Sisters-in-Law

Darline Tanisma is married to Michelène Etienne’s brother. The two women entered the CLM program together. They live with their husbands and children in neighboring houses in the same corner of Gwomòn, and they each have two kids, a boy and a girl. 

Before they joined the CLM program, the two families made their living the same way. The husbands are farmers, working land as sharecroppers and, sometimes, as day-laborers. The two women had small businesses selling used clothing.

Each had only about 1000 gourds of capital, which each received from her husband. They would go to the market in downtown Gwomòn early in the morning to check out the retail merchants, picking through their stock in search of items that they believed would sell well. They’d then walk around town, selling each piece. On good days, Michelène says, they’d earn up to 350 gourds of profit. Normally, they’d make about 200, now less than $3. They’d do this five days a week, taking Sundays and Thursdays off. The latter was their laundry day.

Neither family held productive assets other than the capital in their business. The surveys that were completed during the selection process by the case managers who recommended them for the program show that they owned no livestock whatsoever. Not even a chicken. 

As small as their income was, they would not normally have qualified for CLM. It’s not as though things were easy. There were days when they weren’t sure what they’d feed their families, and they had a lot of trouble keeping their children in school. But CLM is for the poorest of poor Haitians, and the two women’s steady trickle of income would have been enough to keep them out of the program.

But the CLM team saw women like Michelène and Darline as part of a population it wasn’t serving: too wealthy for CLM yet poor enough to need help. In the program’s early days, Fonkoze could have offered the women an alternative. It was called “Ti Kredi” or Little Credit, and it operated together with CLM. It consisted of a series of very small loans with short repayment periods. They were offered without the barriers the institution set for entry into its standard credit program. There was no registration fee and the required savings deposit was reduced to a token just big enough to open an account. It also came with more intense accompaniment than Fonkoze provides to standard borrowers: more frequent meetings with specially-trained loan officers who’d have fewer borrowers to manage. 

But that program no longer exists. After Fonkoze Financial Services (SFF) – the Foundation’s sister organization – took over management of all Fonkoze credit programs, it eliminated Ti Kredi. SFF is a commercial entity, and it judged Ti Kredi to be too expensive. The elimination of the program left the CLM team feeling that there was a gap between the families it was charged to serve and those capable of building stronger livelihoods through the resources available to them. 

So, CLM’s management team developed an approach that it’s calling CLML, or CLM Lite. It’s a nine-month accompaniment – compared to the standard CLM program’s 18 months. It shares some of the program’s key features: careful selection of members, a small cash stipend for a short period, a transfer of assets to build up the members’ economic activities, training, and support geared towards better health, including a water filter and access to free care. But CLML is stripped of other CLM features: the stipend lasts twelve weeks rather than 24, and there is no support for home repair except for help building a latrine.

In early conversations with the team, Michelène and Darline said that they did not need the weekly stipend. They explained that they could manage with the income from their businesses. They asked whether they could receive the money as a lump sum, and program staff agreed. They both used the money to repair their homes.

Michelène and Darline used the 3000 gourds worth of investment capital that the program gave them in the same way. They shifted their business model. Rather than picking through retail merchants’ wares every morning, they buy 4000 gourds’ worth of clothes in an unsorted pile every three days. They get the clothes much more cheaply than they used to, so they make much more off of what they sell. They may sometimes get stuck with something that no one wants, but so far that hasn’t happened often enough to affect their sense that they have taken a big step forward.

Both women diversified their investments, buying livestock. They both reached graduation with multiple goats, and Darline also bought a pig and a sheep. They also made regular weekly contributions to their savings and loan associations, with Michelène accumulating 6500 gourds in savings by graduation.

The added income has changed the way the families live. “I don’t have trouble paying for school anymore,” Michelène says, “and we send our kids to school the right way: breakfast before school, a snack or snack money in their hands, and a big lunch when they get home. They eat three meals a day.”

They have similar plans for the future. They both want to continue selling used clothes. “I like used clothes,” Darline explains, “they sell well, and you can grab something for your family now and then when you come across something they need.” But they would like to move to wholesale, buying the clothes in the large boxes that they are sent in and selling them in small piles to retail merchants, merchants like they are right now. 

The two women will continue to work on improving their lives, and the CLM team will continue to work on CLML. With very limited experience with the program, the team will need to clarify its criteria for selecting women for the program. It will also have to learn from each of the members it serve. Should it, for example, think of further reducing the stipend because these two women said they didn’t need it?

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