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.

Emmania After Almost a Year

Emmania lives in a small house in Woy with her partner, Jameson, and Jamesley, the couple’s four-year-old son. Their house is just a hundred yards or so off the main road that leads from downtown Savanèt to the Dominican border.

They haven’t lived there for long. When they first joined the CLM program, they were renting a room nearer to the downtown area. Their rent was 4,000 gourds per year. That’s about $25, and it may not sound like much, but the couple struggled to pay it. Emmania herself earned no income whatsoever. Jameson would borrow a motorcycle when he could and split the day’s receipts with the bike’s owner. He couldn’t make much, and he needed to manage both the rent and the 11,000 tuition at their boy’s school. “Sometimes we would just go hungry. We had to have a place to live and we had to send our boy to school.”

Their rent was about to come due. What’s worse, the house was falling apart. “Part of the wall had fallen. I used a sheet to cover the hole.” So, her case manager sprung into action.

Fonkoze’s team was not yet ready to transfer to members the materials they would need to repair their homes or build new ones. That takes some time because each member’s needs are different. But his 50 families had already received their materials for latrine construction. Those materials included a few sheets of roofing, and the case manager thought that Emmania’s potential homelessness was more important than the roofs of new latrines. So, he asked a few of the CLM members who would be Emmania’s new neighbors — she had access to land from her grandfather — to lend her their roofing. They agreed and Emmania’s house went up quickly. When the home repair materials were distributed, Emmania paid back the loans.

Emmania asked the program to give her goats and a pig, and she first received two goats. One died shortly after the team delivered it, so it will eventually have to be replaced, and the other had a miscarriage but is now pregnant again.

When it came time to buy the pig, Emmania had a change of heart. She saw that a lot of pigs in the area were getting sick and dying, so she asked her case manager to give her a small commerce instead.

They bought plastic sandals for 3,500 gourds, but it wasn’t working out. “People ask to buy on credit, and then they don’t pay.” So as she sold off her first supply of sandals, she put the money away and bought some cement to cover her new home’s dirt floor.

She also saved just enough of the sandal money to try another, smaller business. She put a basket with school supplies on the side of the road in front of her house. But the pencils, pens, and notebooks haven’t been selling well. “I just don’t have any luck with commerce,” she says.

She also uses proceeds from selling out her sandals to continue contributions to her savings club. She is part of a sòl, a common way of saving in Haiti in which members of a group make weekly contributions and one gets the entire pot every week. Her turn comes up last, and she has already decided to buy another goat with her money. For the moment, she doesn’t really know what she will use the goats for, but she likes having them in case she needs money to cover a sudden expense.

Virgina Eleven Months In

Virgina lives in eastern Savanèt, in a community called Woy, between downtown Savanèt and the Dominican border. She, her husband, and their three children live in her parents’ home..

Up until a few years ago, the family was doing fairly well.They made most of their income by farming their own land, but Virgina managed a small commerce as well. The couple saved their money and bought a motorcycle. Renting it to a taxi driver brought in additional weekly income.

But Virgina suddenly became sick. Something happened to her lower back, and she couldn’t really move. Her feet swelled and became useless. Her family thought the condition was something magical, as though a spell of some kind had been cast on her. Instead of taking her to a hospital, which would have been a long, hard trip from Woy in any case, they took her to see practitioners of traditional treatments.

It was expensive. It didn’t help, but it cost the couple everything they had: their land, the motorcycle, and everything in her business. When the CLM team met them last year, the family was often going hungry and the children were no longer in school. Virgina could barely get around the yard with the help of crutches.

Her case manager and his supervisor convinced her to try going to the University Hospital in Mibalè, a government hospital supported by Fonkoze’s long-time partner, Partners in Health. The CLM team provided the transportation she needed in one of the program’s vehicles. She made the first trip in the cab of the small truck it uses to move goats. She has made five trips to Mibalè so far, and she is a different woman. Through medication and physical therapy she is slowly regaining her ability to walk.

She asked the team to provide her with goats and a pig, even though when she first received them she couldn’t get around well enough to take care of them. She had to leave that work to her family. Thieves stole the larger of the two goats she received, but her husband and children have taken good care of the other one, and it now has two kids. The team also bought her a very small sow, and she has since added a second sow herself with savings from her weekly stipend.

She’s learning to write her name by copying from a model.

When she first started to be able to move around again, she bought some oil and some rice and began to sell from a small table on the road in front of her home. She managed the business carefully. It gave her the income she needed to contributed every week to her savings group and some money to take care of household expenses as well. She is able to feed both her sows, which is remarkable because taking care of them can be as expensive as taking care of kids. She took out a first loan from that savings group of 10,000 gourds — about $65 — when she was ready to expand her business. She began to sell a wider range of products. She repaid that loan on time and took out a second, this one for 15,000.

She realized that she wouldn’t be able to simply buy more groceries or even more types of groceries. She needed a second business. By now she was moving around more comfortably, so she went to market and bought up local corn. She rented a mule, and brought the corn for sale to Miguel, on the Dominican border. Dominican buyers come to buy Haitian products.

That is a good business, but with the change in seasons she plans a change in products. It is almost time for the next bean harvest, and she thinks that if she buys loads of 50-or-so measures of beans for 15,000 gourds she will be able to sell them in Miguel for about 23,000. It is a good profit, and she should be able to make several trips. “I’ll make enough to buy a little water,” she jokes.

In the meantime, the family’s life has changed. They eat everyday, and her children are back in school. The couple is working on building a new home of their own on the plot of land that they moved to when they sold their own.

She does not seem sure just yet what she will do with her growing wealth. Though she hopes eventually to be able to buy land once again.

