Author Archives: Steven Werlin

About Steven Werlin

I moved to Haiti in January 2005. I’ve been writing regular essays since then about the various projects that my colleagues and I work on and about our lives in Haiti.

Laurène: Almost Six Months

Laumène is a mother of seven children with five different men. She lives in Dipwi, in northern Gwomòn, with the father of her two youngest children, their two kids, and two of the man’s children from a previous relationship. His young teenage daughter, Laurène’s stepdaughter, is now also Laurène’s makomè, the godmother to Laurène’s one-week-old baby.

Laurène is from Dipwi, but seventeen years ago she was living in Pòtoprens, supporting herself through small commerce. She sold used clothing and cosmetics. Then she became pregnant with her oldest child, and she moved back to Dipwi. The child’s father wanted her to move to his family’s home in Plezans to have the child, but she was unwilling. The five children who do not live with her are all living either with their father or their father’s family. She keeps track of them, and thinks they are all well.

She alternated through the years. When she had young children to manage, she sought help from a series of partners. As they grew, and she could leave them with other children, or on their own, she would try earning money herself. The father of her fourth and fifth children, who also lives in Dipwi, used to help her with her kids. He wasn’t willing to pay for school for the ones that weren’t his, but he gave her his harvest to sell, and he bought their own children what they needed.

That was, however, some time ago. She hasn’t had her own business in some time. She can’t right now, while she’s nursing her infant, but she plans to return to small commerce in about five months. “As soon as I can leave the baby with his godmother.” The young girl smiles when she hears Laumène mention her future responsibilities.

Laurène chose goats and a sheep as her two enterprises, and she’s excited to have them. “I have my little brother and my uncle. They can help me take care of them.”

She knows what she wants to do with them. Her objective is clear. “I own my house, but I don’t own the land it’s on. If the animals produce young, I want to use them to buy a small piece of land to build on.”

She explains her situation. The house stands on land that her grandparents left to her mother and her aunt. A couple of years ago, the aunt told her that the side of the plot that Laurène had built on belongs to her. Laurène had no idea. She didn’t think the grandparents had parceled-out the land specifically that way.

The aunt hasn’t been pushy about it, but she’s made it clear that she’d like Laurène to put her house elsewhere. Though Laurène knows that neither the aunt, who lives in Pòtoprens, nor her cousins, who are generally well-off, particularly need the land, the situation has become uncomfortable for her, and Laurène would like to move on.

In the meantime, she is managing things, even in her current state, so that her family keeps moving forward. Last time her case manager saw her, just a day before she had her child, he gave her a week to finally get her latrine enclosed. She agreed that she’d speak with her father and her brother. Here is the note the case manager left in her information book:

“You should speak with your father and your brother about enclosing your latrine so you can use it, because you will need it.”

When he arrived today, it was walled-in with new roofing tin. Quite an accomplishment for someone the week she gives birth.

Renia: Almost Six Months

Renia Similian lives with her younger son in Janlwi, a small neighborhood in northern Gwomòn. That son, René, is fifteen now. Her firstborn son, René’s older brother Odalin, is almost twenty. He left home a few months ago to move in with an aunt in Pòdpe, the major city on the coast, north of Gwomòn. He decided to go to try to make a living, and has begun to learn masonry through apprenticing at odd construction jobs.

For about fifteen years, since shortly after René was born, Renia has been a single mother. The children’s father moved out of the home and left supporting the family entirely to Renia. She would get by doing agricultural day-labor, earning 50 to 100 gourds, whatever the usual rate at the time was. As small as her earnings were, she would try to safe a little, building it up until she had something like 500 gourds. Then she could invest the money, buying pigeon peas or avocados — whatever was in season — and bringing them to the local market for sale. It enabled her to send her then-young boys into school, and to keep them fed.

She began to make progress in a surprising way. A neighbor of hers died, and the family was unable to find a woman to bathe the corpse. It was not an easy job. Disease had badly disfigured the woman, who had been her friend. But Renia girded up her courage, and she did the job. She split the 500 gourds she was paid with the man who helped her, and she played the lottery with the 250 gourds that remain to her. She won almost 900 gourds. She invested some in peppers and some in spinach, and sold both at the local market at a large profit. Eventually, she began selling okra, too. “That business saved my life. It sent my kids to school, and it helped me make friends.”

She spent most of her time in downtown Gwomòn, running her business. By then, her mother was living in her home, with Odalin and René.

