needed to buy laundry soap to wash them. That’s less than 15 cents. And she had nothing to eat in the house. She couldn’t take her medications without food.
When she joined the program, she and her husband had nothing except a small garden on family land, but they supported the family as best they could. He would help out in neighbors’ fields whenever he could find the work. He’d get 100 gourds per day, just over a dollar right now. Sophonie did laundry for neighbors. They wouldn’t pay her, but they would give her food that she could take home to her family. “Back then, you wouldn’t have accepted a drink of water from me.” It is her way of saying that she was so downtrodden that nobody would have wanted to associate with her at all. “I was living in such a broken-down shack. I had to bend over to walk in, and everything we had was drenched by every rain. And we were, too.”
The couple continued to make an effort to keep the younger children in school, but just this year they were running out of ways to pay. Sophonie became part of a CLM savings club when she joined the program, but she had to receive her payout out of turn. The principal had already sent her children home because she hadn’t paid any of the tuition. She used her second turn at the savings-club pot to buy the lumber she needed for her home. “I’m not living under water anymore.”
She chose two goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she and her husband have been taking great care of them. The pig is growing and pregnant.
But the progress she’s made with her goats is remarkable. Her collection has gone from two to ten in just over a year. The original two both provided kids, so that brought her to four. But a couple of different neighbors offered her the chance to buy mature nanny-goats. That really showed how her life was changing. “Before, no one would have offered me the chance to buy a goat. They wouldn’t have thought of me.” Before long, each of those nannies had delivered a pair of kids.
She made the purchases by borrowing money from her Village Savings and Loan Association. She and her fellow members gather every week, and at each meeting every member buys from one to five shares. The association makes interest-bearing loans to its members out of the funds it collects, so the shares’ value grows.
Sophonie has quickly learned to use her association’s loans well. After paying back the money she used to buy the goats, she took another loan and used it to buy wood to make charcoal. She’s been selling 4-5 bags a week at the little market in nearby. At current prices, that’s almost 3000 gourds. She hasn’t yet been able to set enough aside to run her business without loans, but she’s made a lot of progress nonetheless.
She’s saving up as much of the profit as she can, though, because she has a plan. She’d like to use it along with money from the sale of a goat or two to buy a cow. “Things can happen — like a death in the family — that just a goat can’t help you with. When the CLM program leave us, I don’t want to be forced backward.”
Dieumercie lives in Palmarik, a small neighborhood within Kay Epen, a minor population center in a remote corner of southern Tomond. She’s lived in the area all her life, and now shares a home with her partner and their five children.
When she joined the CLM program, she had nothing. She describes regular seizures she suffered over the course of years and how she spent all her money on doctors and traditional practitioners, looking for a solution. She supported her children with the little bit of farming she could manage. Her husband was never much help. “Msye a mòl.” That means that the guy is lazy. She even left him for a time, returning to her mother’s home in frustration. But they have five children, so it’s hard to stay away for good.
When she joined the program, she chose two goats and a pig. But further conversation with her case manager, Ricot, led her to change her decision. At the time, disease was killing of many of the pigs in her neighborhood, and she didn’t want to acquire one just to watch it die. So she asked Ricot to buy a third goat instead. They agreed that when the epidemic had passed she would sell one of the goats to buy a pig.
But once she has resources in her hands, Dieumercie is good at managing them. Using savings from her weekly stipend, she bought a small pig without having to sell a goat. Meanwhile, the goats gave her two kids.
She took good care of her pig, but even so it began to show signs of sickness. So she sold it and a goat and used the money to buy a cow still in its mother’s womb. This way of buying a cow entails some risk, but it is much less expensive than buying a calf would be. When a healthy bull was born shortly after her purchase, Dieumercie knew that the risk had been worth it.
And she managed to save up to buy the pig even while she was contributing to her savings club, or sòl, every week. When her turn came, it paid out 2100 gourds, which she used to buy trees to make charcoal. She began a cycle of buying wood and selling charcoal that quickly increased the value of her investment. Before long, she sold out the business and bought a second unborn calf. When its mother gave birth, she had a small heifer to go with her bull. “It used to be that I couldn’t have gotten even a small loan if I needed one. Now plenty of people are ready to lend me money. They see I can pay it back.”