Graduating Youth

Chitine and Julme live in Makari, an agricultural area in the mountains above Marigo, in Haiti’s Southeast. She’s twenty, and he’s nineteen. Both of them come from CLM families.

Chitine’s one of eight children. “We were all living in a one-room shack. CLM helped my mother build two more rooms, so we finally had some space.”

Her mother also struggled to keep the children fed and in school. Only three of the kids living under her roof could attend. She couldn’t afford to send them all. Julme and his siblings had the same problem. At 19, he is a fourth grader because his mother was not able to afford to send him to school every year. “We could not always go.” The CLM program invested in both of their mothers, helping them establish the sources of income they need to take care of their kids.

But the CLM program’s founding director, Gauthier Dieudonné, saw a problem. His program was succeeding at helping women establish livelihoods that they could grow, just as it helped the mothers of Chitine and Julme. And the women and the families were changing their lives in other ways as well.

One of the most important was that school attendance had increased for participants’ children. And that was proving to be a lasting change. Studies of the families that were done years after their graduation from the program showed that the children were still in school.

But Gauthier thought about members’ older children, kids in their late teens or even early twenties who were too old to go back to school easily or to get very far with standard education even if they did. Julme is in school this year, but though Chitine says she will go, it is February, and she has not started yet. Gauthier worried that they could easily slip into the poverty their mothers were just escaping from if no effort was made to help them establish a way to begin their own adult lives. He started to dream of establishing schools just for them, which would offer a strong, if minimal, academic grounding; education in life skills like healthy practices and personal finance; and training to help them start in a trade or another way to earn a living.

So for years he looked for a way to help such young people directly, and he and Fonkoze finally found a chance to do so as part of larger CLM implementation. We have not yet been able to implement Gauthier’s full vision, but we made a start. Older children from CLM families were invited to join clubs that the program set up in their neighborhoods. Children from other families, with similar profiles, were invited as well. The young people received training in life skills and in personal finance. They had the chance to learn a trade, such as cosmetology or ceramic tiling. They were organized into savings and loan associations, and learned farming techniques. They received funds to invest in new economic activities. Like their mothers, they had the chance to graduate after eighteen months.

When asked how the program helped them, Chitine and Julme point, first and foremost, to progress in their social lives. Julme says that he met new people and made new friends. “I got to know a bunch of people I couldn’t have hoped to meet.” Chitine talks about how comfortable she is now talking to people, even talking in front of people.

She also talks about her new profession. “I learned cosmetology. I was able to make money around the holidays doing people’s nails.”

They both also learned good farming techniques. And this is where things get interesting. Because they both planted gardens on land that belongs to their parents, and neither garden succeeded. Chitine explains. “We planted eggplants and peppers, but the plants just dried up.”

But they both looked carefully at what happened, and they both think they know what went wrong. Julme explains that the land itself wasn’t strong enough, and that they have begun strengthening it through composting techniques that they learned in their club.

So they are both ready to give their gardens another try. Thanks to their parents’ experiences in CLM, finding the resources they need to reinvest in their gardens won’t be difficult. Chitine says, “My parents are happy that I am farming, and they’ll help me with what I need to plant my field.”

After Six Months in Pouli

Ercilia lives in Wòch Pab, a farming community south of the road that cuts through Pouli. It is just below the mountain that separates Laskawobas from Savanèt. She is in her 40s, but has only been in Wòch Pab for a couple of years. She lives with four of her children, a grandchild, and her partner, Bertrand.

A few years ago, she and Bertrand bought the land they live on from his brother for 75,000 gourds. That’s about $500 now, but would have been more than twice that when they made the purchase. They sold a large pig and a crop of beans to put together a downpayment of 20,000 gourds. Not long after that, they sold another pig and paid another 10,000. So, they still owe 45,000, and her brother-in-law has been asking about the balance. Bertrand plans to leave so he can earn the money for another payment by working in the Dominican Republic. He and Ercilia do not see another option.

The couple farm together, and Ercilia has managed small commerce on and off over the years. They have not always been as poor as they were when they joined the program. “I had the means to live pretty well, but then I got sick, and that took everything.” She was pregnant, and she miscarried. She had to be rushed to the hospital. She and Bertrand sold their one cow to cover the mounting healthcare expenses.

She has ten children. She had the two oldest with her first partner, who passed away. She had five with a second man, but she felt so mistreated by him and his family that she finally decided to leave them. She rented a small room, where she lived with the two oldest kids, and that’s when she met Bertrand. They now have two young children. Bertrand is nice enough to her older children, but he is only truly committed to his own. “He know he owes my children food to eat, but I have to earn money to cover other expenses myself. I have always done commerce. If I can get my hands on 1,000 gourds, I can find a way to make something of it.” The kids are in school, but Ercilia has not yet been able to buy them books.

Ercilia asked the program to buy her goats, and she got two. One miscarried its first litter, but the other is pregnant. She expects it to give birth in March.

But the progress she’s made so far has little to do with goats. It has much more to do with the stipend she’s been receiving each week. She has gotten 500 gourds, or about $3.30. CLM members typically use the stipend to do lots of different things. They buy food for their family. In fact, we used to call the stipend a “food stipend.” Some buy poultry. Sometimes, members put it directly into purchase of merchandise they can sell.