Things took a bad turn in 2015, when her mother became ill. It soon became apparent that Renia would have to abandon her business to take care of her mom. “My mother was always apologizing for the problems she was causing, but I would tell that it didn’t matter. She had given me life and suffered a lot just to raise me.” By 2019, when the older woman passed away, Renia’s successful business was long gone. Once again, she was supporting herself and her sons with field work. “I would sometimes asks friends for money, but I wouldn’t ask just anyone. I had to know the person well.”

She chose goats and small commerce as her two activities. She received two goats, and one is now about two months pregnant. The other is still young, but it should be ready for breeding soon. She should be receiving her small commerce in the next days. She plans to start by trading in peanuts.

She is excited about her new latrine. Single women often finding it challenging and expensive to install a new latrine, mainly because they have to hire someone to dig the pit, which is a big and difficult job. People dig a pit about 15 feet down, but it needs to be narrow for it to hold the cement cover safely. Prices vary widely by region, but it is often, rightly, an expensive job.

Renia was unwilling to mess around. She dug it herself. “I didn’t have the money to pay someone, and i don’t like asking for favors.” So her latrine was installed quickly, almost as soon as the materials that Fonkoze contributed were available, and she walled it in and covered it right away after that.

She has another year in the CLM program before she graduates, and she’ll need the time. Not just because she needs time and coaching to build up her business activities to where they’ll need to be, but also to construct her vision. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to accomplish. She’s a lively, chatty woman, but when you ask her what her goal is, what she hopes to accomplish, she goes silent. After a long pause she says, “I don’t want to say just anything. I have to think about it first.”

Yvette: About One Year In

Yvette lives with her partner Edson and their boy just behind and beneath the main church in Ramye, which sits on top of a hill. Since she joined the CLM program, she has started to construct a vision. She has been able to carry out needed repairs on her home, and she plans to buy a cow by the end of the year, when her VSLA’s first one-year cycle ends.

She chose goats and poultry as her enterprises. The goats have made some small progress. She received two from Fonkoze. They are healthy and growing, but have not yet reproduced. She thinks they might finally be pregnant. She bought a young buck recently to add to her collection.

Her poultry has been less successful. She received three turkeys, but one died and one disappeared. It is hard to know what happened to the one that disappeared, but turkeys are subject to death and theft.

She says that would like to start a small commerce, but she doesn’t see how she can. She has nothing to invest, she explains.

This is where things get curious. She has been able to make the maximum weekly contribution to her VSLA every week because her partner is happy to give her the cash. He gives her all the cash she uses for household expenses, and he bought the materials for their home repair. He is showing himself to be a willing partner. He works sometimes fishing, sometimes felling trees and cutting them into planks. But when her case manager Dieunel asks Yvette whether she could ask Edson for money to invest in small commerce, she hesitates.

This is a very common way for a woman to start a business in rural Haiti. A man gets paid for a farming job or some other kind of labor, and he gives some of the money to his partner so she can start commerce. It helps his family a lot. He may continue to be the principal earner, but if his money continues to come in occasional lump sums, having a partner with even a small daily trickle of income can make a big difference.

So one would imagine that he’d be happy to support her initiative. There are men who are afraid of the measure of independence that a woman with her own income has. And there are women who are afraid that, if they start to earn an income, their partner will stop helping them out. Yvette knows her partner better than we do and she knows herself, too, but it all seems like something that would be worth looking into.

So Dieunel will need to talk more with her about the possibility. This could involve conversations over a couple of weeks’ of visits. Depending on what she tells him, he may want to talk with Edson, too, or with both together. Ultimately, any decision stands to affect both of them and their boy.

Dania: About Twelve Months In

Dania is a 26-year-old woman from Beladè, the large town east of Laskawobas, right on the Dominican border. She was living as a single mother there when she met a woman from Ramye. They became friends, and the other woman eventually invited Dania to visit Ramye. The woman liked Dania, and she introduced Dania to her brother, Mergenord. He and Dania moved in together, and have had two children. Dania’s other children remained in Beladè, one with the father and one with another member of the man’s family, but Dania keeps in touch. “I try to call them almost every day.”

She was living together in a small house with her partner, their children, and her partner’s teenage niece when she joined the program. They were getting by more-or-less on what Mergenord could bring in with the few jobs he could find as an assistant carpenter.

Like many of her fellow-members across Wòch Milat, she chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and, also like many of them, she switched away from the choice of a pig as she watched the pig epidemic in the area worsen. Eventually she took two large turkeys instead of the pig.

Her two goats have been healthy, and one had two kids. The turkeys, however, have been less successful. Though they have grown, they have not laid any eggs, and Dania has, probably rightly, lost patience. “I want to sell them to buy another goat. I can’t keep taking care of them for nothing.” It is nice to have assets that she never had before, but if they don’t produce for her, there isn’t much point.