Though her status in the community has changed, however, and she has begun to accumulate valuable assets, other parts of her life are still a struggle. Her very status can worry her. Her calves aren’t ready to be weaned yet, but when they are she’ll have to figure out how to take care of them. She’s afraid to keep them in her neighborhood. “There’s a lot of jealousy. People hate to see you get ahead.”
She still depends largely on her farming to feed her children. The obvious alternative would be to get into small commerce. Her experience with charcoal at least suggests that she’d be good at it. But she’s hesitant. “It’s hard to maintain small commerce because the children require so many little expenses.” And school expenses are increasing. Not only do the prices rise every year, but each new, higher class is more expensive than the previous one. Her costs would thus be increasing even without inflation. “I’ll just have to keep seeing how I can handle it.”
And she’s not sure she wants to stay with her husband, who still isn’t helping out. She used the resources CLM provided to repair her mother’s house. That’s where she was staying at the time the repairs we made. And she made sure to turn the two-room house into a three-room one, so she would always have a place there. Her oldest boy is 15, and he is starting to understand the situation between his parents well. “He says he’ll support me whatever I decide.”
Despite her struggles, Dieumercie is now confident. “I’ve learned that I can take care of my children as long as I can stay healthy.”
The CLM members from Lawa have now been in the program for nine months. Each has made some progress since she started, but all still have major problems to overcome.
Itala and her daughter Italène, who is also a CLM member, are working hard to build their new homes. They have completed installation of their latrine already, and they are very happy about it.
Itala’s roof and frame are up, and the builder is working on the walls, which will be woven out of sticks. She made it slightly larger than the program intended. “I have to have someplace to put visitors if people come to see me.” The program provide 22 sheets of roofing tin, and Itala bought six additional ones to cover the larger house.
The extra sheets cost her 2100 gourds, or about $23, and she explained where she got the money. “My son had a small goat he earned by taking care of a grown nanny-goat for a neighbor. I borrowed it from him.” She sold her son’s goat for 2250 gourds, which was just about enough to pay for the tin and transport it as close to her home as possible. She isn’t yet sure how she will repay her boy, but she very much thinks of the transaction as a loan from the boy to her. “The boy is my child. Everything I have is his.”
Her own goats are making progress. The two that the CLM program gave her are now five. The two mothers are healthy, and the three kids are, too. She knows what she’d like to do with them. If the kids survive, she plans to sell her two young males to buy a donkey. Such a purchase could change her life, since it would enable her to get the mangoes and avocados that grow on her land to the market for sale. “Right now they rot on the ground because I can’t get them to Gwomòn.”
She thinks that her ewe might be pregnant, but she isn’t sure. She was glad to get training on the care of sheep at the last refresher training. This initial training hadn’t included sheep because the program wasn’t then used to providing them. But the training helped her recognize when her ewe was in heat. She also learned, however, that it can be hard to tell whether a sheep is pregnant. So she’s just watching. At the very least, it seems healthy.
She has sent three children to school this year. They started in January, when the school opened after a couple of months of socio-political unrest. She hasn’t been able to pay their fees yet, however, so she’s counting for now on the principal’s patience. The school costs 250 per session per child, plus a 50-gourd registration fee and a 100-gourd entry fee. So, she owes 1200 gourds right now and will owe another 1500 by the end of the year. She’s not sure yet where that money will come from. Right now, all the household’s income still depends on the money her husband makes helping people mill their sugarcane. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, the work is irregular and both poorly and irregularly paid. Second, he has a second family to support, so Itana can’t count on even the little that he earns. What he brings in is just enough to allow her to make minimal weekly investments of 50 – 100 in her Village Savings and Loan Association.
She knows that the best solution for her is to establish her own business, and her focus on acquiring a donkey as a first larger investment shows that it is in her plans. But she is afraid to start right now. And that brings us back to her new house and a problem she’s facing.