Ercilia has been investing it all in her savings group. A share in the association costs 100 gourds, and the rules allow her to buy up to five shares a week. She is careful to buy the maximum every week. That investment made it possible for her to borrow the money she needed to buy a hardwood tree, which Bertrand turned into charcoal the she has been selling. She is on track to repay her loan, and has begun to see a difference in the money she has available to manage her expenses. Though her stipend has ceased, she is committed to continuing to buy five shares every week

At the end of a one-year cycle, her savings group will pay all its members the money they have invested along with whatever interest the group has earned through the interest on loans and various fees it charges. In all, Ercilia could have almost 30,000 gourds if she keeps buying five shares every week. She would like to use that money to buy a cow. She thinks of a cow as disaster insurance. “If I didn’t have the cow when I was sick, I could have died.”

Angela lives nearby, though she is from Savanèt, on the other side of the mountain, not from Laskawobas. She seems exhausted by life. “I don’t know anything anymore. I have been through too much. I was a big, strong woman, and this is what’s left of me.”

And it is not hard to understand her attitude. She’s had fourteen children, and only six survive. The first nine she had with her husband, who passed away. By the time he died, the couple had lost their home in a fire. Everything went up in flames. Neighbors gave them the few sheets and old clothes that they needed.

She then met a widower, and had five more children with him, but they eventually separated. She lives in a home on land they purchased together. Her five youngest children now live with her, along with five of her six grandchildren and her current partner. Two of her daughters are now also members of the program.

The household gets by principally through farming. The family eats most of what they grow, but Angela will sometimes sell a large bunch of plantains or a couple of yams when they need cash. She and her partner also earn cash through day labor in neighbors’ fields, but she won’t let her children do so. “I don’t want them to experience that misery.”

She asked the CLM program to buy her goats, and she received two. They are healthy and growing. She and her family appear to take good care of them. They haven’t had young yet, but one is pregnant. The program budgets a certain amount of money for each member to use as a business investment. After her case manager bought her goats, Angela had some money left over, and she she decided to buy pig feed. She had a small pig before she entered the program, and has been struggling to keep it fed during the current dry season.

Like Ercilia, Angela was disciplined about investing her stipend in her savings group, but she isn’t sure what she wants to do with it. She already took out one loan, but she turned the money over to one of her children, who lives and and manages by trading near the Dominican border. She is about to miss her first repayment, so she’ll be charged a small penalty, but she is confident that her child will return the money and that she’ll be able to repay it.

She’s frustrated, though, because she can’t take out another loan until she’s repaid the first one, and she would like to start a business selling pig feed. She could make a little money, but also keep her own pig fed.

She has been struggling to learn to write her name. Her parents didn’t send her to school, and her focus has always been on her children’s education, not on her own. But she’s starting to make progress. Her girls are happy to tease her for her efforts, but they are clearly happy to see her progress, too.

Laskawobas: After Five Months

I spoke to Roseline Jean a little over a month ago. (See: here.) She was struggling. Her children’s father passed away, and her new partner is off working in the Dominican Republic. He accepts her three children, but she isn’t sure how motivated he is to really help them. A sick baby led to expenses and to days of missed work that only made things harder, and one of the two goats that she received fro the program died shortly after she received it.

She has made good progress in the short time since we spoke. Her focus now is on her commerce. She still sells fried snacks in front of her home in the afternoons. It’s a small, but steady income. She was previously buying produce by the sack as a second activity and selling it in smaller quantities, but she gave that up because prices became too unpredictable. And, especially as main harvest season passed, it was hard to count on profit.

So she tried something else. For many Haitian families, Sunday dinner is something special. It is the one day of the week on which even poorer families try to eat meat. She buys chicken meat in Laskawobas every Saturday and delivers it to her clients late in the afternoon so that they can prepare it for their Sunday meal. She sells on credit, and goes around to collect on the following Saturday morning, before she goes to buy again. Clients appreciate the service, and the business is growing. It provides a nice additional lap of income each week.

There is, of course, risk involved in selling for credit. Clients might not pay. But unlike a lot of CLM members, Roseline is comfortably literate, and she keeps careful track of what folks owe her in a notebook.

She tracks the debts in dollars because, like many Haitians, she thinks of money in terms of Haitian dollars, not gourds. A Haitian dollar is five gourds. It is a holdover from the Duvalier dictatorship, under which the gourd’s value was fixed at five to the dollar. She has a similar list for her snack business, and says that she hasn’t had trouble collecting what she is owed so far.

Though forage for her surviving goat has been in short supply since the weather has turned drier, she and her children have been fighting to keep it healthy by bringing food to it. “We collect leaves from the trees around here and bring it to our yard. We make sure that it has a lot to eat.”

The goat is pregnant, and means a lot to Roseline. She says that eventually she’d like to buy more of them. “Raising goats can leading you to raising a cow, and raising a cow can enable you to buy land.”

Katiana Joseph lives in the same small neighborhood. She seems much younger than Roseline. She and her partner, Raulner, live with their child in his mother’s house.That house is home to quite a crowd. About ten in all are cramped into the small space.

Raulner is the home’s main earner. He works as a taxi driver, with a motorcycle that he rents from an older brother. Between what he earns and the contributions that other household members make, the family usually has something to eat.

Katiana received two goats, and one is pregnant. They are healthy and growing. She is hopeful. She would like to start a small commerce, but she isn’t really sure how she should go about it. She will need a lot of help from her case manager to establish the direction she was to take.

She is happy, however, that her family now has a latrine. “Everyone has to have a latrine. If you don’t have one, everyone can see you.” Raulner worked hard so that the family would be able to use what the CLM program was offering. Raulner himself dug the pit. He then had to carry all the cement and other materials they would need. They live some ways off the main road.

They haven’t been able to enclose the latrine yet. For now they are using sheets, but they are hoping to buy and prepare palm wood planks to wall it in.

