Gislaine lives with her partner Jonel and their two small children in Wòch Pab, a small community just south of the main road the stretches out from downtown Laskawobas towards Pouli. The side road to Wòch Pab is a narrow, rocky path that crosses a small river. Motorcycles can make the trip if their driver is willing to ford the water.
Before the couple joined the program, Jonel was the family’s primary support. With almost no resources to work with, he made what he could by hauling rocks out of the river, crushing them into gravel with a small hammer, and selling the gravel by the truckload. It might take a month to produce a load he could sell for five or six thousand gourds. When their money ran out, Gislaine would start buying groceries on credit. Merchants were willing to sell to her because they saw they way Jonel would work, so they believed they would be paid eventually.
Her first contact with the CLM team was when staff came through during the selection process announcing that they were undertaking a campaign to vaccinate local livestock free of charge. It is a ploy the team sometimes uses to identify who owns the livestock in an area. Gislaine remembers how unhappy she was to have to say that she didn’t own any. “We didn’t have anything. Not even a chicken.” It embarrassed her. “That night I told Jonel how it made me feel. He just said that that’s how it is.”
When she joined the program, she asked for goats and a pig. She received two goats, and one had a kid, which made three. She was then able to buy a fourth goat, which also had a kid, so now she has five. She also received a pig, a small sow, and it had two healthy boars. The sow is pregnant again, and she is fattening up the boars, getting them ready for sale to a butcher.
But she also wanted to get into small commerce. “The CLM team kept talking about how important it was to have commerce.” She had experience already. She used to purchase a sack of passion fruit in the market and then sell it in small, single serving piles. But she had long run out of the money she needed to keep that business going.
As a member of the savings group that Fonkoze established for CLM members in her community, she was entitled to borrow up to three times what she had saved, so she took out a 7,500-gourd loan, and went back into business. She does not focus only on passion fruit. She buys whatever she can find. She makes her purchase when she arrives at the market first thing in the morning, and she tries to sell out the same day. She works at two markets, the one in Laskawobas and the one at Kwafè.
She’s earned enough from the business to repay her loan, ensure that her weekly contributions to her savings club continue, manage her children’s lives, and buy her fourth goat. Jonel still works hard making gravel, but she is the primary earner now. She added to the business with a second loan of 15,000 gourds, which she also repaid. When the group’s one-year cycle ended and everyone collected their savings, she withdrew 25,500 gourds. She added it to other money she had available, and she bought a cow for 65,000 gourds.
The source of that extra money is also interesting. CLM members receive construction materials to repair their home or build a new one. But the home that she and Jonel shared already met the program’s minimum requirements. She thought about using the funds to improve it. She could have covered the dirt floor with cement. But the land it sits on does not belong to them. It is rented. She did not want to invest in a home which, in a sense, would never be hers. So she arranged with the CLM team to give her the equivalent in cash instead, and that’s how she bought her cow.
Her further plan is clear. She dreams that she and Jonel will someday buy their own land. That is why buying a cow seemed like a good idea to her. “If someone around here wants to sell some land, they will see my cow and ask whether I am interested because the cow shows that I have means.”
Lorimène lives farther down the main road from downtown, in Pouli. She and her husband Daniel live with their young boy, but also with Lorimène’s daughter from a previous relationship and the daughter’s two young kids.
Lorimène is not from the area. She comes from Sivòl, a mountainous part of Boukankare near the border that separates the Central Plateau from the Artibonit. She left that area to live with a cousin when her first partner died. The man’s family took their four older children. The cousin eventually came to Laskawobas, and Lorimène met Daniel, whom she recently married.
They were living on very little when they first got together. Daniel would sell his labor working in other families’ fields. Occasionally, Lorimène would earn something doing lighter work, like shelling peanuts. “We didn’t have anything. We were living badly.”
When she joined CLM, she asked the program to buy her goats, and she received two. At first things went poorly. One of the goats had a kid, but both it and the kid quickly became sick. The kid died, and she rushed to sell the nanny, even taking a loss, before it died too. Her other goat never became pregnant. It never even went into heat. Figuring that something was wrong with it, she sold it too. She used the money from the sale to buy another goat, and this third goat has prospered. It has already had consecutive litters of two kids each, and the first two kids are now also pregnant.