She’s getting good collaboration from Mergenord. She was recently able to buy a pig “in its mother’s womb” with money he gave her. It’s the cheapest way to buy livestock. She’ll take delivery when the piglet is weaned. He also helps her make regular contributions to her savings and loan association. When the association’s cycle is over in December, she wants to invest the money in more livestock. A cow if she can, more goats if she isn’t ready yet to buy a cow. “When you have a cow, you can sell it if you have a big problem. The calves it gives you can sell for a lot, too. Eventually you can buy land.”

She’s counting on Mergenord for another kind of help as well. She wants to start her own business. It will enable her to contribute more to the household’s income instead of depending on Mergenord, as she does now. She plans to sell laundry products: detergent and soap to start with. “It is too easy to lose money selling groceries. People buy on credit and you use them to feed your own kids.”

She doesn’t feel she has the money to get started yet, but says that Mergenord has promised her that he will give her the capital she needs. This is a common arrangement. Haitian men might start as a household’s primary earner, and they can continue that way, too. But often a man will try to save up a small lump of money he will give to his partner for her to do business with. It helps him as much as it helps her. Mergenord’s work doesn’t bring in money every day. He makes whatever he makes in small lumps, whenever he gets paid for a job. But if Dania sells laundry products with energy, she can bring in a small stream constantly, and this makes managing a household much easier. She’s not sure when Mergenord will give her the money, but she is excited to get started.

Marcelline: Almost a Year

Marceline lives with her three children in a small house just below the main church in Ramye, a small community across a muddy inlet from downtown Laskawobas. She is happy about the new home she just completed with the CLM program’s support.

Back when she was with her children’s father, the couple had a home. Her partner would farm and fish, like many of the men in Ramye. She would sell his harvest and his catch. Eventually, she joined Fonkoze’s main credit program. She started taking out loans with four other women. She established a business buying vegetables at the nearby market in downtown Laskawobas and selling them at the international market on the border with the Dominican Republic, in Elias Piña. The family was doing well.

The man decided, however, that he no longer wanted to live in Ramye, so they sold their house and moved downtown to Laskawobas. When she saw, however, that he was beginning to spend time with another woman, she decided to leave. She took the children, and erected a small straw shack on family land back in Ramye. Initially, the children’s father would visit, bringing money to help her with expenses. But the visits grew less frequent, and he eventually stopped coming at all.

Her business started to shrink when one of the members of her loan group failed to repay their loan. The other four members couldn’t get a new loan, so she tried to keep her business going with her own funds. But as the sole support for her kids, the business began to shrink. By the time she joined the program, it had withered away.

She chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and received two nanny-goats and a small sow. When the sow died, she was able to sell the meat for just enough to buy a third small goat in its place. Two of her three goats are now pregnant.

She thinks of her livestock as a long-term investment. “The goats can buy me a cow and, eventually, land.” She plans to add to this part of her investment buy using money from her savings and loan association. When its one-year cycle closes at the end of the year, she plans to add her pay-out to what she raises by selling a goat or two to buy a cow .

She used savings from her weekly stipend to re-establish her business. The training she received from the program helped her manage the business better, and now it’s starting to grow. It was shrinking for a while as she was spending money to build a better home for herself and her kids, but now that work on the house is finished, she should be able to build the business back up again.

She strengthens the business by belonging to three different sòl. A sòl is a savings mechanism common in Haiti. Its members make fixed weekly contributions. Each week, one member takes the whole pot. If she were to count only on herself to keep revenue in the business, it would be too easy to spend the money in other ways. But the three sòl provide social pressure that helps her avoid unnecessary expenses, and so her business can grow. “M ap kite komès la lè m mouri,” she says. “I will give up commerce when I die.”

Mikerlange: Almost Twelve Months

Mikerlange lives in Ramye, down near the spot where the canoe-ferries land. She’s just twenty years old, and she and her partner share their small home with their single small girl.

In some respects she has done well in the year since she joined the program, but not because of the assets the team transferred to her. She chose goats and a pig, but with pigs in her neighborhood dying due to disease, she asked Fonkoze to give her a third goat instead of the pig. One of the goats, however, died in a fire in the woods near her home. Neither of the others has reproduced yet.

Her more important success has been with her business. She borrowed 5000 gourds from her Village Savings and Loan Association, and bought garlic. She takes it around to local markets, where she sells it. It can me traveling as many as five days a week, but garlic sells, so the business works. It enabled her to buy another goat and some turkeys as well. She repaid the loan easily and on time.