Moving Forward After Four Months in Laskawobas

Rosemène Elsaint lives in Gwayal, one of the small neighborhoods in Pouli, a broad area of southeastern Laskowobas. She has seven children, and about four years ago they returned to her mother’s house. Her husband had died, and she did not know what else to do.

Her family had been living in Delma, the populous residential town immediately north of Pòtoprens. Her husband worked construction, sometimes as a mason and sometimes as a supervisor. She managed a small grocery business, though she would also go to the countryside to purchase loads of produce at harvest and bring them to Pòtoprens for sale. The family was living reasonably well. Her commerce was reliable, but any time she needed extra cash, she could count on her husband to add to what she had.

After her husband passed away, her business had to bear the burden of all her household expenses, and it quickly evaporated. Back at her mother’s home, she joined a traditional Haitian savings club, called a “sòl.” Its members would make weekly contributions, and each week one member would receive the whole pot. Her friends saw her problems, and they helped her by letting her take the pot first each time through the cycle. Her sòl was thus an interest-free loan. She came to depend on the money to keep a small business afloat. She’s buy produce from farmers, and sell it in retail-sized lots. “I walk around the neighborhood selling, carrying my merchandise in a basket, and I’d sell in the market two days a week.” It helped her keep her seven children fed. By this time, her mother too was more of a dependent than a source of additional support.

She chose to invest the resources that CLM provided in goats and chickens, and her case manager bought her two goats. The chickens she purchased with the rest of the money died. The larger of the two goats is now pregnant.

The program also established a savings and loan association for her and other members, and she’s making good use of it. She no longer depends on the kindness of the fellow members of her sòl. She runs her business with money she borrows from the association. Her first loan was for 4500 gourds, a little less than $35 at the current exchange rate. She paid it back easily and took a second for 12,000. “When I have more money, I can buy more merchandise and make more money.”

She doesn’t feel as though she’s made real progress yet. Her business is more or less what it was when she used the sòl. “At least I have some goats now.”

But she has a plan. She wants to return to being a Madan Sara. That is what Haitians call the merchants who buy commodities wholesale in the countryside and ship them for sale to the cities. She thinks she’ll need about 30,000 gourds to start.

Jocelyne Michel lives in Montas. She lived in a house on her father’s land, but couldn’t get on with her sister-in-law. She chose to rent a plot for her home down the road. “I get along with my family, but it was much too hard when we lived right next to each other.” She’s been renting the same spot for six years for 5000 gourds a year. She and her children’s father separated long ago. “He wasn’t any help. He would waste any money I managed to save. He lives with another woman now.”

She would support her kids with a business that changed depending on the season. During harvest, she would buy produce from the farms along the mountainside just south of her neighborhood, and bring it to market for sale. When there was no produce to be found, she’d buy flour, oil, and seasonings, and make fried dough to sell by the side of the road.

But with all five children depending entirely on her, and school fees increasing over the years, her business was dwindling. By the time the CLM selection team came through her neighborhood, she had just enough capital left to buy a mamit or two of flour at a time — that’s a standard Haitian dry measure, about the size of a coffee-can — just enough to make a day or so or snacks. “I couldn’t save anything anymore, and it was hard to pay for school.” She was buying for 500 gourds at a time, so she only made about 200 gourds each time.

Like Rosemène, she’s made good use of her savings and loan association since she joined the program. She used a first loan of 5000 gourds to reestablish her snack business on better grounds. She was able to buy an entire sack of flour, which meant that she had less frequent need to travel downtown to buy. Travel costs are very high in Haiti right now, so saving multiple trips makes a big difference. She paid back that first loan and had enough left over to buy a small pig, even though the business was also funding household expenses.

She immediately took out a second loan, this one for 10,000 gourds. But she knew that she could not just keep growing her snack business, so she added a second business. She bought eight sacks of charcoal for cooking and sold them at considerable profit. “When I was with my husband, it was hard to lay my hands on just 100 gourds because he wasted it all. Now I’m getting ready to borrow 15,000.” She plans, for now, just to keep growing her charcoal business.

She likes her association. “It helps us save.” She’s not sure yet what she’ll do with her savings after the association’s year-long cycle is over, but she’ll have that money, and may have goats she can sell, so she’ll need a good investment plan.

Roseline Jean was born and raised in Gwayal. She and her husband had three children, but the man died in 2018, while she was pregnant with their third. After he died, she supported herself and her kids with small commerce. She counted on neighbors to lend her the couple of thousand gourds she’d need to buy produce, which she brought to market and sold in small piles. She made her purchases directly from farmers on Tuesdays and Fridays, and she brought her merchandise to market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

She was able to keep her children fed most of the time. She could even send them to school thanks to a school director who allowed her to pay their tuition a little at a time. Before her husband passed away, he helped out by farming. When he died, she lost that source of income and had to sell the couple’s land to pay for his funeral. Even then, she still had debt, which she paid by taking work as a maid.

She had to move in with a second partner just to get herself and her children out of the street, but this second man works in the Dominican Republic, so she doesn’t see him much and he doesn’t help very much either. “He took me with my children, but I don’t have a child with him yet, so he isn’t very motivated.”

She chose to receive goats from her case manager, and though one of them died, the other is now pregnant. She is taking care of herself and her kids with a business she established with money she borrowed from her savings and loan association. She borrowed 5000 gourds, and now sells fried snacks. She made the first repayment, but has two more to go.

She is struggling. Her baby caught typhoid, and it both cost her some money but also kept her from working for a few days.

She is not sure yet how she will grow her business if this first one continues to succeed. But she hopes to use her business and her livestock to eventually buy a cow because a cow is the first step towards buying a pice of land. She would like to have her own land again.