The CLM program encourages members to recruit the builders who will work on their house. The program then is supposed to meet with the builder, negotiate a fee, sign a contract, and pay the builder. But Itana dealt with the builder by herself, and owes, as a result, 10,000 gourds, which is much more than she can think of paying right now. She and her case manager will need to figure this out. If she really has to pay all that money, especially if she has to pay it soon, it will make it hard for her to invest in other important areas of her life.
Jeanna and Nelso are also working hard on their new home. They have an advantage over Itana, because Nelso himself knew how to set up the frame and put on the roof, so the couple can receive the small stipend that the program provides to the home builders it works with. That will help because, like Itana, they decided to make their home larger than what the program foresees. Their house will eventually need 36 sheets, so they’ll have to buy 14 themselves. They’ve purchased 11 so far.
It is understandable for a couple with seven children that they’d like a little extra space, but it creates challenges. They are struggling to manage the housing-related expenses. They’ve paid 4000 gourds for the planks they need, 3850 for roofing tin with three sheets left to buy at 350 gourds each, and 3000 gourds for the support posts that hold up the roof. That’s 11,900 gourds, or about $128, which is a lot of money for them. And they’ll have additional expenses when the are ready to have the doors made and installed.
They’ve covered most of the expenses so far from two sources. They managed to sell ten coffee cans full of pwa kongo, or pigeon peas, from last year’s crop for 2000 gourds. They also got lucky. Nelso won 5000 gourds in a lottery. But that still leaves a pretty substantial balance.
For now, Nelso continues to be the source of all their income. Jeanna is an experienced business woman at a very small scale, but she still nursing their baby, and they want it to get bigger before she goes back to earning money outside the home. Making enough to feed them both and their seven children is a lot to ask, and they sent their two oldest children back to school in January, which is another big and important expense. But the couple is managing for the moment. They have some yams in their garden, and though they need to reserve some for the land’s owner, they’ve been depending on them a lot lately.
One of their goats had two kids, and though they lost one, the other seems to be doing well. The other goat lost its litter. “It was pregnant when I got it, but it was so small. It was all I could do to get it home. It miscarried after that.” It is, however, doing well now. Jeanna crossed her sheep with a male on December 8th. She remembers the day and is counting the roughly five months until the ewe should produce a lamb.
When Clotude joined the program, the supervisor in Gwomòn, Gissaint César, put her mentally on his “lis wouj,” his red list. That means that he thought of her as someone who might need extra attention to succeed. She seem to have so little, and as a widow she would not have anyone around to help her. Things are, however, turning out differently than he expected.
Part of her progress has to do with assets that we were not aware of when she joined the program. We knew that her main source of income — even of sustenance — was her own farming. But her garden had more to it than we were aware of. She is currently cutting a crop of sugarcane, a valuable cash crop. She doesn’t know how much it will bring it, but her last harvest, almost two years ago, was worth 10,000 gourds. She also harvested crops of mangoes and avocados, enough each time that it was worthwhile to a merchant to buy them from her and bring them to market. And each of those two sales was enough to allow her to buy a pig. She now owns two small ones, a male and a female. She used a harvest of pigeon peas to buy two goats to add to the ones CLM gave her, but both those goats died.
At the same time, she is not saving in her Savings and Loan Association because she says she doesn’t always have the 50 she needs each week to buy a share. So the state of her finances is a little bit mysterious. Her case manager will need to clarify things with her to make sure he is giving her all the help she could use.
Like both Jeanna and Itana, she is working hard on finishing her home. Hers, too, is larger than the 22 sheets of roofing that the program provides would permit. It needed 30 sheets. Its roof is up, and now it’s time to build up the walls. Unlike the other two women, she’s decided to have hers built with rocks and clay, rather than wood. “I don’t have anyone to help me buy the wood.” Rocks she can collect a few at a time from the ravine below her home. Still, she will have to figure out the building costs. “The frame and the roof cost 7500 gourds. I don’t know what the walls will cost.” Like Itana, she made an agreement with her builder by herself, and that will end up being expensive if her case manager can’t help her.
Ezione François lives in Bwa Kabrit, a small rural neighborhood just outside of downtown Laskawobas. When she joined the CLM program in 2016, things were really hard. “I didn’t even have a chicken. I had to depend on what my husband’s family occasionally sent to pay for the children’ school.”