Like Gislaine, she also wanted to establish a business. She borrowed 7,000 gourds from her savings group, and started to sell friend snacks in front of the church that sits between her home and the main road.
She sells sweet potatoes, hotdogs, pressed breadfruit, and the small balls of seasoned fried dough called “marinad.” She is a little bit discouraged these days, though. Prices are high, and people have less money to spend, so the business is not really prospering. She cannot yet decide whether she wants to continue. She was able to start a small second business selling used clothes. After she and Daniel were married, one of his children gave her a first load of merchandise so she could start. “Even if I just earn coffee money, it is worth it.”
She and her family are now in a new home. “My husband has older children, and some of his land is really theirs, but he said my boy can have this plot, and that’s where we built our new house.”
She knows she’s made some progress. She feels blessed to have a healthy, productive goat. But she wants to make more. Yet she says that she “doesn’t see the path” yet. She is not even sure how to define the progress she wants to make. She will need more help from her case manager in the coming weeks and months to help her build her vision.
Lonise joined the CLM program in August 2022. She and her partner, Wilfrid, were sharing a rented room in Gwayav, one of the many small, rural neighborhoods of eastern Laskawobas. Her four children lived with them as well. The two younger ones are Wilfrid’s kids, but the two older ones are from a prior relationship. Louise feels lucky. Her older children’s father helps with their expenses, and Wilfrid treats those kids well too.
Before CLM, Wilfrid couldn’t be around very much. Lonise had never been able to earn money herself, and while she was nursing their baby, it would have been even more difficult to do so. Wilfrid supported the couple with frequent trips to the Dominican Republic. The border is nearby. He would work as a farm laborer, and then bring his earnings home.
When they joined the program, things began to change. The small weekly stipend that Lonise received gave them some cash to work with. She would use some to invest every week in the savings and loan association that the program established for her and the other CLM members in her area. Some of it could help with household expenses.
She asked the CLM team to give her goats, and they gave her two, and one had its first kid. “I never had goats before, and now I have three.” She hopes that, if she takes good care of the goats, they will continue to multiply, and she will always have animals she can sell when she needs to send her children to school.
Sending them to school this year was not a problem. When the CLM team established the savings and loan association, they planned for its cycle to end just before the beginning of school. These associations pay out everything that members have saved and all the interest that’s been earned on loans at the end of each cycle, so Lonise collected more than 10,000 gourds. It was enough to buy her children the things they needed to start the year.
She and Wilfrid have made good use of the program’s support for home construction. Their new home is nearly ready. It lacks only doors. They’ll soon be able to move from the rented room, and then they will be finished with paying rent. They have also installed a latrine, something they have never had before.
She and Wilfrid both wanted him to stop spending most of his time in the DR. He was willing to help her with her livestock and to earn what he could farming locally. But Lonise felt she needed a way to bring money into the household, too. She felt limited, however, because she was still nursing their child.
She wanted to establish a small commerce, but she had to stay around the home because she had no-one to look after her younger kids. So she thought about the kinds of things rural Haitian business people generally sell out of their homes, and she settled on two products to start with: sugar and ground, roasted coffee. She prepares the coffee herself, and sells it to neighbors who want to make their morning coffee.
She started the business with a 5,000-gourd loan from her savings and loan association, and it has taken off. She had no trouble repaying her loan. And she’s been able to invest some of her earnings back into the business, even as she’s used most of what she earns for household expenses. The business, she says, is now worth about 7,500 gourds. She’s added some products, and plans to add more. She wants to add rice and oil and a full range of basic groceries.
Valencia has been part of the CLM for three months. She has a five-year-old boy. The two of them live with her grandmother, her uncle, and her uncle’s child. Her boy’s father lives in Pòtoprens, and does not support either her or their son.