Savanèt: Nine Months In

Jocelyne Alcimé lives in Gran Boulay, on a hillside high above the main road that crosses Savanèt from west to east. She has a lot of responsibility. She and her partner have two children, but they also have her two younger sisters with them, and each of the younger women has a child or children of her own. Her younger brother lives with the couple as well. All told, eleven people reside in her home.

Back in 2018, the couple had had a good bean harvest, and they used it to buy 18 sheets of new roofing tin. They wanted to build a new home. But they haven’t had a good harvest since, and with no other way to finance the construction they were planning, the roofing just sat there.

The couple got by with their farming. They would sell an odd bunch of plantain now and again or some corn. They also ate much of what they grew.

Jocelyne asked the CLM program to give her goats and a pig, and her case manager bought her a large, healthy nanny with a small buck trailing behind it. Shortly after her buck was weaned, she sold it and replaced it with another young female. That second goat has since given birth to another buck. And as the moment approached for her to get the pig, she became worried about pig disease. She decided to ask her case manager to give her the money he would have used to buy the pig to buy another small goat, instead. Her very small herd is healthy and growing.

Going to and from the market in Laskawobas to sell crops, as she always had, has become prohibitively expensive. The fuel shortage driven by the breakdown of fuel distribution in Haiti has raised the price of all forms of transportation.She doesn’t have enough merchandise to make the trip worthwhile. Instead, she goes to the nearby market in Kolonbye. She can go on foot. She saves the money she would pay a motorcycle, but the prices she can get for her produce are lower there.

Her younger brother, though, is turning into an important contributor. He makes charcoal from scrap lumber, which Jocelyne sells. It creates extra income for them both.

She is is making especially good use of her VSLA, her savings group. “I make the maximum deposit every week.” Her steady deposits make it possible for her to take out loans. She recently borrowed 15,000 gourds, about $125. She used some of the money to buy materials that she needs to continue work on her new home. She and her partner are planning four rooms. And they are making progress. She gave the rest of the money she borrowed to her brother so that he can buy more wood for their charcoal business.

The savings group will distribute what everyone has saved at the end of the year, and Jocelyne has a plan for hers. She wants to use the money along with proceeds from sale of some goats, if necessary, to buy a vant bèf . That means a cow’s stomach, and it is a way to buy a cow relatively cheaply. You pay for the calf in its mother’s womb. She wants a cow because she sees it as the first step towards buying land.

But her mind is not just on how she can begin to accumulate wealth. She really wants to change her life. As a child, she never went to school. So it means a lot to her that she can now sign her name.

Now she anxious to start work on learning her last name.

Mitha Gerome lives in Gwo Labou with her partner and their five kids. The main road through Savanèt passes just in front of her home. Her partner, Nenel is a farmer, planting his own crops, but also working as a day-laborer and neighbors’ fields.

Mitha has long managed a small business, selling basic groceries by the side of the road. But she has always struggled. She never had her own capital, but depended on a friend who was always willing to loan her money to buy merchandise. Between her business and Nenel’s day-labor, they always managed to send the children to school at the beginning of the school year, but the kids would often be sent home before the end of the year. They couldn’t always pay the full fees.

Like Jocelyne, Mitha asked the program to buy her goats and a pig, but once her two goats had been purchased she judged that the amount remaining to her would not be enough to buy a good pig, so she asked her case manager to give her the cash. She would invest it in her business. And that’s what she did.

She hasn’t had much luck with her goats so far. One of the two goats she received from CLM died. She bought one to replace it with money from her business, but the replacement was stolen.

Her business, on the other hand, has flourished. She goes to the large, busy market in Laskawobas on Wednesdays and Saturdays. She arrives early and buys a load of corn. She sits in her spot in the market to sell out the corn, then she takes the capital, along with any profit, and buys groceries that she can bring home and sell from a small stand on the road in front of her home. Sometimes she supplements her earnings by buying a load of produce — avocados, corn, beans — and takes it to market with her, selling it before she buys the day’s corn.

Her business model is working well for her. Every week she makes deposits in a sòl, a traditional form of saving in Haiti. It means that some of her money is out of her hands. Each time it is her turn to collect the pot, she has a lump sum she can add to her investment. She says proudly that she doesn’t depend on anyone else to manage her business anymore. She travels to market with 25,000 – 30,000 gourds. Up to $250. And all that money is hers.

She invests some of her profits in livestock, mostly poultry. She sees it as insurance. If her business suffers a setback, she can replace her loss by selling animals off. Her husband continues to contribute, both by farming and by charcoal production.

Lumber piled for charcoal production.

She and Nenel also continue to improve their home. They have built a latrine with the program’s help, and are getting ready to begin major repairs on their home.

Mitha’s new latrine

Germaine Desroslin lives in Kaledan, just west of Mitha’s home, along Savanèt’s one road. She, her partner, and their little girl live with her parents and her younger siblings. Her mother is also a CLM member.

She and her husband both lived on primarily on her parents’ income. Her father made most of the home’s income through charcoal production. Germaine added what she could through day-labor in neighbors’ fields. Her partner drives a motorcycle taxi. But because he does not own the motorcycle, or even have a steady leasing agreement with an owner, the couple can count on very little. He occasionally gets use of a motorcycle for a day, and after her partner pays the owner, there might be enough money left to pay for a meal or two.

Like Mitha and Jocelyne, Germaine asked the CLM team to buy her goats, and she received two. She’s had good luck with hers. One of them had a kid. She then bought a third goat with income from her small commerce, and that third goat had a kid as well. So, she’s got five now.

