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.

Elismène: After Six Months

Elismène lives in Ramye, a secluded corner of Laskawobas. Getting into the neighborhood is harder or easier, depending on the season. During the rainy season inlets of the nearby Artibonit River flood and the area is served by canoe ferries. During the dry season, however, the inlets shrink and one hikes through the gardens of beans, tobacco, vegetables, and rice planted throughout. There is only a small channel to ford.

She had eight children, but only four survived to adulthood. All are off on their own now, but she and her husband Michel have two of her grandchildren living with them. They live in a isolated, dilapidated shack in the back corner Ramye. The children’s parents send them to school, but Elismène and Michel are otherwise responsible for them.

The couple did various kinds of work to support themselves and the kids. Elismène would find small jobs to do for neighbors. Charcoal makers would have her help collect and bag their charcoal. During peanut harvest, she’d shell the nuts. Michel worked hard, too. He’d farm or he would make charcoal for her to sell in downtown Laskawobas. Now and again, one or the other would work a day in a neighbor’s field. Both the work and the income were irregular. There were days when she wouldn’t even start a fire. On better days, the morning might begin with no more than a small saucepan of tea. But they are both getting older and they cannot work as hard as they once did.

Elismène chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. Both activities are doing okay so far, even though it has been a hard few months for both types of livestock in Ramye.

The dry season has left little greenery in the area for goats to graze on. Many of her fellow CLM members have seen their goats lose litters because of lack of feed. Elismène received two adult females and one already had an unweaned kid following behind it. So that when one of her nanny-goats died, she still had two females. Now the remaining adult has had its first kid, and the younger one is nearly mature.

Disease has taken a toll on pigs in the neighborhood, both those belonging to CLM members and those of their neighbors, but Elismène’s sow is healthy and growing. It’s still too young too mate, but Elismène and Michel are watching it carefully for the first signs.

She has plans for further progress. She and Michel squeeze something out of whatever they can bring in each week to contribute to her savings and loan association. “When I have money from charcoal, if I spend 60 gourds, I save 40.”

She hopes to have enough so that, by the end of the association’s year-long cycle, she’ll have enough saved that she will be able to take the money, add to it by selling a few goats, and buy a cow. The interest she expresses in a cow is different from the explanation one often hears from younger women. “I want a cow because my husband helped me a lot when I was raising my kids, but just one of them is his. If he dies, a cow will help me pay for his funeral.”

But she worries about making progress, too, because she worries about the jealousy it can lead to. “When folks see you have two or three animals, they try to kill them. My husband doesn’t really sleep anymore. He spends the night lying in the house, listening to make sure the goats are okay.”

Enel: Six Months into the Program

Edeline, her husband Enel, and their two small boys joined the CLM program last fall. They were living in Ramye, a small and secluded area between Wòch Milat and downtown Laskawobas.

The selection process missed them at first. At the time, they didn’t have their own home. They were staying in Edeline’s mother’s house, and no one mentioned Edeline, Enel, and the kids as a separate household at the CLM team’s community meeting. As the CLM team began to work in the neighborhood, however, the couple’s need became clear. Fortunately, Fonkoze was able to add 50 families to the 100 it initially selected in the area, so Edeline and Enel were able to join in.

They had been really struggling. Their main source of income was construction jobs that Enel would take in Pòtoprens. He has a brother-in-law who’s a builder, and he’s happy to take Enel onto his team as a laborer. That would mean leaving his wife and their boys for weeks at a time, but Enel was resigned to it. “Things are hard. If you can get a job, you take it.”

Early in 2020, Edeline got sick. Their second son was an infant, and Enel was really concerned. “I did everything I could.” He took her to two different Partners in Health hospitals, and she eventually recovered. But the expenses of getting her to and from the care ran through most of their money, even though the care itself was almost free of charge.

When they joined the CLM program, her health was much improved, but the improvement did not last. Edeline grew sicker and sicker until she passed away in February. Enel was left as a single father of boys two and three years old. The CLM team decided to continue to work with him in Edeline’s place.