But the turkeys are the beginning of her problem. She had three, but one got into a neighbor’s freshly-planted garden of young plantain trees, and started feasting. The neighbor promptly cut off its head. Not aware that the turkey he had killed belonged to Mikerlange, he made a well-intentioned decision to visit her and encourage her to keep her turkeys tied while local gardens are starting to develop. He wouldn’t want her to suffer losses.

So she’s done just that with her two surviving turkeys, but it isn’t really a good solution. Turkeys don’t like being kept on a leash, and hers have been losing weight and, therefore, value even though she is careful to feed them.

So she’s left with a difficult decision to make. If she lets the turkeys loose so they can graze freely, they might gain weight again, but they could easily be lost as one of her animals already was. If she continues to keep them tied up, they could simply lose value. If she decides to sell them, however, she will certainly lose some money. She bought them at a moment when prices were high. The pair cost her 3000 gourds. The most she thinks she could get for them now is 2000.

She should make a decision one way or another, but she’s inclined to hesitate. She’s so unhappy about any potential loss that she could end up losing much more than she needs to. So her case manager, Enold, spends some extra time with her, drawing out her thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of each choice she could make, including the choice to do nothing. She’s generally negative about all of her options, and with good reason. It is easy enough to go through the choices and explain why each is a bad idea. But Enold works hard to help her see that she has to choose something.

She eventually decides to sell the turkeys, but this just brings up a second question: what would she like to do with the proceeds from the sale. She’s inclined initially to buy more livestock. And one can see why. It’s relatively cheap right now. And she likes the way owning livestock makes her feel like a woman of means.

In the meantime, however, her garlic business has been steadily shrinking. Not because it isn’t successful. Nor, as we often see in other families, because her household is too dependent on it for daily expenses. Her husband is hard-working and helpful. Her problem is that she keeps taking money out of it to buy livestock. She bought a goat, the turkeys, and has purchased several chickens as well. That’s all well and good, and she can do that if she really wants to. But Enold wants her to see how successful she is already as a business woman and how she could make further progress by keeping more capital in her business.

By the time Enold and I leave, Mikerlange has agreed to put the money into her business. She says she’ll let him know when he comes next week what merchandise she decided to buy. But, at bottom, the conversation Enold needs to have with her will be long and, probably, drawn out over numerous visits over the coming weeks and even months. His job will be to help her see herself as the source of her success in a way that gives her enough confidence to keep taking appropriate risks. It is the best way he has to help her grow,

Enel: Another Six Months In

Enel is now nearly twelve months into the CLM program. We wrote of him here, about six months ago. He is a single father, a widower left with two small boys. His wife was selected for the program, but she passed away a few months after the couple joined it.

At the time, he was thinking that the best option for him would be to find work with his brothers-in-law in Pòtoprens. They work in construction. He had a couple of young men living in his house with him and the boys, and they said they would take care of his livestock while he was gone. He knew he could leave the boys with his mother.

But when he finally got to Pòtoprens, the work had been completed. There was no job for him. And when he got back to Ramye, he found the livestock in a bad state. The guys had not taken care of the animals as they said they would. He doesn’t really blame them. Living under his roof, they expected he would do more to keep them fed, and he just wasn’t able to. So they were much more focussed on looking for odd jobs than on helping him.

Because of the CLM program, there was a fair amount of construction going on in his neighborhood, and though Enel couldn’t get a job as a builder, he found that he could get hired to turn palm trees into the planks that local residents use to wall-in their homes. The job typically pays 1750 gourds for a tree, and though he didn’t get a lot of those jobs, he got some. “I would save 250 gourds each week in my [Village Savings and Loan Association], and if I had been paid for a tree, I’d take 500, and leave 250 in the VSLA’s box to add to savings the next week.” But as local CLM-funded construction nears completion, those jobs are drying up, and so Enel needs to make his next plan.

He’s done reasonably well, but not spectacularly well, with his livestock. Fonkoze gave him two goats, and he now has five. One of the two had a pair of kids, and he bought an additional adult female himself. The other of the two he initially received is now healthy after Enel spent a couple of months nursing it back to health after it injured its foot. Finally healthy, it might now, he believes, be pregnant. His sow is healthy and nearly ready to give birth its first litter.

A successful litter of piglets would be a huge victory. The area is in the midst of an epidemic of pig disease, so much so that many CLM members who wanted pigs decided against risking one after all. Managing his so that it remains healthy has involved careful attentiveness and a large amount of luck. If he is able to raising a litter, even just until the piglets are weaned, it will me a large infusion of cash into his household.