It hadn’t always been that way for her. Early in her marriage, she and her husband were doing well. He’s a professional baker. He worked for a bakery owner six days a week. On Sundays, the owner allowed him to use the bakery to make his own bread, which Ezione would come sell. Roving bread merchants would take a supply fresh out of the oven early Sunday morning on credit, and they’d come back to pay for the bread in the afternoon. Ezione and her family were making progress.
Then her husband left her and their children to take up with another woman. He would occasionally send Ezione small sums to support the kids, but they didn’t amount to much. She depended on them entirely, however, and on sporadic gifts from others until she was hired to manage meals for her local branch of a network of community organizations. She had been a faithful member of her organization for years, and as its leadership saw her struggle, they decided to do what they could. She made 1000 gourds per month – about $20 at the time – and was allowed to take extra food home to her children.
The job enabled her to take care of her children until she had to give it up to take another. She had a dream in which she was confronted by a crowd of young children. When she told her pastor about it, he explained that he had been thinking of establish a community school in her neighborhood. She took the dream as a sign that she should be working for the school. So she started as a recruiter for the school before it opened, going around the neighborhood to get parents to sign their children up. Once the school opened, she became a teacher’s aide in the preschool. That became a long-term commitment, and she was working in the school when the CLM program selected families in her area. The problem was that the school couldn’t pay because parents didn’t pay fees. Ezione continued to work because she felt committed to the children, but it only made it harder to make ends meet.
By that time, her husband had returned to her. But he and his other woman had, Ezione says, “wasted everything they had.” Her husband had gone back to making bread, but he could no longer get a regular job at a bakery, much less his own day to work the equipment. Ezione began selling bread when she could, paying the bakery at the end of the day as her customers had paid her.
When she joined, she chose two goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she was able to make some progress with each. Her pig eventually had two litters. The first she sold to buy a cow, and though she lost most of the second litter to disease, she used proceeds from the sale of the two survivors to pay her children’s school expenses. Her goats never took off, but she has been able to sell one now and again for school expenses.
She used savings from her cash stipend, however, to add to her small commerce. She began to sell sugar together with the bread. It doesn’t bring in much, but it enables her to buy shares in her Village Savings and Loan Associations every week.
The VSLA that CLM established is into its fourth year, and she liked the activity so much that she established a second one at her church. “I like the way the VSLA brings us together every week. If neighbors have problems with one another, we can help them work them out. We pool what we have, and we work together.” The VSLAs like her, too. She was just elected as its new president.
Ezione has plans for the future. She used proceeds from the sale of her cow to send her husband to Chile. He hasn’t been sending back much so far, but she says it’s because he only recently got working papers. She’s ready to take a loan from her VSLA to start a small business selling coffee and hot chocolate in addition to her bread and sugar. And she already knows how she wants to spend her money the next time the VSLA’s cycle ends. She’s planning to invest in a pig.
When you ask her what she values about her experience in CLM, her response is quick and clear. “I liked all the training. You learn so much you didn’t know.”
Loralda Vil lives near Route 5, the road that leads north out of Gwomòn towards Pòdpe. She, her partner, and her three children share a small, deteriorating house that is owned by someone who moved to Pòtoprens. “They’ve been letting us sleep here, but now I hear they’re trying to sell the house, and I don’t know what we’ll do. We don’t have the money to buy it.”
She’s also raising a younger sister. The girl left their mother’s home because the mother is a heavy drinker and couldn’t take care of her. She moved in with a stranger, becoming one of many Haitian children who live as domestic servants, but the woman eventually kicked her out because she made a costly error making change for someone while trying to help in the woman’s business. Loralda likes having her sister around. “She’s helpful, but I don’t like it when she does stuff I tell her not to do.”
Loralda and her partner struggle to send the girl to school, though Loralda’s older brother helps some. Their two older children are five and three, and should be in school, too, but Haiti’s political conflict has prevented the school Loralda registered them for from opening this year. Once school starts — probably in January — Loralda will need to figure out how to pay the fees. She doesn’t see where the money’s to come from yet.