By this point, Enel and Edeline had moved into their own small house, built with the program’s assistance, on a piece of land that Edeline’s mother gave them. Enel took care of the livestock that the program gave them. His close attention to their goats have kept them flourishing even as other goats in the neighborhood have suffered from a shortage of food during the dry season. Their pig got sick and died, and though they were able to sell it quickly to a butcher, all the money that came in from that sale passed through their hands to pay Edeline’s medical expenses. Burying his wife forced Enel to take on debt.

Since her death, Enel has continued to struggle. The only way he can think to earn income would be to go to Pòtoprens and work for his brother-in-law, but he doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the boys or, for that matter, his goats. Right now, he depends on irregular charity from his friends.

Recently his sister called him. Through her, his brother-in-law was offering him two weeks of work. He doesn’t see how he can refuse, but he wants to talk to his case manager before he decides. He thinks he can drop his younger boy off with his mother, who lives down the river from Ramye, near Bagas. The older boy is in school, so he will ask the sister-in-law, who lives next door, to look after him. A local teenager has been sleeping in his home with him and the boys since Edeline died, and that boy is willing to look after the goats.

A life mostly away for his boys, however, is not what Enel wants. He knows they need him. And he has an idea of a way to start a business that would allow him to live at home. He wants to buy and sell livestock. He would go to the market in the morning, buy low and sell high. It can be a lucrative business for someone who really knows animals and is a strong negotiator. He could start with chickens, work up to turkeys, and move on to goats when he has enough capital. If he’s careful about taking care of goats, he can also by sick, low-value goats, and care for them until they recover their value, and then sell them.

But even just getting started with chickens will take some capital, and after the funeral expenses, he just doesn’t have it. If he goes to work for his brother-in-law, he might make enough to begin in a small way. He is also saving money in the savings and loan association that Edeline joined when she entered the program, but he’s afraid to borrow money. “If something happens to money you borrow, it’s a problem.” And the association won’t pay out his savings until the end of the cycle, which is months away. This is something his case manager will have to help him figure out.

And his desire to start and build a business fits into a larger plan. On one hand, he is not comfortable living on land that belongs to his deceased wife’s parents. They have been unwilling so far to even talk about selling it to him. They want to him to think of it as his. They tell him that they owe it to their daughter’s kids. But he worries. He’s not yet even 30, and though his wife died only recently, he knows that he won’t want to live his life alone. He doesn’t think a woman will be willing to move into a house built on his first wife’s family’s land. And even before Edeline’s death, he always told his in-laws that he wanted to pay for the land. He thought and still thinks of buying the land that his family lives on as a man’s responsibility. So he wants to discuss a purchase with them, and they just won’t talk about it.

On the other hand, he doesn’t see himself living in Ramye forever. He doesn’t like how remote it is. He dreams of moving with the boys to a house closer to downtown Laskawobas. With its easy access to multiple large livestock markets, it would really help him build the business he hopes to establish, and it would also mean better schools for his boys.

Delène — 15 (or really 12) Months into CLM

Delène and her partner, Richard, live with the couple’s two girls in Mòn Tomond. The land they live on belongs to her mother-in-law, but Delène says that that’s okay because the older woman is happy to have them there. Delène’s oldest girl lives in Pòtoprens with the girl’s father. Delène doesn’t often talk with her, but she makes sure she gets news.

Back before their children were born, when Delène and Richard had more money, they bought a house, dismantled it, and had it re-constructed on the property. The roof already leaked back then, but it was all they could afford.

When she joined the program, Delène had a small business selling laundry products, such as detergent and soap. A bigger merchant would give her merchandise on credit, and she would pay after her sales, before she took more merchandise. She would generally buy for about 3000 gourds and could make as much as 500 gourds of profit. She eventually gave uptake business, however, because it didn’t seem worth it. “I was making less and less. There are too many merchants. Someone would put their stuff on sale, so I wouldn’t be able to sell mine.”

Her husband contributed and continues to contribute to the household by farming land that belongs to his mother and by working in neighbors’ fields. When there was no field work to be done, the couple would make and sell charcoal.

She should have 15 months in the program by now, but she joined three months late, when another member dropped out. This is not unusual. A small number of each of the groups that start in the program give it up for one reason or another. Almost all such cases involve someone deciding to leave the community she lives in. We try to replace the departing member if we can, especially if she leaves in the first six months or so. These new families may or may not have time to do all they need to do to qualify for graduation, but they can make a lot of progress.