Purchasing the extra goat took smarts. He had received cement from the program to build up a small protective barrier around the base of his home’s walls, but it was too little to do the job. Rather than waste it with a useless half-measure or let it harden in the sack while he saved up to buy the rest of what he’d need, he sold it and used the proceeds to buy the goat.

The useless trip into Pòtoprens convinced him that he is better off, at least at present, creating an activity near where he lives. But it isn’t a simple matter. The natural thing would be for him to start up a small commerce, but that usually takes capital, and he doesn’t feel as though he has any right now, especially as he faces the expense of getting his older boy off to school for the coming year. He could sell livestock and invest the proceeds, but it is a very unfavorable moment to sell. With the start of the school year, the markets are full of livestock being sold to pay school fees and associated expenses, so the prices are especially low.

He knows the business that appeals to him. He’d like to buy and sell livestock. If he turns out to be a good negotiator and knows his livestock well, he can buy and sell several times with the same money every time he goes to the market. In addition, he’s proven by his care for the sick goat he owns that he knows how to nurse a goat to health. He could make money buying goats that are in poor condition, taking care of them for a few weeks or for as long as it takes, and reselling them when they have regained value.

The one source of capital potentially available to him is his VSLA. He could either take out a loan at one of its upcoming weekly meetings or wait until December, when its one-year cycle will end, and he’ll get his annual pay-out. He has been scrupulous about saving the maximum amount, 250 gourds, every week, even when it has meant asking around for charity, so he will have between 13,000 and 15,000 gourds, depending on the amount of interest the group generates. If he waits, he will be able to get started without a loan, but he’ll be entering the market at the time of year when livestock is most expensive. And he’s sick of his lack of a reliable income, tired of asking his sisters for help, and unhappy with the days he wastes doing nothing.

Still, it is a difficult choice, one he wants to discuss further with his case manager.

Right After Graduation

Cenel Joseph is a single man. He lives in Tomond, a few minutes north of the downtown area along the national road to Ench and beyond.

As a young boy, he was helping his mother bring a load of mangoes to Pòtoprens in one of the many large trucks that worked the route. Back then, the road was unpaved, and the last hill separating the Central Plateau from the metropolitan area around Pòtoprens, Mòn Kabrit, was notoriously dangerous. The truck that he and his mother were in lost its brakes heading down the final slope, and she was killed in the accident that ensued, as was the boy’s uncle. He was badly hurt. He spent seven months in a hospital bed, and he lost his foot. He’s been moving around ever since on a single foot and two crutches.

Losing his mother changed his life. She was the one who really cared for him. Though he had been a poor student, she always made sure he went to school, but he dropped out after her death. He would farm a small plot of land, but he struggled in the muddy soil during planting and harvest seasons. His crutches would get caught in the deep mud, making it hard to get around. He had friends who would give him small amounts of cash, but often he would go hungry. “Sometimes I would just go off into my field to cry.”

Cenel joined the CLM program in early 2020. The CLM team had been going through its selection process in his neighborhood. He did not initially show up on the team’s lists because those are made up of the households that each community identifies as belonging to it. Cenel was not a household. He was living in his father’s home. But the team’s supervisor came across him and struck up a conversation. As he came to understand how difficult Cenel’s life was, he assigned a staff member to collect initial data about him, then he verified the data and invited him to join the program. Cenel was excited. “I would just sit by myself by the side of the road, waiting for what might come. When they asked me whether I wanted to join the program, I thought it was a gift from heaven.”

He chose goats and a pig as his two enterprises, and his results were mixed. His first pig was stolen, and when Fonkoze helped him replace it, the second pig died.

His goats fared much better. The program gave him two, and he has grown that investment by managing the animals carefully. He now has seven. He plans to sell some of them so that he can buy a cow. He explains that cows involve less risk because you can let them graze farther from home. Goats get into peoples gardens. They lead to conflict. Already he is struggling to care for as many goats as he has, and he has started to assign some to young neighbors. Each cares for one and then gets some of the goat’s offspring as payment. It takes some of the pressure off Cenel and helps young people get started in life. This latter point also helps him manage some of the jealousy neighbors might feel at his success.

That success, however, has much more to do with the business he’s established than with his livestock. When he and his case manager began to talk about home repair, he insisted he didn’t really want a house. He wanted to build a small, one-room building at the side of the road that he could use as a little convenience store. He would put a bed inside and sleep there, too, but he would mainly use it to sell basic groceries.