She has also started a small commerce. She saved about $40 from her weekly cash stipend, and bought flour and cooking oil. She started making fried snacks and selling them along the side of the road. She had never been in business before, but she was encouraged by her case manager, Islande, and Islande’s supervisor. Germaine and Islande thought about the different sorts of business Germaine might try, and she settled on fried snacks. “I heard that if you make them well you can increase your money fast.” She’s increased her investment by about 60% so far.

But she ran into a problem. “Flour started getting really expensive. So, I left that business, and entered another.” She buys produce at the market in downtown Savanèt, and transports it for sale in Mibalè or even Pòtoprens. She buys plantains or avocados or whatever she finds. It can be very profitable.

But it is also risky. Especially during a period when transportation Haiti is generally unreliable. A few weeks ago, Germaine lost three sacks of avocados. They grew overripe and rotted before she could get them to market for sale. So, she hopes to be able to return to her previous business soon. It involves less risk, and it keeps her close to home.

Germaine likes participating in her VSLA, and she plays an important role. Unlike almost all her fellow CLM members, Germaine had considerable schooling. She made it to the 11th grade. So she is her VSLA’s secretary, responsible for ensuring its books are clear and accurate. The group has just one problem. One of the members took out a large loan right before her mother became very ill. She hasn’t been able to repay the loan on schedule. “It’s not her fault. We will just have to go talk with her and her case manager. We’ll help her figure out whether there’s something she can sell to pay us back.”

Meanwhile, Germaine is making progress. She hopes that if she continues to take good care of her livestock, she will eventually be able to buy a cow. A cow, she feels, will bring her closer to her real goal, which is to buy land. “I am building my new home on family land, but I would rather live on land of my own.”

Germaine and her new, nearly-completed home.

Ready for Graduation in Gwomòn

Jeannette Belfort hasn’t always lived in Savann Long. She’s from a more remote area of Northern Gwomòn, but she’s been in Savann Long a long time, ever since she moved in with her first partner over 25 years ago. She had six children with that first man, but she eventually decided she had to leave him. She found a second partner she’s happier with, and together they have one young child.

That new partner, Rosemond, is a farmer, and he has always been willing to help her with her older children as well as with the one they have together. Between his harvests, and her small commerce, she struggled to send them all to school. But it was always difficult. Her children would sometimes lose a year because the couple could not afford the entire school fee for each child. It is not surprising. Upon entering the program, Jeannette reported that she and Rosemond could not even feed them every day.

She asked the CLM team to give her goats and small commerce. The goats have not been profitable so far. She received two, and each miscarried its first litter, though both are now pregnant once again. Even so, she now has four goats because she was able to buy the two additional ones with profits from her small commerce.

Her real progress has been due to that commerce. She sells basic groceries, such as oil, dried beans, bouillon cubes, and the like. She managed a smaller version of this business on and off even before she was part of CLM. But she had a lot of trouble keeping it going. Between having to feed her kids and trying to pay their school fees, her capital was always at risk. The business would disappear, then she find away to re-establish it, then it would disappear again.

Fonkoze helped her by providing capital she could invest to make the business larger. With more capital, she could buy more product, so she sold more product. The increased income helped her protect the business from the cycles of growth and shrinkage she was used to.

But when she’s asked how her business has changed, she doesn’t speak of that increased investment. She speaks instead about what she has learned. “I didn’t know how to save. I’ve learned to save in CLM.” And she has been saving well. In addition to her contributions to her savings association, she’s purchased the additional goats and some poultry as well. She has two big turkeys and some guinea fowl.

She also has a plan. “As the kids go farther in school, the costs will rise. I want to take care of my animals so I can sell some and use the money to invest in my commerce. That way, I will always be able to pay for school.”

Kettie Fernand lives close to Jeannette, also in Savann Long. She lives with her husband, Michelin, and the couple’s two children. Two of her children from a previous relationship live with her as well. She has really struggled over the years, and is excited that her ten-year-old will finally get to go to school this year. She and Michelin had never been able to send the child before.

When she was younger, she had tried to earn an income through small commerce, but that was when she lived with her older children’s father in another community. She couldn’t keep it going because people would always pressure her to sell on credit. She had grown up in the neighborhood, the people around her had known her all her life, and it was hard to say “no.”

When she joined CLM, she asked the team for goats and a sheep. She’s taken good care of her goats, and now she has five. Her ewe lost its first lamb, but it is growing and healthy.

She also decided to try managing a small commerce again. She used savings from her cash stipend to get herself started. She buys coffee beans, which she roasts and grinds. She sells serving-sized bags folks can use to make their morning coffee. She also sells the sugar and the bread that Haitians want with their coffee. The business is doing well. She purchased a large tom turkey with some of her profits, even as she’s used most of the income to manage her household’s needs.

She’s happy with the progress she’s made, and hopes to keep growing her business. Now that she’s no longer around the people who knew her as a girl, she finds it easy to avoid selling on credit, and she’s determined to do so.

Roselène Genéus — Seven Years After Graduation

Roselène isn’t from Mibalè. She from Kenskof, an agricultural region in the mountains above Pòtoprens. She met her husband in Pòtoprens, and they came back to Mibalè to move in with his parents.

It was a difficult time for Roselène. She didn’t get along with her mother-in-law. The couple wanted to move, but they had no place to go. They had no land. Eventually a kind neighbor, seeing the problem, gave Roselène and her husband permission to build a small shack in a corner of her yard.

That is where they were living when the CLM team found her. By then they had a young girl, and Roselène was pregnant with their second child. “CLM never would have found me if they hadn’t gone to every house. Programs had been to the area before, but they just ask local leaders for names. And leaders lead them to their own friends and family.”