With her third child an infant still nursing, Loralda isn’t earning any income herself, and the couple has no land to farm. The depend completely on whatever small jobs her partner can find. He doesn’t have a trade, but people sometimes hire him to move a pile of sand or some cement at a construction site. It’s hard work that’s poorly paid, and it’s hard to come by, but it is all the couple has.
She has simple goals for herself as a CLM member. “I want the program to help me send my kids to school, to buy them a pair of sandals if they need one. I want it to help me get them to the doctor’s if they’re sick.” She chose goats as her first enterprise. She wants eventually to become a trader, but she thinks that, as things stand for her right now, her children would eat up any little business she started. “When the goats start to have kids, I’ll call my case manager and plan to sell one so I ca start a business with the money.”
Meloya Paul lives south of Loralda’s neighborhood, off the same road. She and her partner live in a house that belongs to him. It’s a short hike east of the main road. The house looks as though it was once solid enough, but the earthquake of 2018 brought down sections of its walls. The roof above it held, but much of it is now open to the elements. They haven’t had the money to make repairs.
She and her partner first moved in together in 1990. At the time, she already had two children, and together they had two more. But all four children died. When the last one passed away, Meloya left the home. “The shock of it made me what I am. If I had children, I wouldn’t look like this.” She spent 25 years wandering around the streets of Gwomòn as a beggar. “It’s better to beg than to steal. Stealing leaves a stain on your whole family.”
After she left him, her partner had four children with another woman, but when that woman grew ill, he was at a loss. He asked Meloya to move back in to help him take care of his children’s mother, and she agreed. When the woman died, she decided to stay to take care of the four kids. “They’re my children now.”
The couple struggles to feed themselves and the kids. They depend on such unreliable, poorly-paid day labor as her partner can find. She asked the program to give her goats and a sheep, and she explained by talking accurately and in some detail of the cost of raising a pig. “You can’t raise a pig without means.”
When I told her that I could see she has a head for figures, that she “knows money” well, she smiled, but she denied it. “I don’t know money. I’m egare.”
“Egare” means dumb. And when her case manager, Pétion, heard her say it, he jumped in.
“Have you told Steven what you did with the water?”
After the launch ceremony for the group CLM members Meloya is part of, there was an extra sack of bags of water. The sacks go for 75 gourds, or about 80 cents, and hold 50 little bags. Pétion explained that he wanted to see what Meloya was capable of, and he was pleased with the results. In less than a month, she turned that 75-gourd gift into a 300-gourd business. She no longer sells water, but buys small amounts of hot peppers and limes, and sells them in even smaller amounts. She has been making 60% profits every time she turns the capital around.
Faustin Antoine lives just south of the main road that leads from downtown Tomond to the market in Kas, in a neighborhood of farmland called Wòch a Pyè. He joined the CLM program early in 2018 as a single father with a young son, Néhémie.
He had been living with his partner and their four children in the Dominican Republic, working mainly as a porter. A sudden illness robbed him of the use of his legs. He’s not paralyzed, but the effort to move either leg leaves it shaking uncontrollably, so he has great difficulty standing, much less walking. He returned to his parents’ home in Tomond with two of the children, but the daughter eventually went back to her mother.
When he first joined the CLM program, he was getting around as best as he could by leaning on one broken crutch and a walking stick. One of the program’s first efforts was to help him get to the office of Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Person’s with Disabilities. There he received a free wheelchair, a model designed for rough usage. He still doesn’t get around much because the yard he lives in is well off anything like a road, but at least he can move around the yard itself, which is made of hard, packed dirt.
As a CLM member, he chose goats and a pig as his enterprises, and he managed both successfully. He is not able to tend to them himself, but he has Néhémie, his parents, his siblings, and others to help him out. He just has to make sure he’s giving them the direction they need to stay on task. Like most members who only choose livestock, however, he was initially left without a way to earn steady income, even little bits of it. So he began selling cellphone minutes. His brother would make his wholesale purchases for him in downtown Tomond, and Faustin could sell to neighbors willing to come to him.