Because it was so small, he was able to finish it quickly. He took out a loan for 10,000 gourds from the savings and loan association that CLM set up for him and the other members who live near him, and he bought his first merchandise. He used half the money to buy food basics, like rice, oil, and sugar, and the other half to buy hygiene products, like soap and shampoo. He made the effort to travel to Ench, the Central Plateau’s largest city, to purchase what he needed. The prices there are slightly lower than Tomond because there’s more whole business going on.

His store business took off. He returned to Ench once each week, buying more and more products each time. By settling on a small number of wholesalers, he enabled them to see him often and to gain a sense of his reliability, and soon they were allowing him to buy for more than the cash he had on hand, owing them a running balance, so that he could expand his business even more.

His earnings allowed him to continue to save in his savings and loans association, but he did more than that, too. He join a sòl, a Haitian savings club in which members make weekly contributions and then one receives the whole pot each week.

And when he decided that the association and the sòl offered too little opportunity for savings, he himself established another device for himself and 13 of his neighbors. It is called a “sabotay.” The fourteen participants each contribute 250 gourds every day, and each day someone takes the pot. And he has uses for each type of savings.

He repaid his loan from the association, and he took out another, larger one. The second one was for for 15,000 gourds, and he combined that money with money from his sòl to buy a freezer for his shop. He now sells cold drinks alongside his groceries. “I keep the money from the groceries and the money from the drinks in two separate buckets so I know what I am getting from each.”

When his association completed its first one-year cycle, he used the money to buy an additional goat. “The goats are important for my business. If I have a loss, I can sell a goat and the business will keep going.” The next time his turn comes around in his sòl, he plans to use the money to buy his cow, selling as many goats as he needs to add to the money. He has a plan for his sabotay as well. He will use that money to buy cinder blocks. He wants to tear down the wooden walls of his house and replace them with blocks and cement.

What is most striking about Cenel’s success is that all of the thinking behind it came from him. He has shown since joining the program unusual creativity and initiative. Each new idea was his own. He would suggest it to his case manager to hear her advice, but he is happy to tell you that the ideas were his. This makes you wonder why he couldn’t get started until CLM came along.

Cenel’s answer has a couple of elements. On one hand, he is quick to explain that before he joined CLM he didn’t have the vision. Even as he entered the program, he wasn’t able to imagine himself running a business. That’s why he chose two forms of livestock as his initial enterprises even though the program would have been happy to provide merchandise for small commerce in place of the pig. “You attend the workshops and you hear what other people are doing. It makes you think.”

He also talks about how he learned to manage money. He was always getting 50 or 100 gourds at a time from friends or neighbors who felt bad for him, but he would spend all of it on food right away. “You learn that even if you only have 100 gourds, you should eat only 75 and save 25. Little-by-little you can build up what you need.”

And he comes back to the livestock as well. Before CLM he had none. He was afraid of business because any loss would be irreparable. Having goats as additional assets as insurance against losses helped him feel the confidence he needed to start investing.

Halfway Through in Ramye

Marina Charles is a widow. Her children are grown, but she has four grandchildren living with her. Their home is in Bisent, one of the many small neighborhoods of Laskawobas nestled along the Artibonit and the many small inlets created by the hydroelectric dam in Pelig.

When her husband passed away a few months before the CLM team came to her area, she couldn’t afford a funeral. Various relatives chipped in to hold a small one for her. The couple had been supporting the children through day labor in their neighbors’ fields. It was enough to keep the family fed most of the time, but not much else.

It is still her main source of income. Inflation has driven wages up to 200 gourds for a day’s work, which is about $2, and with that she must feed her family of five and take care of their other needs as well. Last year she was able to send only two of the four children to school. Even so, she has been able to manage the small income well enough to save. She has almost 5000 gourds in the savings and loan association that the CLM team established in her area.

She chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she has made modest progress with them. She received two young female goats, and one had a healthy kid. All three are doing well. She received a small sow, but she realized that she has no place secure to raise piglets. Unless you can shut them in somewhere, they get into people’s gardens and cause a lot of trouble. So she decided just to fatten it up rather than breeding it.

In a few months, her savings and loan association will conclude its one-year cycle and pay out both what she has saved and her share of the interest it earned through the loans it provides to members. She plans to put the money from her pay-out together with money from the sale of her sow to buy a small cow. She explains that a cow will be useful because it can be sold to pay for her funeral.

All this is to say that, though she is improving her housing, and though having a latrine and a water filter have brought her family better hygiene, too, the economics of her household have not yet changed very much. She isn’t sure yet what she will do to send the children to school in September. Day labor earns her a consistent, though very small income. And it may continue to do so for some time, as long as she remains healthy. But unless her livestock holdings increase dramatically or she establishes another investment, she will continue to struggle.