Before she joined the program, she really struggled. She learned cosmetology when she lived in Pòtoprens, and she likes to braid hair and do manicures. But there are no beauty parlors in her neighborhood, and when neighbors engage her to do their hair or their hands, they tend to imagine that she’s just doing a friendly favor. They rarely pay her anything. Her uncle gets occasional work as a mason, and if he puts food in the house, she and her boy usually get something to eat. “But my uncle has his own child,” Valencia explains. Sometimes she and hers go hungry.
When CLM members first join the program, they receive 500 gourds every week. They receive this small stipend for 24 weeks. That’s less than $4, but some do a lot with such a small sum, and Valencia has managed hers well. She once learned to make shampoo and liquid soap out of ingredients that are readily available in Haiti’s towns, and she set aside money from her stipend to put herself into business. She can make a gallon and a half of shampoo with 500 gourds worth of ingredients, She can then sell the shampoo in smaller bottles for 1,750. It is a nice profit. Liquid soap is more expensive to make, but she has managed to add that to her business.
Even as she has done so, she has been making sure that she has money to save in her savings and loan association. She likes being a part of the association. “It gives me a way to save some money every week. And I can take out a loan if I have a problem.”
She asked for the program to give her goats, and she received two. She’s started to take care of them. But the cost of the two goats — about 12,500 gourds, or just under $100 — is only about half of what she will receive, and she plans to invest the rest in business.
She has a clear plan. She wants to construct a small beauty parlor in front of her home. She’ll do hair and nails, and sell cosmetics. She thinks that if she has a more formal structure, her neighbors will see that she views what she is doing as her profession, and they will be willing to pay her. There’s no similar business in the neighborhood, so she’s hopeful.
Getting it set up with limited resources will be challenging. But she is willing to start small, and she can divert some of the home repair materials that Fonkoze will provide her as a CLM member by planning a smaller home for herself and her boy.
Patricia Smith lives in the same neighborhood of Gwomòn as Valencia. It is called Figawo. She and her eight-year-old son, Wensley, live in the house that Wensley’s father inherited from his parents. The man himself has moved in with another woman, so Patricia and Wensley are alone. The man has been paying for Wensley to go to school, but it is September, and Patricia as heard nothing about it for this year.
Before she joined CLM, Patricia managed by doing laundry. She would go off to downtown Gwomòn a couple of times a week, and could earn as much as $10 for a day’s work. Since she joined the program, however, she has stopped doing laundry for other families. “It’s really hard work. When you finish, you whole body hurts.”
She used savings from her weekly stipend to start a business. She borrowed a wooden tray — called a “bak” — from one friend and a small thermos box from another, and she began selling snacks and cold drinks. She sells cookies, crackers, and candy out of her bak during the day, but in the evenings uses her day’s earning to buy hotdogs, which she grills and sells in front of her home. She makes enough to take care of Wensley and also to make weekly deposits into her savings and loan association.
The CLM program gave her two small goats as the first part of her asset transfer. She has decided to invest the rest of it into her small commerce. She wants to use the extra money to add more products to her business. As a first step, she’ll add laundry products, like bleach, detergent, and laundry soap.
She hopes to save up as much as she can in her association, because her larger objective is clear. She has talked to Wensley’s father about her building a new house on his land, and he’s agreed to it. She thinks that, for the time being, it is her best option. But she worries about depending completely on a man who left her. She’d like to buy her own small piece of land. that would allow her to build a house away from the man if she decides that that is what she wants to do. And, even more importantly, it gives her something she can leave for Wensley when she’s gone.
Rosemicia lives with her partner and her little boy in a small house off the road that passes through Pouli, in eastern Laskawobas. Her partner farms, but her main source of income is her small business. She’s a candy-maker. She cooks down local sugar and mixes it with peanuts or coconut. She sells it in two forms, either cut into chunks like fudge or in small, harder disks called “tablèt.”
She buys her ingredients at the Laskawobas market, and she walks there almost every day. On the way to the market, she calls out her wares, selling as she goes. She then sells whatever remains by strolling around downtown Laskawobas. Once she’s sold out, she buys ingredients for the next batch and walks back home.