Delène was living very close to other CLM members, so she should have been part of the cohort from the beginning, so it’s important to understand how the team missed her during the selection process. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Her name was on the list we used for preliminary selection, and staff visited her home, looking to talk with her, several times. They simply couldn’t find her. “I was never around. Either I was off with my business or doing my laundry. I’d hear that someone had come by, but they never came when I was here.”

It was frustrating to see some of her neighbors get help she thought she needed. “It hurt, but I just prayed.”

Once Delène joined CLM, she got to work. She asked for goats and a pig, and her goats in particular have done well. We gave her two, and now she has seven. She bought one of the seven with proceeds from the sale of meat from her pig, which had died.

She would have eight goats, but one of her goats died, as well. When animals die suddenly, rural Haitians will sometimes be willing to consume the meat. It depends on a number of factors. But they won’t usually pay cash for it. They’ll buy it on credit, setting a date by which they’ll pay. The seller doesn’t have much leverage. If they don’t sell the meat quickly, it will spoil, and they’ll get nothing. So, Delène expects 3250 gourds from the sale, but she won’t get it until May.

This money is important to her because she wants to get back into business. She just doesn’t want to return to buying laundry products on credit. She’d like to use her own capital, and she thinks the goat-money will give her what she needs. She doesn’t know what she wants to sell, though. She just know she wants to be back in business.

She has plans for the goats that are still alive, too. She is a part of a savings and loan association that will complete its cycle in May, and she’ll receive a pay-out of all she saved during the year, plus interest. “My case manager, Esther, says that she’ll take the money from the association, sell some of the goats, and buy me a cow with the money.”

This is, in a way, a perfectly good plan. A rural Haitian family like Delène’s can only take care of so many goats. Keeping a large number well-fed can be difficult. And she and Richard would like to have a cow. Owning a cow gives you a different status in a rural Haitian neighborhood, and income from the sale of calves can help you accumulate land.

But the way Delène frames the plan is troubling. She describes it as something her case manager will do for her. She’s excited about it, but she seems to view herself less as the principal agent of the plan and more as its beneficiary.

This is an important coaching point. As long as CLM members see themselves as beneficiaries, as interested spectators, in the program’s work, it is difficult to believe in the progress they make. Our team will be gone after 18 months, and the family will be on its own.

So Esther and the other staff members who work with Delène have some work to do. We need to help Delène recognize that she is the engine driving her success. She and Richard managed the rapid construction of a small, secure new home. She and Richard are taking care of their growing collection of goats. She and Richard handle their planting and plan how they will send both children to school in the fall. Even the plan to buy a cow, which she currently frames as Esther’s contribution, was really her own idea. She just needs the confidence to see it that way.

Delène with her youngest daughter, Anne Fedora

Ismelie: After 15 Months

Ismelie lives in Men Tomond, right along the rocky dirt road that reaches from National Route #3 near downtown Tomond to the large rural market in Kas. She shares her home with her partner and the younger four of their five children.

Before the family joined the CLM program, they lived in a small, thatched-roofed house. “I used to have to put my pots on the floor to collect water when it rained.” Her husband, Erinord, would farm while she managed a small commerce.

She and Erinord made home repair a priority, and they now live in a well-built, three-room house with a shiny tin roof. In their improved home one sees the real fruit of their efforts since they joined CLM. The new house is large enough that the couple had to buy almost as much roofing material as the program provided just to cover it, and that involved borrowing heavily. But Erinord found jobs in neighbors’ fields and in sugarcane mills, and he earned enough to pay off their debt.

Early in the morning on market days, Ismelie buys 1000 gourds of salt on credit and tries to sell it by the end of the day to pay her supplier. There are two big markets near her home, and she sells at both. She’s been doing it for years, ever since a friend convinced her to give it a try. “My friend was already selling salt. She came by one day when my husband was out, and she told me to come along with her. We could both sell.” The friend died, but Ismelie has stayed in the business. She can earn 300 gourds in each of the markets she works in every week. That’s about $3.75 in each market, or more than a dollar a day. It isn’t much, but it is more than many women have when they join the program. With no livestock or other assets, however, the family had nothing to fall back on.