Gislène Cénatus is a young mother in Ramye. Like Marina, she is about halfway through the 18-month program.

She’s not from Laskawobas, but from Granbwa, a mountainous area on the southern side of the ridge that separates the Central Plateau from the region around the capital.She lived there with a partner and their three children. The five lived with her inlaws. He own parents had died. But she couldn’t get along with them. She felt persecuted, and her partner always sided with his parents.

So she eventually left. Her two older children stayed with their father, but she went to live with her brother in Ramye with the youngest child, a girl, and her nephew, her deceased sister’s boy. She met Fedgard, her current partner, and became pregnant with her fourth child just before the CLM program came to Ramye.

The couple has really struggled. She would ask he brother to send her food, and he would if he could. Some days, she would just home the kids were fed by neighbors. She herself would go without.

Fedgard earns money sawing hardwood trees into boards for carpenters. He’s hard-working, but there are only so many trees to cut up. He and his partner on the two-man saw do not earn income every day. Gislène had her baby just two months ago, so her ability to work outside the home is limited. She is still breastfeeding the child. She would like to start a commerce. She plans to start small, setting up a tray with onions, garlic, leeks and bouillon-cubes. But feels that she must wait until her baby is weaned.

Like Marina, she chose goats and a pig as her enterprises. One of the two goats she received gave birth to its kid still-born, but the other gave her a healthy young buck. She is doing her best to make sure it stays healthy. She wants to sell it as soon as she can to buy another female. She already bought a third female with savings from her weekly stipend. Four productive females should enable her to create a strong base.

The sow that the program gave her died. Pigs are a risky investment. When Fedgard went to the market with the couple’s case manager to buy a replacement, they couldn’t find another sow, so the bought a small boar instead. Gislène intends to raise the boar until she can sell it to buy a cow. She works hard to do what she can to help it grow and stay healthy. “I give it water to drink, and I prepare its food every day.”

In one way, she is really happy with the collaboration she gets from Fedgard. Though she isn’t making money herself right now, she’s able to save money in her savings and loan association every week because Fedgard always gives her money to contribute. His income is irregular, but he’s well-regarded. “If he doesn’t have the money to give me, he borrows it from one of the association’s leaders.” The couple is building savings steadily. When the association pays out at the end of the cycle, Gislène thinks she will either buy a couple more goats or rent land to plant peanuts on.

She does, however, have one conflict with Regard. Neither her nephew nor her daughter has ever been to school. She feels she should send them in September. “They are the only kids who don’t go.” But she doesn’t have an income, and Fedgard says he won’t help. He says their fathers should pay. Gislène responds that Fedgard took her with both the kids. “He knew they were with me. It looks bad when people see we have children with us who aren’t in school.” It is an ongoing argument between the two, because Gislène is not willing to give up. She and her case manager will need to see how she can negotiate with Fedgard to convince him to help her out.

Dezam: Seven Months In

Wislande Racius lives with her partner and their three children in Gwomòn, a small corner of Dezam, a large rural section of Verèt Commune. She and her family have been part of the CLM program since December.

Before they joined the program, she and the kids were living with her mother and a brother. She didn’t have her own place. She was contributing to the household whenever she could with a small business selling bleach crystals in small bags to folks planning to do laundry. She had about 1500 gourds — something like $15 right now — in the business, money that her partner gave her. He did farming, working sometimes as a day-laborer and sometimes getting paid larger sums for completed jobs.

During their first weeks in the program, they moved to the home of the godfather of one of her daughters, but the man grew tired of their presence in his home, and started to show they were no longer welcome. “He would make fun of us for being mountain people. We had to move.” So her husband quickly put up a small house on a plot of land he had begun to buy through a kind of rent-to-own arrangement.

She asked Fonkoze to give her goats and a pig as her two enterprises, and she got the two goats right away. Before her case manager bought the pig, however, they had a serious talk. Pigs have been dying a lot lately. The CLM team has had trouble getting all the necessary vaccinations for the pigs it distributes. So Daphnée, the case manager, was reluctant to provide a pig that was likely to die. The result of their conversation was that Wislande asked for a third goat in place of the pig. One of the nanny-goats gave birth to a small buck, but it did not survive. All three of the nannies seem healthy, however, and she expects more offspring in the months to come. But though she’s excited by the prospect, she isn’t really sure what she wants to do with additional goats. She doesn’t yet have a plan.

