Choosing New Enterprises

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.

2 thoughts on “Choosing New Enterprises

  1. Linda

    So very happy to continue reading your stories, hearth warming stuff. And I’m glad some exceptions are made for those ladies with strong desires to do something different.

    Reply
  2. Anne H Hastings

    Question: It seems everyone thinks that goats require the least care, but your stories continue to talk about goats that die. Why do they die so often? And when they do die, especially from disease, can they be sold for food to someone? Do you have a goat specialist who can help the families prevent some of the goats dying. It just seems like your stories include a lot of dead goats!

    Reply

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