She had this business even before she joined the CLM program. It enabled her to keep herself afloat, but she could not do more. She and her boy’s father had started work on a house they lived in, but they couldn’t make any progress because they could never earn enough. That man has since left her.
She started to move forward using the weekly stipend that she received for her first six months in the program. She used as much as possible to make sure she’d be able to buy shares in her savings and loan association every week. Making those weekly contributions made her eligible for a loan, and she borrowed 10,000 gourds, almost all of which went to paying off debts she had incurred throughout her neighborhood before she joined the program. She mainly owed money for food, but that wasn’t all. “I hadn’t paid for the sheets I needed when I moved into my home.” Once all her debt was in just one place, she was able to start eliminating it methodically, and just one repayment remains.
As she looks ahead, she has a single clear vision. She doesn’t really want to grow her business. “I don’t want a big commerce. There isn’t really anything that sells.” Her candy business works, so she plans to continue it, especially since her family is still small.
But she has goats that the program gave her, which are slowly increasing in value. She received two, and one died but the other one had a healthy kid. She bought two more with money that was left over because she was completing a house she had already started so she required less material than the program budgeted for her. One of those goats died as well, but she now has three healthy goats. She also has savings accumulating in her savings and loan association that she will receive as a pay-out this summer.
She has a plan for her pay-out. She will take it from the association and deposit it into a local savings institution. That savings deposit will serve her as collateral for a loan. She plans to use the loan to buy her own land. She is happy that CLM helped her finish the house she’s in, “but I would like my own house, made of blocks, not palm-wood, on my own plot of land.”
Roseline lives close to Rosemicia, but she hasn’t lived there long. She was initially staying on land belonging to one of the area’s larger landowners. He had given her permission to live in a shack on a small corner of it, and had even agreed to let her install her latrine there. He seems to have been full of good will.
But he travels for extended periods, and while he was away other members of his family, who were unhappy with his kindness towards Roseline, decided to make things hard for her. She felt that she couldn’t stay any longer.
She initially moved in with one of her sisters. But she had another sister who had built a small house on a plot of land that she leased for five years. That other sister, like Roseline, had trouble with a neighbor. In her case, a conflict that started when a child was hurt slightly while playing with another child turned into something of a feud. She started working on another house on another piece of land just to get away from the neighbor.
When Roseline and her case manager suggested that Roseline could just buy the house, the sister was delighted at the chance. Roseline thus used money from the funds Fonkoze had available for her home construction to buy the house her sister had already built along with the three years remaining on the lease. Her case manager, Rony, believes that the man whose land she was driven from will be willing to pay for her to install a latrine. His family is, apparently, using the one he let Roseline and CLM install on his land.
Before she was in the program, Roseline had been getting by on small commerce. “I never let one business keep me. I would sell anything.” She would sell groceries or used clothing or produce. But she didn’t have her own money. She depended on her sisters to lend her what they could each day she went out to sell. But she couldn’t sustain the business, much less make it grow. “When you don’t have your own means, you can’t keep your business going. They give you money in the morning, and you have to pay it back at night.”
Roseline asked Fonkoze to give her goats and a pig. Her case manager bought her two goats first, but by the time he did, there was too little money remaining to buy the pig. They bought three chickens instead. Buying a pig remains one of her goals.
Her goats have been flourishing. One had three kids — though one of the three died — and the other had one. The one that had just one is now pregnant again. She wants to take good care of the goats and of whatever other animals she can accumulate because she sees them as her best way to buy land, or at least to make an acceptable downpayment, by the time the lease she took over from her sister has run out.
Hercimene lives with her partner, Yonel, and their three children in a house in Wòch Pab, a small community just across the river that runs south of the main route through Pouli. A daughter whom Yonel had with another woman lives with them as well. Hermicene has four older children no longer live at home. Two are adults, and two live with other members of the family.
The family lives by farming, though they themselves have too little to make much of. Instead, both Hermicene and Yonel work as day laborers in neighbors’ fields. “If we each make 250 gourds in a day, we spend 250 and save the other 250.” Hermicene used to be able to make more by taking full-time work as a maid, but CLM has made that impossible. “I have to be available for my visit every week and I have to go to my VSLA. Women won’t hire you if you can only work three days.