She asked the program for two goats and a pig, and her livestock is doing well. Her two goats are now five. Each of the two she received had a first litter. While the pig is not yet ready even to be mated, it’s healthy and has been growing well. Pigs are a risky investment. They are vulnerable to disease. But Ismelie has been lucky so far. “My neighbors’ pigs mostly died, but mine is fine.”

She has a long-term plan for her livestock, too. She wants to be able to depend on it, especially on her goats, to send her children to school. Only one of the three school-age children who are living with her is in school this year, and she want to be able to send them all in September.

And she has hopes for her small business, too. She has continue to sell salt, just as she has for years, but has her eyes on other businesses: groceries or housewares or cleaning products. She’s not sure which. Right now, she doesn’t feel as though she can switch, however, because she depends on the wholesalers who sell her salt on credit. She doesn’t see any money of her own that she could invest.

This is where her story gets complicated. Because she has access to money, but she doesn’t seem very clear about the options available to her. She says that the kids are still too young to sell, which is fine, but she doesn’t show that she has considered selling a goat in a month or in two months to get herself started. She might feel as though it would be a bad idea, but she hasn’t even really even considered it as part of her plan.

And she is part of a savings and loan association that will end its cycle in May. The way these associations work, at the end of the year-long cycle, they pay out everything that members have saved throughout the year, along with any interest earned through the small loans members can take out. The interest can be as high as 15%, with payouts over 10% being common. She could plan to use her payout in May to start a business, but right now she’s thinking of buying another goat. That might be a good investment, but if she wants to get into a bigger business, as she says she does, she might want to consider this source.

She doesn’t have much money saved up, however, because she stopped attending the meetings and making her weekly contribution. She found that she couldn’t afford the 250 gourds she needed each week. “Everything I make through my business gets spent buying things for the kids.”

That’s understandable. Her commerce is small. But it appears to be based on a misunderstanding. She is not required to save 250 gourds each week. That’s how much she can save if she buys five shares when the association meets. But she is only required to buy one share, which costs just 50 gourds. She knows that she could afford that much, but she feels as though it isn’t worth her time if she cannot save the larger amount, even though at the end of the year it could dramatically affect what she could do.

She appears to lack vision. She doesn’t seem too clear about the options that are starting to open up for her. She has just three months left in the program, but she seems to need more coaching. We will need to work on that.

With her son, Jean Wilnor

Lucienne Lifaite: Two Years After Graduating

Lucienne lives along Ravin Gwomòn, a narrow channel running south and west of the town. It floods to become a river with every heavy rain. 

She entered the program with nothing. She would occasionally keep livestock for neighbors, but they always took them back before she could profit by it. She and her four children shared one of the rooms of a two-room house with a neighbor. The children’s father had passed away. The owner of the home just let them stay there. Lucienne would feed the children and herself by buying small quantities of produce on credit from farmers. She’d then break what she purchased into even smaller quantities for sale to consumers in downtown Gwomòn. She struggled to feed her children and to send them to school.

She asked for goats and small commerce. The commerce she chose was the same one she was used to. Haitians call it “kase lote,” which means break down and parcel out. Having joined the program, however, Lucienne could buy her merchandise with cash, which gave her more freedom to choose what to buy and how much. Her goats really prospered. By the time that she was ready to graduate, they had more than doubled in value.

She was happy to join a savings and loan association, and has remained an active member. “It helps you save, and you can borrow the cash you need at the beginning of the school year.”

She speaks clearly about how she thinks CLM helped her. “It put me on the right path. There was training. They taught how life is and how life isn’t. If they hadn’t yelled at me, I wouldn’t own all that I own.”

And she has started to own quite a bit. She began buying additional livestock with proceeds from her small commerce and from the farming she had started to do. She eventually bought six sheep. But she wasn’t especially attached to the animals, viewing them just as an investment. When she saw a chance to buy land already planted with sugarcane, she didn’t hesitate. She sold all the animals she had to in order to accumulate what she needed for the purchase. She sold the cane and bought more land, which she and her new partner have already planted. She plans to use their harvest to start buying livestock again.