She also wants to get back into business. She hasn’t been selling bleach for a while now. But she has two problems. On one hand, her home doesn’t yet have a door. She is reluctant to go too far without the security of knowing there is a door she can lock. On the other, her youngest child is just a year old, and now that she and the family are in their own house, she no longer has someone obvious to leave the baby with when she goes out. “If your children are young, you have to find someone to leave them with.”

Yoline Dort lives in Ti Plas Mori, near the eastern edge of Dezam. She and her husband, Franslin, live in a small home with their one child.

Before they joined CLM, all the household’s income came from him. He struggled as a day-laborer, work that is both poorly paid and irregular. But things got harder and harder when Franslin became ill. Yoline isn’t sure what is wrong. She thinks that he was poisoned by a neighbor. But he was initially so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed. He’s has gotten a little bit better, but he cannot work yet. “Just the other day, he had to stop to rest three times just to walk to his mother’s house.” The mother’s house is just a block or so away.

His inability to work has impacted the family. Not only have they had much less to eat, but their boy missed a year of school because they could not pay the tuition.

Yoline chose goats and small commerce as her two enterprises. She received two goats from the program, and both are healthy. One already had a pair of kids.

She used the business capital that the program made available to start a business selling laundry products: soap, detergent, and bleach. She sells her merchandise twice-a-week at the large market in downtown Dezan, which is nearby. She can sell out her product in one or two visits to the market, so she is beginning to establish a good stream of income.

But that was actually the second business she started as part of CLM. She bought a sack of cooking charcoal with money from a food and transportation stipend she received during a three-day refresher training, and she sold it to neighbors by the bagful. She has been in the charcoal business ever since. The charcoal sells fast, and though the profit is small — especially with the price of a sack increasing because of the rainy season — she can count on it.

Between the two businesses, Yoline has been able to feed the family even without help from Franslin. She’s even been able to grow the business by participating in a sabotay, a kind of savings club popular in Haiti. She pays a hundred gourds into her club every day, and can plan with its organizer when she would like to receive her savings. She’s also confident that she’ll be able to send her boy to school once more come September. “They don’t ask me to pay the whole tuition at once. I will make payments throughout the year.”

She’s working on another source of income as well. With the program’s encouragement, she planted a small field of hot pepper plants. “My mother used to plant them, but this is the first time for me.” It is taking a lot of work, because she has to water them. The rains haven’t been enough. But when the peppers start ripening, she’ll have something additional she can bring for sale to the market each time she goes.

Mirome Agréus and her four children live in a beat-up two-room house that her older sister originally rented to send her own three children to school in downtown Dezam. The sister moved Mirome to the house when the latter had grown so sick that she could not take care of herself. Mirome’s partner had refused to take responsibility and had abandoned her and their children.

The sister took her to hospital after hospital. Mirome eventually spent three months at the Partners in Health University Hospital in Mibalè. When it was finally time to come to the house that had become her home, she could not find a motorcycle taxi willing to bring her from the place on the main road where the pick-up truck dropped her off up to the house. Motorcycle drivers didn’t want to carry someone so obviously sick. “My sister had to put me on her back and carry me.”

By then, the sister’s husband had left her. He felt she had spent too much of the couple’s money on Mirome. She was supporting herself, Mirome, and their seven children doing laundry for other families and selling used clothes.

That fact that neither of the women is from Kristan, the neighborhood of Dezam where they live, complicates a lot for Mirome. “We have no one here to take a problem to.” For one thing, she had no land that she could build a home on. Her case manager, Fabienne, talked to the members of the local committee of community leaders who volunteer to support CLM, and one of them was willing to sell Mirome a small piece of his land for the very-reduced price of 15,000 gourds.

But Mirome simply didn’t have the money. Her sister could give her 5000, but no more. So the CLM team found some extra funds and gave her the other 10,000. She still needs to build her house, and she lacks resources to buy the materials that she is required to provide, but here again the committee has begun to help her out. Various members have donated lumber she’ll be able to use as support posts.

She has received three young female goats from Fonkoze. Like Wislande, she initially wanted a pig, but also like Wislande she came to agree with her case manager that it wasn’t the right time to buy one. One of her goats even had a small kid when she first got it. And though that kid did not survive, Mirome thinks all three are pregnant now.

But even if she succeeds with her goats, she will have a problem. Goats won’t provide the steady trickle of income that she’ll need to manage her children’s daily needs. She will need eventually to establish a daily income, and her most likely path towards doing so is small commerce. But right now she’s reluctant to start one because her youngest child is still nursing. In principle, she could start one near to her new home, but she’s afraid people won’t buy from her because she still feels like a stranger there.