The couple’s ability to save money has been especially important since they joined CLM. It enabled them to finish their new home before any other of the members in their neighborhood. It cost them a lot. They bought palm wood planks for 15,000 gourds. The hardwood for windows and doors and to give the roofer something to nail their tin to cost 10,000 more. That is a lot of money to spend while feeding their children and sending them to school.
The couple is taking care of the goats they received, but haven’t had much luck so far. The received three initially, but two died before they were vaccinated. The program has replaced one, and there are plans to replace the other. Hermicene sees the goats as important, because selling one occasionally might be the best way to ensure her kids can stay in school. “You take care of them and take care of their young. If one gives you a billy-goat, you can sell it and buy another female, so they can keep increasing.”
Rosemirline is just 18. She and her toddler live with her in-laws, the boy’s father’s parents, in Wòch Pab. Her sister-in-law, Rosemitha, a sixteen-year-old who also has a child, lives in the home too. Both Rosemirline and Rosemitha are program members. The heads of the household are not.
Rosemirline’s partner is a mason, but work for masons, especially young masons, can be hard to find in the best of times in Haiti, and these have not been the best of times. So he went to the Dominican Republic to seek farm work. He has been sending money to Rosemirline and their boy, but he cannot do so regularly. “He works way out in the countryside. He can’t always find someone to bring what he wants to send.” She thinks he’ll return soon, at least for a visit, because she needs his help to build their new home. They plan to put it on a small plot next to the house she is in right now. Her new latrine is already in place there.
With an infant in her hands, Rosemirline didn’t initially see how to start a commerce, so she asked the program just to give her goats. Her case manager Titon was able to buy three for her. Unfortunately two of them died shortly after she got them.
When livestock dies shortly after transfer, the team generally tries to replace it on the assumption that it may not have been as healthy as it appeared at purchase. Asset replacement has not yet started for the HTF cohort, however, and we do not yet know exactly what Rosemirline will receive to replace her goats. She and Titon will begin discussing it when he knows how much money is available for all the replacements needed.
In the meantime, Rosemirline would like to start a small commerce. It will be difficult for her to do so because she has no one to watch her boy, Jeanlixon. He is not yet two. What’s more difficult: Rosemitha counts on her to watch her boy, Odeson, too. He too is under two years old. Rosemitha found work as a maid in downtown Laskawobas.
If Rosemirline does start a business, it will have to be out of her home. She would like to sell rice, sugar, flour, oil: groceries in general. She thinks that she’d have customers. Her home is a little out of the way, but not too far. She knows such businesses are challenging. Neighbors will try to buy on credit, and it can be hard to get them to pay. But Rosemirline thinks she can manage.
She would be ready to start right now, but she doesn’t have the money. “Recently, things have been bad.” Ever since her weekly stipend ended, she’s been short on cash. She has had trouble making the weekly deposits she is supposed to make in her savings and loan association.
She could borrow it from the association anyway. She’s saved more than enough to qualify for a small loan, but she took out a first loan of almost 10,000 gourds to help her partner go to the DR. He sent the money for the first reimbursement, but she cannot borrow again until she has repaid the entire loan.
Renette lives in Wòch Pab, on the southern edge of Pouli, just below the ridge that rises and separates Laskawobas from Savanèt. She and two older daughters joined the program in July of 2022.
She has been working hard in the program, but she does not feel as though she has made much progress so far. She received two goats, but they have not yet produced offspring, though both are pregnant.
She had originally hoped to receive goats and capital for small commerce from the team, but the significant increase in the cost of goats meant that by the time she had received the two that she and her case manager planned for her, there was very little money left to start a business.
But she didn’t give up. She knew she needed some way to earn money for her household. Her partner farms in the mountains above their home. He can be away for days at a time. And while he will usually return home with something from the garden, she cannot count on it, and it is just not enough. “He might bring some plantains, but even if he does, can I really ask the kids to eat nothing but plantains at every meal?”