She’s happy about the way the new partner is working with her. He contributed to the second land purchase, and he does much of the farm work. But she has no doubt about her own value. When I too-casually mentioned how impressed I was by how much land she and her partner have now accumulated, she was quick to interject that she bought the sugarcane land on her own. 

And she is determined to keep moving forward. “I was so poor. CLM helped me pull myself out. I have no right to go back. The humiliation that I used to feel keeps me from slipping.” 

She has a larger vision for herself as well. She wants to be able to help others. “If somebody comes to me with a problem, I have to be able to tell them that half of their problem is mine.”

Rosimène: Five Months In

Rosimène lives in Bagas, a neighborhood of Wòch Milat, in the valley enclosed by the Artibonit River and the ridge that runs to its south through much of Laskawobas. During the rainy season, the neighborhood is relatively accessible. Residents can take canoe taxis from various spots. But during the dry season, the principal route out is a long hike up and back down the ridge and then along the road to the downtown area.

Getting in and out of Bagas is especially hard for Rosimène. For over two years, she’s been unable to walk. She lost the use of her legs to some sort of sickness. When it first took her, she spent a month at the Partners in Health hospital in Kanj, and then another at the larger one in Mibalè. But nothing doctors could do for her helped. She lived for a while with a sister, in a more accessible area along the main highway that runs between Mibalè and Ench. But she began to feel like an unwelcome guest, so she decided to look for someplace else. An aunt offered her unlimited use of the house in Bagas where she lives now with two of her six children.

They cannot live in her own house, because she had to sell it to pay for the funeral when her husband passed away in 2009. The couple had always struggled, but he was a hard-working farmer and she managed a small grocery business, and they got by. His death and the consequent expenses left her unable to manage.

Eventually, one of her children went off on her own. She now has her own household, but she and her mother remain close. Two others were taken in by a family in Kanj, who sends them to school there. The youngest was taken in by his uncle. That leaves Rosimène directly responsible for the fourth and the fifth, who are 15 and 12, though the 15-year-old spends the week during the school year with his siblings in Kanj, where he attends school as well. The family gets by mainly through support from Rosimène’s neighbors and her daughter and the little they can earn from the 15-year-old’s farming of their last piece of farmland.

About five months ago, Rosimène joined the CLM program. She chose goats and a boar as her two enterprises, and she’s able to take care of them with her 12-year-old’s help. She provides the direction, and he does the work. She would like to raise the animals until she can sell them off to buy a cow, but she doesn’t yet have a clear sense of what she’d do with the cow, other than that it would be there in case she ran into a problem. She may be thinking about the devastation her husband’s funeral expenses once caused her. She would like to start a small grocery business again, but will have a lot to figure out, like how she will arrange her purchasing.

For now, lack of mobility is a major impediment for Rosimène. The CLM team is working to get her a walker from the Haitian government, and it could try to get her a wheelchair as well, if that is what it turns out that she needs, but neither will do much more than help her get around her own yard. The paths that lead through and around Bagas would be impossible for a wheelchair — they are narrow, winding, and uneven — and almost as difficult with a walker.

Jean: Two Years After Graduating

Jean Tanisma lives with his mother in Fon Ibo, a densely populated area not far from downtown Gwomòn. The CLM team was searching for new program members in Fon Ibo in early 2017, and they were lucky to come across Jean. He hadn’t been mentioned by his neighbors at the community meeting that opens the selection process. But Gissaint César, who was then the brand new supervisor in change of CLM in Gwomòn, was interviewing Jean’s niece, who was a potential program participant. He saw Jean and started asking about him.

Fonkoze rarely takes men in the program, and it rarely takes anyone who has no dependent children. But since 2016, it has included individuals with disabilities, as long as they are poor enough to qualify, and Jean clearly was. He went blind as a teenager. At the time he joined the program, he was 32 and entirely dependent on his mother, who was herself very poor. He had no economic activity of his own. The two sometimes went an day without a meal.

Like many of the members in Fon Ibo, Jean chose goats and a pig as his economic activities, and the program bought him two goats and a pig. But the goats did poorly. He couldn’t keep them healthy, so they didn’t reproduce. He finally gave up on them, selling them off to buy a sheep, but the sheep didn’t do much better.