The couple really needed help. They were getting by on what Roselène’s husband could earn as a sharecropper, planting his crops in fields that didn’t belong to them and turning over half of the harvest to landowners. There was no way to get ahead.

Soon after they entered the program they once again were at risk of homelessness. The woman who offered them a place for their shack didn’t mind having them around, but her family didn’t agree. They threatened legal action to have them removed. Roselène was nursing their second daughter, so the couple needed to find a solution quickly. Their case manager helped them talk with a neighbor, who was sensitive to their situation. She was willing to offer them an inexpensive five-year lease — just 5,000 gourds — on a small plot of land. It was hidden in the maze of footpaths that run through Bwa Fonten, but they would not have to worry about being chased away. What’s more, the owner was willing to consider the rent as a downpayment towards eventual purchase.

Roselène spoke with the other members of her savings club. Each week, every CLM member in her group would contribute money from their weekly stipend, and one of them would take the entire pot. It wasn’t Roselène’s turn to collect the pot, but her fellow members were willing to let her jump ahead in line. So, she paid the lease and started dreaming of her future purchase. “The land was steep and covered with thorns and cactus. My husband got together a group of friends, and they tore out the thorns and cut out a spot on the top for us to build on.”

She chose goats and small commerce as her two assets. She initially struggled with the goats. One died, and she was worried about the other two. So, she talked with her case manager, and she sold them both, purchasing a mature female with the proceeds from the sale. That female gave her three consecutive litters of twins, and between that nanny, her kids, and her kids’ kids, Roselène soon had ten goats. She and her husband added a small pig, which they cared for until it was large enough to sell for the price of a small cow. “It was a sow, but we just fattened it up. We didn’t have the space for piglets. I scoured the neighborhood to find stuff to feed it. The day we sold it, my husband and I got up at three in the morning. We left the girls in bed. And we pushed and pulled it to the market in Labasti.” It sold for 14,000 gourds, and they bought the cow for 12,500.

She used the money CLM gave her for small commerce to start a business out of her home, selling onions, dried herring, leeks, herbs, tomatoes — the ingredients for sauce. She walked around to all her neighbors to make sure they knew what she was selling. She used some of the income from that business to manage household expenses, but also managed to save money in her Fonkoze account. Between this small business, and her success with livestock, the family easily qualified for graduation.

When she graduated, she wanted to grow her business, so she began to take out loans from SFF, Fonkoze’s sister organization. Those loans made two changes possible. First, she changed her business. She began to buy up produce in the markets near her home — sacks of fruit or vegetables — and sell them in the large market in Kwadeboukè, Pòtoprens’s sprawling northern suburb. Second, she and her husband were able to use income from her business to rent plots of farmland for cash. They would no longer need to give up half of their harvest.

In 2019, the CLM team returned to Roselène’s neighborhood. In the years after Roselène’s graduation, the team had added an important new element to the program. It starting helping all program participants organize their own small savings and loan associations. Members of these associationsmake contributions at weekly meetings, and can take out loans from the funds accumulated. They repay the loans with interest, so the association’s funds grow. At the end of a one-year cycle, each member receives everything she has contributed along with her share of the interest. They then start a new cycle.

Roselène used her business to make her maximum weekly contribution, and her funds started to grow. By now, the couple had four children, so their expenses were increasing. Just the taxis to take all four to school and back cost almost $20 a week. And there’s tuition, uniforms, and books. And the family had to eat. So it wasn’t always easy to save, but Roselène was committed.

The couple used a 40,000-gourd loan from their association to buy a second piece of land. It was offered to Roselène by an older neighbor whose husband passed away. “It is close to the main road, so when we decide to build a new house, it will be easier to deliver the construction materials.” By now, Roselène’s business was flourishing, and she was quickly able to repay the loan from sales of produce, some from their harvest and some from her purchases. In 2021, the couple sold their cow and their goats, and used the proceeds to pay off the balance of the land they had leased back when they were in CLM, about 90,000 gourds.

Roselène’s vision for the future is optimistic, but also focused. “For myself, I don’t need any more progress, but I need to keep moving forward for my children. I want to leave them something.” She herself never went to school. She can sign her name because her case manager taught her how. But she wants her children to be able to go much farther.

Clermicile — Eight Years After Graduating

The years Clermicile spent growing up were complicated. When her father passed away, she moved from the area around Labasti, in southern Mibalè, where she had been living, to Doko, on the top of the hill that separates the Central Plateau from the area around Pòtoprens.

Her mother really struggled. Clermicile was her only daughter, and she was able to pay for Clermicile to attend only one year of school. Not once, but twice, she sent Clermicile to live as domestic help in wealthier families because she couldn’t take care of her. But Clermicile felt she was being mistreated, so she ran away, returning to her mother’s home.

But the mother still had difficulty taking care of her daughter, and was alarmed as she notice boys beginning to flirt with her. A neighbor suggested she encourage Clermicile to return to Pòtoprens and find paying work as a housemaid to get her away from the boys, and the mother agreed. Clerimicile moved in with the neighbor’s daughter in Kwadeboukè and spent her days working at a job they found for her. She went through several such jobs this way. Women liked employing her. “They called me ‘Seliwòz‘ because they said I was always cheerful.”

Se li woz” is hard to translate. “Woz” means pink, but the phrase means something like “she’s the pretty one.”

Clermicile continued to work in Pòtoprens until she became pregnant. Then she returned to Mibalè and her mother, but she met her current partner, Jolicoeur, almost immediately. They moved in together when she was still pregnant with that first child, a boy named Lovensky.