She started selling kerosene. It is something she has sold often over the years. Many rural households depend on kerosene for light. But the business has changed in the last year or so. The crisis in gasoline and diesel distribution has impacted kerosene as well. Kerosene has been harder to find and much more expensive. Partly that means that she doesn’t always have access to merchandise. Partly it means that rural families are more likely to buy candles or just tolerate the darkness.
When she saw that her kerosene business wasn’t really working, she tried something else. She makes dous, a traditional Haitian sweet. It can be made with brown sugar and cashews, coconut, or sesame seeds. She generally makes hers with peanuts. She can produce it at home, and carry it around the neighborhood in a small bucket, calling out her wares and selling as she goes.
But her dous didn’t sell well, so she gave up on that business, at least for now. She remains determined to start again, however. “Things are hard, but chita pi mal.” That means sitting is worse. As difficult as things are, doing nothing is not an option.
She would like to sell beans. She’d buy them in the mountains above her home, either directly from farmers or at the small, remote markets up in the hills, and could sell them at the downtown market in Laskawobas, which is not far. But right now she does not have enough money to get started.
She would borrow the money she needs from her savings group. She has been good about saving. But she already has a loan out and cannot borrow again until she repays what she owes. She borrowed 15,000 gourds. Half of it went to pay school bills. Three of her children are in school. The other half went into the kerosene business, but that did not go well. She has made her first repayment, but is struggling to figure out how she will repay the balance.
A friend has offered to start selling her kerosene on credit, and she hopes to start this week. She will pay for it after it is sold. But a business like that will not make a lot of money. The prices these days are too high. And she will need income from that same small business to feed her family, pay the balance of her kids’ school bill, and complete work on her new home.
Edner Louis is a single father. He lives with his four children in a beat-up shack in Pouli. It is a single room, about ten feet by five or six, with walls of rotting palm wood planks and, in places where the palm wood has rotted away entirely, sheets of tach, the large, fibrous seedpods of palm trees which serve as a poor-quality but flexible building material for the poorest of Haiti’s rural poor.
They have only been living there a couple of months. Remarkably, their previous home was, in some ways, worse. Edner and his family joined the CLM program in 2022. He and his partner Merline were living with four children in an ajoupa in Pouli, an agricultural area just southeast of downtown Laskawobas.
Ajoupa are tent-like structures, shaped like prisms, with a central beam usually held up by posts that angle up to them, forming a triangle with the ground. In the Central Plateau, they are generally covered with tach. They tend towards the ramshackle, but that wouldn’t generally matter very much because they are usually just temporary dwellings. A farmer will throw one up in a field they are working in if the field is inconveniently far from home. It gives them a place to stay when there are large tasks to accomplish in the field.
But especially poor families can find themselves making an ajoupa a permanent home, and that is what happened to Edner and Merline. They had no place of their own, but Edner worked as a field hand for a wealthier neighbor. He watched some of the man’s animals, and he did chores in the man’s fields. The neighbor allowed the family to live in his garden shed. “It wasn’t a good house, but it was what we had,” Edner explains.
Edner tried to start small businesses several times while he lived in the ajoupa. He would sell kerosene or rum and cigarettes or gasoline. But Merline couldn’t stay at home all the time, and neither could he. If the kids wandered off while their parents were out and about, his merchandise would disappear. Their ajoupa had no secure door and no place to hide anything.
And that wasn’t all they would lose.
The tach covering their home couldn’t stand up to serious rain. The whole family would be drenched by each downpour, as would all that they had. The couple owned a bed, but rains gradually rotted out the wood. They had important papers, like birth certificates, but no place dry to store them. Edner lost his certificate to rain, but he also lost the one for one of his kids. The other were reduced to barely-legible pieces.
One day, for reasons he still cannot explain, he saw that his home’s owner was starting to hire other men to do the work Edner would normally do. The man never said anything to Edner, but Edner knew that he needed to look for another place to live.