Fon Ibo turned out to be a bad place to raise animals that graze. It’s densely populated, and the small spaces that aren’t covered with houses and their surrounding yards are thickly planted. The area is also fertile, and folks are very reasonably sensitive about their gardens. Few of the families in the neighborhood who chose goats made much progress with them. The couple of exceptions involved exceptional circumstances, like an unusually large yard or a partner willing to lead the goats to distant plots he was farming every day.

Jean’s pig was another story. He gave it careful attention, raising it and successive litters of piglets in a back corner of his mother’s yard. Because it was right in his yard, he was able to take care of it himself, rather than depending on helpers who were willing, but not always reliable. He bought the feed it needed. It was a lot of work, but he was happy to have something useful to do. When each litter was ready, he sold it off and deposited the money in his account at Fonkoze.

But earning money in occasional lumps when he sold some pigs would present challenges that Gissaint helped Jean see. Like all the CLM members who joined with him, Jean was part of a Village Savings and Loan Association, and membership required him to have at least 100 gourds to buy shares with at weekly meetings That might not seem like much. At the time is was just about $1.50. But it was more than Jean could count on having every week.

Gissaint told Jean that the best thing he could do would be to establish a small commerce. Even a very small one could help him make his weekly contributions, even if his pigs remained his principal source of income. So Jean decided he would take the advice, and started thinking about what he might sell.

The idea he came up with was very good. He took some money out of his bank account, and bought pig feed. And he has kept up that business ever since. He buys it by the sack, and sells it by the cup or can. It’s not very profitable, but it makes him enough to contribute to his savings group, and allows him to keep his own pigs fed as well. He also can give his mother the money she needs to feed herself and him.

He can’t make sales without help. He can’t see well enough to distinguish denominations of bills. But finding people to help him out has never been his problem. Others simply act as his cashiers.

From Jean’s perspective, the change in his life has been monumental. “It makes me so proud when I reach into my own pocket to buy something I want. And to know that if I need 5,000 or 10,000 gourds, I can lay my hands on it.”

Jean has a plan for the current litter of piglets. He plans to sell all but one female. That will give him two sows, which will double the size of his operation. He’ll put the rest of the money in his Fonkoze account. He’s saving to buy a cow. He’s not sure what he will do with the cow, but he sees it as the next step forward. “When you start at the bottom, you have to think bigger and bigger, one step at a time.”

Roseline Charite: Five Months In

Roseline lives with her husband and their five children in Seresit, an area of Woch Milat, the southern part of a valley in central Laskawobas along the southern bank of the Artibonit River. Their house is unusually isolated, standing a short walk along a serpentine path from the main trail through the area. No other houses are within a stone’s throw of theirs.

The CLM team is lucky to have found the family. Perhaps because of their isolation, the leaders of their community failed to mention them during the open meeting that launched the CLM selection process. CLM staff is trained to look for forgotten households. It happens often enough. But Roseline’s is too hidden for us to have come across it.

The CLM supervisor for the area, Wesnel Charles, was interviewing one of her neighbors to evaluate her for inclusion, and the woman asked him whether he had spoken to Roseline. We do not explain the purpose of these interviews, but this woman told Wesnel that the questions he was asking made her think that he was looking for especially poor families and that if she did not tell him about Roseline, it would be a sin. She showed Wesnel how to find Roseline’s home, and he went off to meet her.

The family’s need was obvious. They were crowded into a collapsing, one-room hut made of sticks and palm-seed pods. They had no livestock, not even a chicken. They had lived in the past from farming, planting mainly manioc and sweet potatoes. They do have access to the plot of land they live on. But her husband, Mickes, had been sick for months, and hadn’t planted anything. It was early afternoon, and they had not yet had anything to eat, nor did they know what or whether they might eat the rest of the day.

The family has begun to make small, but clear progress, though their two steps forward have not been coming to them without a step back. Roseline used the transportation stipend she received at her first training workshop to buy a hen, and was excited to see it hatch its first brood of chicks. But the chicks all died. The hen remains, and seems healthy, and Roseline continues to hope that it will reproduce.