Clermicile was never able to earn a steady living. Lovensky was a very unhealthy child, requiring lots of care in his early years. He was born with a fused rectum and required emergency surgery as a new born before he could defecate. She had trouble sustaining all the medical follow-up he needed, and he spent the first seven years of his life with a colostomy bag. Lovensky was admitted to the hospital frequently, and Clermicile would stay with him. But it not only prevented her from earning a living, but led to lots of expense. The medical care itself was nearly free of charge thanks to Partners in Health, but Clermicile had to eat while she stayed at the hospital with her boy, and the costs of purchasing meals every day from vendors in the street in front of the hospital added up.

Lovensky was six when Clermicile joined CLM in 2013. One of the first things the team did with her is assist her through the steps of follow-up that Lovensky needed. It took some maneuvering, but she was able to arrange surgery for Lovensky at Partners in Health’s University Hospital in Mibalè, which had just opened. Jolicoeur had to earn most of what the small family needed in their day-to-day lives. He would work for the drivers of the pick-up trucks used for public transportation between Mibalè and Kwadeboukè, the northernmost suburb of Pòtoprens. He’d earn tips for collecting passengers’ fees when he could find a driver willing to take him on.

By then the couple had another boy, an infant. Clermicile chose goats and a pig as the enterprises she would receive from Fonkoze. With an infant in her arms, it was too difficult to start a small commerce.

She was able to keep her pig healthy. That was before the epidemic of Teschen disease that has made pig-rearing in Haiti even riskier than it already was. But her real success came with her goats. “I had a lot of luck with them.” The program gave her two, and by the time she graduated, she had eight.

When asked how she uses her goats, she explains that she has always used them mainly as savings. She sells one or two or more when she needs to manage an expense, whether it is school fees or costs connected to sickness in the family or just to cover regular household expenses when the couple is struggling. Once she sold four of them to pay a lawyer to help get Jolicoeur out of legal trouble. The number of goats she keeps at any time varies, but each time it has gotten down to zero, she’s been able to get started again by purchasing new ones out of what they can save from Jolicoeur’s earnings by selling a bunch of plantains or two from her garden.

When she graduated from the program, Clermicile decided that she wanted to start a small business. She had always managed one on-and-off, whenever Lovensky’s health permitted it. Friends would lend her 500 gourds or so, and she’d buy something she could sell at Labasti, the large weekly market just a short walk from her home. In the last weeks of her time in CLM, the CLM team introduced her and her fellow members to staff from SFF, the Fonkoze Foundation’s sister organization in Haiti, which is the country’s largest microfinance institution. So, just after graduation she took out her first loan. She has taken a series of loans since 2014, and the value of the loans has increased. The first was for just 3,000 gourds. The most recent was for 45,000.

She has experimented with a range of businesses. Often she will buy livestock at various markets in Sodo or Mibalè and resell it, either at the same market, counting on strong negotiation skills, or by bringing it to Labasti, where butchers come from Pòtoprens and prices for livestock can be high. Sometimes she buys groceries and sells them either in Labasti or in Nan Gad, a large market near the entrance to Kwadeboukè. She buys beans in Laskawobas, where farmers bring them in for sale from the mountains, and sells them in Labasti and Nan Gad, where they cost a lot more.

Two yeas ago, the CLM team had the chance to offer families who had been part of the program before 2017 a new level of support. In 2016 and 2017, the team began helping members organize their own local savings and loan associations, and these associations had proven a success. Members make weekly contributions over the course of a year, and the association uses the money to make interest-bearing loans to members. At the end of a one-year cycle, members receive all their savings along with their share of whatever interest the association has earned. Clermicile and the women she graduated with had passed through the program before the team had learned to use the associations, so Fonkoze decided to organize associations for 800 CLM graduates in the region.

Clermicile was elected president of hers, though her presidency didn’t last. At the first meeting, it became clear that the elected secretary could not read well enough to do the job, so she and Clermicile switched places. Clermicile is, it turns out, perfectly able to read Creole well.

This is surprising, not just because Clermicile attended just one year of school. When she first joined CLM, her case manager taught her how to sign her name. We are always careful to say that the CLM program does not include literacy. We help women learn to write their names, but that’s about it. Neither we nor the women we work with have time for much more in the 18 months that the program lasts.

But when Clermicile could write her name, her case manager started giving her other words to write. A range of words. And before long, Clermicile was able to read and write at a basic level. Little bits of practice in the ensuing years only made her more capable. Now she manages all the reading and writing associated with her post in the association without difficulty. The association recently completed its second cycle, and its members are happy with it. Over 20 other neighbors have asked to join, enough so Clermicile is planning to open a second association for them, so that her original one will remain manageable.

Clermicile likes her association both for the way it encourages her to save money and for the credit it makes available. She prefers to take out loans for just a month, borrowing only what she can invest, roll over, and pay back in one lump sum. Interest in her association is 2% per month, so paying back the entire sum quickly minimizes the interest she pays. She has gotten so comfortable with the rhythm of these loans and their repayment, that she plans to leave her more expensive SFF credit program when she finishes repaying her current loan.

Meanwhile, she and Jolicoeur have been building up assets. Clermicile has eight goats and Lovensky and his younger brother each have one too, gifts from Jolicoeur. The couple has purchased some land, as well.

Clermicile has made a lot of progress since she first joined the program. Some of it has been financial. She and Jolicoeur are not wealthy by any means, but they are managing. And she’s become a leader in her community, too. She is the secretary and undisputed leader of her savings association, but she’s done more. She now serves on a regional committee committed to fighting gender-based violence. There, too, she is the committee’s secretary.