But selling cellphone minutes is not very profitable. The margin is small, and in a place like Wòch a Pyè the volume is small, too. Faustin planned to add a second business, selling cold drinks out of large cooler, but he would have to depend entirely on others to buy the drinks and the ice he would need. So he let a friend start the business instead. He lends the friend his cooler and the capital to buy merchandise, but the friend does the work and gives Faustin some of his profit.
Then during the fall, a couple of months after his graduation, Faustin had an idea. He would start selling rice. His brother buys two small sacks for him each week, and Faustin sells it by the cupful. A sack costs 1,875 gourds, which is a little over $20 right now. The sacks contain about 50 cups of rice, which go for 50 gourds each, so he should make 675 gourds on every sack.
But he actually makes much more than that because of the way he sells it. Some of his customers simply come to him and buy a cup of rice, but that’s not what most do. He has cut a piece of foam rubber into small cubes that he sells for five gourds. He also bought a deck of cards. His customers gamble for the little foam cubes. When they win ten of them, they can turn them in for a cup of rice. Or, if they want cash, they can sell the cup of rice back to him for 45 gourds. His strategy takes advantage of how much people like to gamble and it allows him, in a sense, to sell the same rice multiple times.
It’s been enormously successful. He started out with about 2750 gourds in the business, money he earned by selling one of his goats. After just about a month he has more than 20,000 gourds.
And he has plans to increase his income. He’s getting ready to move out of his mother’s house and into the one he built while he was in CLM. He already runs his card game/rice business there. But once he lives there, he’ll start selling rum, cigarettes, and snacks to the players. He can’t sell such things, especially rum, while living with his parents. “They’re church people. They don’t approve of that stuff.”
Sometimes, deciding whether someone qualifies for the CLM program is easy. You come across someone who has little or no assets they can rely on, they have almost no income, and they have no direction. When long-time members of the CLM team meet such folks, we call them “originals.” I think it’s because they resemble the cases that the program’s founders had in mind when they established it.
Yesterday I met Nana, a single mother of a three-month-old girl. She lives in a room in a shack in her cousin’s yard because her late mother’s house, where she lived alone for most of her pregnancy, was deteriorating so badly that her cousin feared it would collapse around her.
She earns whatever she earns by helping out neighbors during harvest or when they are doing laundry, but she can’t do much right now with an infant on her hands. Talking with her leaves you wondering whether she has developmental issues as well.
An “original,” as CLM staff members tend to call such obvious cases of ultra-poverty. Nana clearly belongs in the program. But many cases are less clear.
Roseline and her partner live in a house they built in a yard that belongs to a cousin who moved to Pòtoprens. The cousin gave them permission to use the land.The couple has a single child. Roseline’s first child lives with her mother.
Their income depends entirely on the man. He works as a day laborer in their neighbors’ fields, making 100 gourds on a day when work is available. That’s a little more than they need for a minimally-decent meal. Right now there are just over 90 gourds to the dollar. Occasionally he finds work chopping up a tree for a neighbor making charcoal. That work pays a lot more money — many times the hundred gourds — but he can’t find it very often.
Their little boy has an asset: his uncle gave him a very small pig. As expensive as livestock has gotten over the pat couple of years, it may be worth 1500 gourds or more.
Despite her husband’s earnings, and despite the pig, I qualify them for the program. Their housing situation is unreliable. People change their minds about such arrangements all the time. Though they have a pig, since it was a gift, it doesn’t represent their own capacity to build an asset, and the mortality rate for such piglets, especially unvaccinated as it is, is high. Finally, Roseline’s complete dependence on her partner leaves her vulnerable. She’s already had one man leave her with child. So, I approved the family.
Margueline lives with her husband and their three children. Two of the three are school-age, and the couple sends them to school by selling plantain out of their garden. They are, however, behind in their payments.
The family keeps a couple of chickens in their yard. They also take care of a very small goat that belongs to Margueline’s aunt. She will be paid in kids if the goat has young while under her care.
Margueline generally makes coffee for the family in the morning. She’ll make a large meal later in the day. She was preparing cornmeal porridge the afternoon I passed by. The family had eaten cornmeal the previous day as well.