She chose goats and turkeys as the assets for the program to transfer to her, and she received two female goats and a pair of turkeys as well, and all of her animals appear to be thriving. Her turkey hen had nine chicks, and while animals killed five of them, the other four are growing well. The family is keeping a close eye on them. If all four survive, they will represent a major windfall. The couple’s dream is to raise the animals until they have enough value to be able to sell some and buy a small cow and then raise the cow until they can use it to buy more land.

For the time being, they are living on the charcoal Mickes can make. He cuts down trees or thins branches and converts them. Either he or Roseline then bring a sack of it to market in Laskawobas. This involves the long hike out of the valley and down the road to downtown, all off it done with a sack of charcoal on their head, but it is the only income they have, other than their very small CLM stipend. And the stipend lasts just six months. It will run out soon.

But one sign of hope is how seriously they are taking the tasks that CLM sets before them. They received most of the materials they needed to install a pit latrine, and CLM sent a mason to make and install the platform and seat. But the couple themselves was responsible for enclosing it. Case managers can have a lot of trouble convincing families to do that extra work. Just surviving is so hard. But Roseline and Mickes walled theirs in quickly and well, even though they didn’t have much in the way of material to work with. It is clear evidence that they are willing to work.

Using a Cash Stipend: Rosena Jean Baptiste

Rosena Jean Baptiste lives in Wo Anana — or Upper Pineapple — with her partner and their three children. When she joined the program a little over a year ago, the couple was really struggling. “There were days when I had laundry to wash but I couldn’t afford a little piece of soap.”

They got by by working in their neighbors’ fields and hiring themselves out to turn their neighbors’ trees into charcoal. They would buy a tree for a preset number of sacks of charcoal. They’d then cut down and burn the tree. They would sell any charcoal above the agreed-upon amount to the same neighbor, who could then sell it to a wholesaler.

Rosena chose goats and agriculture as her two enterprises, and she has done well with both. But the real key to the transformation in her life has been her use of the cash stipend she received from Fonkoze. For their first 24 weeks in the program, CLM give members 350 gourds each week. That’s worth a little more than $4.60 these days, and it’s instructive to see what Rosena has done with it.

Of the 350 gourds, she actually received 200 each week. The other 150 went into her sòl, her savings club. She and the other members of her sòl take turns collecting the whole pot.

She sometimes spent the 200 or a part of it on food for her family or other necessities, but she wasn’t willing to spend all of it that way. “There are things I used to see in other people’s hands, and I wanted my own.” So she used as much as she could to buy chickens. She eventually bought twelve, and has been keeping them in her yard with success.

Rosena, with her partner, Gagnier, on her right and her case manager, Manno, on her left.

Early on, she and her case manager, Manno, had a serious conversation. She told him that she had always wanted to have her own small commerce, but she couldn’t because she didn’t have enough money. Commerce, she said, takes a lot of money. “Manno told me that commerce starts small and becomes big.”

So the first time it was her turn to take the money from her savings group, she used the 1750 gourds to buy bread, crackers, and sugar. The second time her turn came around, she added another 1750 gourds to her investment. She now has almost 8000 in her business, selling out of her home and at two local markets. She sees the difference it makes in her family’s life now that she has activity in the market twice each week. “Now I can buy all the soap and detergent I need, and we eat well every day.”

For Rosena, the regular cash has been important. When she hears people say that 350 gourds is not enough money to be useful, she says, “Maybe they don’t know how to manage money.”

But she doesn’t think it’s only the money. She doesn’t think she would have succeeded without Manno’s advice. “I can make more progress with Manno because he explains things that I didn’t understand. I didn’t know anything about running a commerce.”

She and her partner have also kept up their other activities. They still make charcoal, and the investment from CLM has increased their farming. They’ve been able to use these activities, together with Rosena’s commerce, to buy a horse and to complete the construction of their new home. They hope that their spring harvest, combined with the payout from Rosena’s savings and loan association, will enable them to buy a cow by May.

Rosena’s older house is on the left, and the one she’s constructed during CLM is on the right.

CLM in the City: Marie Yslène at Graduation

By Samuel Gilbert, translated and edit by Steven Werlin

              Marie Yslène Delarge lived in Lapwent, a neighborhood of urban Jeremi, though she moved to another, called Karakoli, while in the CLM program. Her journey through CLM was challenging, but she was finally able to change her life. She participated in the first group of inner-city CLM members and graduated from the program in February 2021.