Edner talked with a friend he often worked fields with, and the friend was willing to have Edner and his family move into the shack that sits on his land. At the time, the CLM team was in the process of distributing the materials that members would need to install a latrine, which included four sheets of roofing tin. Edner borrowed the roofing intended for his latrine to cover his new house. Now at least some of it is rain-proof.
This is where Edner’s story gets complicated. Around this time, Merline started working as a maid. It gave her a small, steady income, and soon she had left her family and moved in with another man. Shortly after that, she disappeared. We do not know why. Rumors say that she moved to the Dominican Republic, but Edner and the children have had no word of her. Without steady work from his landlord he can count on, Edner has been hustling, getting day-labor in local fields to keep the children fed and in school. He and the kids take good care of their goats, but they still have just the two that the program gave them.
He would like to open a small commerce. He has experience. And normally he would be able to take a small loan from the couple’s savings and loan association to get started. But Merline took out a loan before she left him, and she moved away without paying it back. Unless he can pay it back, he won’t be able to get a loan himself. So for the time being, he is reduced to farm labor. Fortunately, there is a lot of work available this time of year.
And he has begun to talk with his friend about the land the shack is on. The man is willing to lease it for three years initially. That’s enough time to make it worth Ender’s while to build his CLM-supported house in the space. They have agreed to postpone talk of Edner’s eventually buying the parcel, but the friend has said he might eventually be open to that, too.
Bettie Faustin returned to Kaledan, a community on the road through Savanèt, after the Pòtoprens earthquake in 2010. She had been a successful merchant in the capital, selling mainly clothing. But the earthquake destroyed what she had — “All my money disappeared under the rubble” — so she returned home.
She was able to start a small commerce immediately upon her return. She and some neighbors organized a sòl, or a savings club. Each week, they all contribute to a pot, and someone took the whole pot. The other women saw Bettie had nothing, so the let her have the first pay-out, and she used the money to buy bread, kasav, which is a Haitian flat bread, and peanuts. She made peanut butter, and sold peanut butter sandwiches along the road in Kaledan.
She and her partner worked hard. They knew that they could make more money from a bean harvest than from her very small commerce, so they would take money out of the business when planting season came around and invest it in a field of beans.
But their field was high up on the slope. That’s typical for poorer families. So, it was entirely dependent on rainfall. One year, they got no rain when they needed it. They lost the whole field. And, so, Betty lost her commerce as well.
The couple struggled, but through it all, they made one commitment to their children. They made sure they always sent them to school. Bettie remember how her mother made the then-unusual sacrifices to send her to school. “Even if you have nothing to eat, you always have to send them. That’s the inheritance you can give them.” When things were really difficult, she sent her oldest, who is now in his early 20s, to live with her sister in Pòtoprens. From there, he fled to the Dominican Republic, in search of work. Her four younger kids live with her and her partner and all are in school.
Bettie asked the program to give her goats and small commerce, and she receive two small goats. One had a kid, and she bought a fourth goat with income from the business she established. She has a plan for her goats: She wants to sell some of them when she has enough so that she can buy a cow.
She started a commerce buying and selling poultry. And it was working. It enabled her to manage her household and also to buy the additional goat. But poultry disease swept through the area in February, and it killed twelve of her chickens, eliminating her commerce. Ever since, her family has been living off the remaining proceeds of her last bean harvest and her partner’s income. He makes money cutting down trees and turning them into planks for carpenters.
That money was enough for them to get by and for her to continue regular contributions to her savings group. Just this week, the year-long cycle ended, and Bettie received her pay-out. It was about 12,000 gourds.
She has a plan for this money, and it is an unusual one. She and her partner have decided to get married. Normally we would encourage a member to use her savings, or at least some of her savings, to generate income. Especially in a case like Bettie’s, who recently lost her small commerce.
But Bettie is determined to get married, which will involve some expense, and it is really up to her.
And she has another plan to get her business started again. A short time ago she lent a friend 6,000 gourds that she took from her business. The friend is ready to pay her back, but she has asked them to hold on to the money for the time being. She knows that if she takes it now, it will go into the wedding too, but if she takes it after the marriage, she’ll be able to use it to start buying poultry again.