Since I knew that for two consecutive days they had eaten a good meal, I was inclined to disqualify the family. She also told me that they find much of what they eat in their own garden. So apparently hunger wasn’t really an issue for them.
But when I disagree with an experienced case manager’s opinion, I usually try to talk. I questioned the case manager who initially selected the family for the program, and he told me that things were quite different the day he met them. He saw clear evidence of their hunger. When he went by, they were trying to stifle their hunger by chewing on gleanings from a neighbor’s peanut harvest. The whole family — adults and children — were sitting in a circle, making the best of a couple of handfuls’ worth. So I approved the family on the case manager’s appeal.
Venicia lives in her house with three children. She has two other children who live with other family members who send them to school in larger towns. Venicia stays in touch with them, and they sometimes visit. But when she asks them if they’d like to return home, they say they are happy where they are. That’s how she knows they are treated well. The two school-age children who live with her are in school, but she owes the school money.
Her husband crossed the nearby border into the Dominican Republic about a year ago because the couple saw no opportunities for him near their own home. He hasn’t been back since, but they are in touch and she says that he plans to visit in April. He occasionally sends her money, but not often and not much. He is struggling in the DR without any legal papers, and even when he has some extra money, he must wait until a friend will be visiting Haiti in order to send it to Venicia. Without papers, he can’t use money transfer services.
Venicia gets by on those transfers from her husband and on the couple of hundred gourds she makes now and then by sorting and bagging charcoal for producers. They pay her 25 gourds per sack, and she can bag as many as six in a day when there’s enough charcoal.
But Venicia manages the little bit of money that she has well. The couple put up the frame for a new two-room house two years ago, and when her husband left the house was still just a frame. Over the past year, however, Venicia has purchased the necessary palm-wood planks to enclose one of the two rooms, and she paid the builder to enclose it. She covered the house with the palm seed pods that families who can’t afford tin use as roofing material in the Central Plateau. The one enclosed room now stores almost enough palm wood to enclose the other room and five hardwood planks that she will give a carpenter who’ll make her front door.
So, though I don’t doubt that Venicia has very little, I could not approve her for the program. Her life is very, very difficult, but she has the smarts and the discipline to make it — very slowly — without us.
Once new CLM members have been selected and have received their initial six days of training, their real work in the program begins. A lot has to happen, almost all at once.
Families must prepare to install a pit latrine in their yard. Very few have previously had access to one. They need to get the correct measure for the pit that they will dig from the CLM team, dig the pit, and assemble the rocks, sand, and water that construction requires. Timing is important, because if you dig your pit before the CLM team is ready to deliver the cement and begin construction, its walls can deteriorate, especially during rainy season.
They also begin to receive their weekly stipend, and have to make quick decisions about how they will use it. Most will use the majority of the money to supplement their food budget, but most also want to start to save by joining a sòl, a form of do-it-yourself group saving common throughout Haiti. Members make a fixed contribution every week, and one of them receives the whole pot as a lump sum. Case managers help members use the sòlto learn planning, requiring them to detail what they will do with the money. They follow up to ensure they’ve done what they say they’ll do.
But the centerpiece of the CLM program continues to be helping each family establish a reliable livelihood, a way to earn a living on its own. At their six-day training, members learn about the various businesses that CLM can provide, but then they must choose the ones they want to try themselves. Case managers and CLM members go through a process called “enterprise selection,” each member deciding what sort of productive assets she would like the team to give her.
The process has changed in the past couple of years. Originally, members chose from a short menu of possible pairings: goats and commerce, goats and a pig, goats and poultry, a pig and commerce, or a pig and poultry. Occasionally options would be added, removed, or revised. We experimented with commerce and a horse. We added peanut and pepper farming. Members made their decision before the initial training, at the same moment they were offered the chance to join the program. Their decision determined what two three-day training modules they would receive.
But the CLM team eventually decided that too many members were inclined to make poor decisions. They just didn’t have enough information. And rather than let them make costly mistakes, their case managers were, too often, deciding for them, taking away members’ ability to set their course at the beginning of the program.