            Her family was not initially one of the 200 selected for the pilot of CLM adapted for urban settings, but another family chose to abandon the program, and Marie Yslène was able to replace them. She was living with a man who’d been sick for more than two months, their two girls, and her mother-in-law. At the time, things were so bad that she depended on a neighbor for the little bit of food she fed the family. The chance to join the CLM program became her one hope. 

            One of the first important questions her original case manager asked Marie Yslène was how much money she’d need to go into business. She said that she’d need 30,000 gourds to start one that could support her family. That was about $325 at the time. Her case manager talked to her about another woman who’d started a business with only 250 gourds selling chanmchanm, a Haitian snack made of corn ground together with sugar and peanuts. Marie Yslène decided to give it a try. She asked her neighbor to lend her 250 gourds, added 75 gourds of her own, and bought the ingredients she needed to make chanmchanm. She sold her chanmchanm in small bags, for five gourds each. She sold a large cupful for 150 gourds. 

            Within a week, she had 750 gourds. She decided to buy the flour and other ingredients she’d need to make ponkèt, a kind of muffin, and kokiyòl, which is like a donut. She had learned both baking and sewing, and could make the snacks well. She brought the 250 gourds back to her neighbor, but the woman told her it hadn’t been intended as a loan, but a gift, so Marie Yslène threw the extra money into her business, and was able to invest 1000 gourds. 

            She took a new step when she saw a woman pass in front of her home, selling charcoal. Marie Yslène bought her sack for 700 gourds. Unfortunately, the charcoal was wet, and it had been broken up so much in route that she couldn’t sell it all. She was only able to make back her investment. There was no profit. But she still had her chanmchanm, her ponkèt, and her kokiyòl, and she wasn’t ready to give up on charcoal.

            Her first real setback occurred when she was still selling her different snacks. She made a batch of kokiyòl for 1750 gourds, and she gave it to a sister-in-law to sell for her.  But the whole bag was ruined. The donuts were in the bag too long, and they became mushy and unsaleable. But she still had her main capital, so she was able to continue selling both the snacks she made and cooking charcoal. By this point, she was starting to feed her family with profits from her business. 

            The first cash she received from the program was a 4500-gourd deposit that was made into her Fonkoze savings account. She took 2000 gourds and made a payment to one of her children’s schools. The tuition bill was 8000, so 2000 was a good-sized payment. She used 800 gourds to buy four large bunches of sugarcane, which she was able to sell off as another snack in individual packets. She spent 1200 gourds on family expenses and left 500 in savings.

             Each time Marie Yslène thought of taking a new step with her business, she would be sure to speak about it with her case manager. She wanted to be sure that she was making good decisions. She began saving money in a little lockbox, starting with 200 gourds. She also joined a sòl, a common sort of savings club in Haiti. 

            It was hard work, but she eventually had made enough profit to be able to invest in groceries, like rice, flour, oil, cornmeal, spaghetti, etc. She started that new business with 5000 gourds, and stopped selling her snacks. When the program finally was ready to transfer money for small commerce to her, she used the money to buy three sacks of charcoal along with fresh seasonings – like onions, parsley, and peppers – that sell well with standard groceries. 

            By early 2020, Marie Yslène felt that her business was still too small. She made a plan with her case manager to borrow 7500 for three months from her savings and loan association. She was the first CLM member to borrow money and pay it back. It was hard. With her commerce in her home, she couldn’t really walk around to make sales anymore, which had been a key to her initial success. And because her partner was no longer working, the entire responsibility for the family fell on her.

            She hasn’t yet been able to realize one of her plans. As a tailor, and she’d like to buy a sewing machine. But rent payments made it hard to afford one. Even so, she was able to take 20,000 gourds out of her savings to pay for a wedding. She married the man she’d been living with.

            She’s a different person now. Her children are in school, and they eat three meals a day. And she has plans. She wants to save her money so that, by the end of the year, she’ll have 100,000 gourds and be able to buy a small piece of land to build a house on. She wants to eliminate her need to pay rent.