Dieusanie St. Phil is a single mother of four, living just across the road from Bettie, on a small plot of land she bought in better times. “It wasn’t expensive back when I bought it.” She lives with her four children. She was only able to send two of the four to school this year. She just didn’t have the means to send the others. “They will all go to school in September,” she says.
For years she has supported them by selling day labor, mainly helping neighbors with their bean crops. “Sometimes they pay money, sometimes they send me home with some beans or some corn.” But she says she has stopped that sort of work since she joined CLM.
She asked the team for goats, and she received two. Each had a kid, but only one of the kids survived. She herself bought an additional goats with money she saved from her weekly stipend. The goats are important to her. “I will take care of them so I can use them to send my children to school.”
Her real progress has come through her small commerce. She borrowed 6,000 gourds from her savings and loan association, and began selling local rum and cigarettes. She used the profit to increase her investment, adding other products, like home-made snuff and coffee that she roasts and grinds.
Products like snuff and coffee — things that she produces — tend to have a higher margin than things one simply buys and sells, and they have become, together with the rum, the focus of Dieusanie’s business.
When she finished repaying her first loan, she took a second for 20,000, and threw all the money into her wall commerce. She had no trouble repaying that second loan. Most encouraging is that she has been able to maintain her business even while repaying the loan. Her repayments have come, in other words, mainly from profits.
She saved in the same savings and loan association that Bettie was a part of, and she too amassed about 12,000 gourds. She doesn’t feel that her commerce needs the additional capital right now, so she has decided to buy a pig as a new investment.
She is happy with the progress she’s made, but she knows she has father to go, and she expresses this clearly. “I wouldn’t say that I am well-off, but I have started my way along a path.”
Johanne and her husband were Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Their three boys were living there with them.
She didn’t have the documents to give her legal status. The family had ongoing expenses, and she could not find work to help cover them. So the couple decided that she would return with the boys to Savanèt, where she was born and raised. Her husband stayed in the DR. He helped her rent a room for 7,500 gourds, about $50, per year. But she says that he soon found another women back where he lives, and has shown no further interest in her or their children.
When her rent was about to come due, the owner decided to double it to 15,000. There was no way for her to pay. She had just moved back to the region, and owned almost nothing. Her only source of income was occasionally doing laundry for neighbors. She looked around, and eventually found a room she could rent for just 4,000, though it is only for six months. She moved in with the boys and her mother, who helps manage the house.
She asked the CLM program for goats and small commerce. She knew she needed to create regular income to feed her boys because she has no land to farm. So, she asked for just one goat, which left her 8,000 gourds to invest in merchandise.
She and her boys take good care of the goat, and it has already had its first kid. When she began to think about investing in commerce, however, she hesitated. She realized that 8,000 gourds was more than she knew what to do with. She didn’t want to waste it. So she took 5,000, put it together with a pay out from her savings club, and bought a second goat. If she keeps succeeding with the goats, she would like to buy a cow.
She then took 3,000 and invested it in detergent and laundry soap. That sold well, but when the price of detergent rose, she switched to school supplies. She makes weekly contributions to a savings and loan association, and used a first loan from the association of 5,000 gourds to add some cosmetics to her business. “Hair jell sells the best.” When she finishes repaying that loan, she’ll take another. She would like to add detergent, laundry soap, and basic groceries to the business next.
With her rent due in the next couple of months, she is anxious to get into her own home. At first she thought it would be impossible. She owns no land. But that is where Webert is helping out.
He is a local carpenter and a preacher at her church. He also serves as a volunteer on the committee that the CLM team organized of local leaders willing to give the program and its members their support. Webert offered to sell Johanne a small plot of land for 75,000 gourds. That would be impossible for her except that Webert is willing to let her take possession of the land and build her house on it without any downpayment whatsoever. He discussed the decision with his wife, who agrees with it, but they have had to ask Johanne and her case manager not to let anyone else know. They’ve told people in their community that Johanne has paid some of the money already.
Johanne will be able to invest earnings from goats and from her growing business into the land. It will come slowly, because she also has to take care of her boys. But Webert and his wife are willing to wait.