So, the training modules were streamlined to take just one day, and new members were offered a quick introduction to all the different assets that CLM can provide. With that information in hand, they are better positioned to decide for themselves what they would like to do. Case managers might ask pointed questions. In some cases, they might even ask a member to reconsider her initial choice. But they are trained to encourage the member to decide.
Tuesday was enterprise selection day in Lawa, in rural Gwomòn. The visits were led by the CLM team’s supervisor for Gwomòn, Gissaint César, a former case manager who was promoted to work as a supervisor in 2017. He went through the same process with each new member individually, at her home, starting by asking them to review the advantages of each of the various enterprises the challenges it presents.
Jeanna spoke at length about both poultry and small commerce. The former gives you small assets that you can sell off quickly whenever you have a small, urgent expense to manage. If a child is sick, for example, you are sure to find a neighbor willing to buy a chicken, and that will generally give you the money you need initially to get the child to a doctor. Commerce, by ensuring a stream of cash, enables you to “pay a sòl or buy a little bit of food” when you need to.
But she chose goats and a pig, the goats because they are easy to care for and require no special food and the pig because they can accumulate value quickly. She specified that she’d rather raise a boar than a sow. “Piglets get into people’s gardens, so they throw rocks at them and kill them.”
Gissaint spoke to her at length about the choice, asking her to identify her goals. Jeanna explained that she wanted to be able to sell offspring from her goats to buy a larger animal. “I want a horse so I can get into commerce again.”
She has been managing a business on and off for years, living in Senmak, where she sells drinking water and kerosene, any time she is not at home with a baby. Her husband would stay in Lawa with the kids. But when asked about her hoped-for horse, she makes it clear that she does not imagine returning to that life. “If I had a horse, I’d do my business from home. I wouldn’t have to leave my children anymore.”
Clotude sees her options as limited. Whereas Jeanna refers several times to the role that her husband, Nelso, will play with her in managing her new activities, Clotude comes back repeatedly to the fact that she is alone. Her husband is dead, and her older children live away from home. She’s alone in the house with three daughters, ages twelve, seven, and two. “I can’t leave.” At the same time, she feels a strong need to get something started. “I need to have something in my hands.”
She’d like to raise a pig. If you take good care of one and get a little lucky, your wealth can increase fast. Boars gain value quickly as they grow, and sows produce saleable offspring more quickly than goats do. But pigs are also demanding. “To manage a pig, you have to have means in hand,” Clotude explains. They need to eat well. You have to take on the labor-intensive work of foraging for them, and even then you can have to buy pig feed regularly.
So Clotude chooses goats instead. They don’t require much care beyond moving them around so that they are always tied up out of the sun and within reach of food. She says her twelve-year-old daughter Claudine can help her with that.
She also chooses small commerce. She’ll sell groceries along the main path. It is her only option until she can find a way to leave her girls for longer periods.
It is risky. Neighbors often want to buy on credit, and it can be hard to say “no.” If they don’t pay on time, you can run out of merchandise without a way to buy more. But Clotude is anxious to try. “Once it gets going, I can start buying a chicken or two now and then. Eventually, I’d like to buy farm land so I can plant sugarcane.”
Itana remembers much of what she learned at the six-day training. She has little trouble going through the advantages and disadvantages of each business with Gissaint. Goats are easy to take care of. Chickens are easy to sell quickly in a pinch. Small commerce is the one way to a steady cash income, and pig make money quickly.
Her initial reaction is to thank Gissaint for whatever he might decide to give her. “You have to take whatever falls your way.” But as Gissaint makes her understand that he is determined to leave the choice up to her, she relaxes enough to let him know what she thinks. She sees problems everywhere. Pig feed has been expensive lately. Small commerce can disappear if people buy on credit. And poultry is subject to disease and theft. So Itana asked Gissaint to give her goats, and nothing else.
At one time, this would have been a problem for the program. CLM used to insist that all members choose two different kinds of assets as a way to lessen their risk. But Itana knows what she wants, and Gissaint is willing to give it to her. Her plan is to use the first offspring from her goats to buy a pig. By then, with good management of her weekly stipend, she hopes to have the means to take good care of one.