CLM in Sanrafayèl: Thirteen Months into the Program

The small CLM experience in San Rafayèl has been going on for 13 months. The women we work with there were recently evaluated against the same criteria that will be used to determine whether they will graduate, and more that half of them are ready to graduate already. All have been able to build up the required modicum of wealth. Those who are not yet ready are the ones who haven’t yet completed work on their houses.

Christianie and Natacha

Chsitianie and Natacha are sisters. They and their five children have been sharing a home that belongs to the family in Kajouwon, a neighborhood along the road that runs from Pòtoprens, Mibalè, and Ench to San Rafayèl and Okap. When they joined the program, both were already “machann pèpè,” buying and selling secondhand clothes. Christianie sold footwear, and Natacha outerwear.

They would buy the small lots that their limited capital would allow in San Rafayèl, just to the north and take them for sale to Piyon, just to the south. Clothing merchants would come from Ench and the other towns farther south and often buy their whole lot in a single purchase.

But without savings and without partners to contribute to their households and without enough capital to make their businesses grow, they struggled just to feed the kids and send them to school. Natacha had been having an especially rough time. Her two children had been sick, and medical costs were eating away at what she had. They have access to farmland that belongs to their family, but didn’t have the money to plant it.

Natacha was surprised when she was invited to join CLM. “I didn’t really believe it. People had come before with different programs. It wasn’t until the first training that I thought it was real.”

When it came time to choose their enterprises, they made different choices. Christianie asked for a pig and small commerce, and Natacha chose goats and pigs. Small commerce was important to both of them, but Natacha was focused on taking care of her sick baby. “I couldn’t leave her.” Christianie explained that her business is important because it can keep her children fed and allow her to pay into a sòl, or savings club. A hog, on the other hand, will grow in worth until she can sell it to buy a cow. Natacha says that she chose goats because they provide young that can help you pay for school.

Natacha’s goats, however, have made only slow progress. One had two kids, but both died. The other than had one, so she has three goats now. Both her adult nanny-goats are now pregnant. Her hog is growing, but she isn’t yet sure when she’ll sell it. When her child started to get better, she returned to her business using savings from her weekly stipend as her initial investment. Christianie used the capital the CLM program gave her to add to her business, and soon she was buying with 5000 gourds at a time.

She hasn’t chosen to grow her business larger than that yet, however. And it’s not as though she couldn’t. She uses her excess profits in other ways instead. She’s been buying more livestock and making regular deposits into a savings account. Savings are important to her. “You can use the money to send children to school.” She now has eight goats and over 7000 gourds in her savings account.

They are each building a new house, but the houses sit on neighboring plots of land. They have been living and struggling together for a long time, and don’t want to be separated.

Adeline in front of her new house

Adeline and her partner Esaie live with five small children. She already had four kids when she got together with Esaie, but now they have one together. She was born close to where they now live, but it isn’t where she grew up. Her mother died when she was young, and she was sent to Okap to live with her father’s godmother. Her other siblings were scattered among members of her father’s family.

Before Adeline joined CLM, the couple supported the household through farming. Not their own land, but their neighbors’. Adeline worked and still works as a day-laborer. During harvest, she would make extra money by carrying sacks of produce out to the street so that they could be transported for sale. Carrying sacks is usually men’s work, but Adeline doesn’t care. “I believe in my strength, and it means more money.” Her small, steady income meant that Esaie could take larger, more lucrative jobs. Weeding or tilling an entire field could bring in a lump of cash, but only if the family already had the income they’d need to eat every day.

She chose goats and a pig, but the goats made no progress. She received two, and each miscarried its first litter. At one of the three-day refresher trainings that the program organizes every three months, she felt embarrassed when she had to say, in front of all the other women, that she hadn’t yet been able to increase her goats.

So she made a plan. The father of two of her children had just sent money to pay for their school, and she borrowed that money to buy a goat. She then talked the school’s principal into letting her owe the money. “The kids have to go to school,” she explained. She has since purchased a fourth goat.

She’s had better luck with her pig. She chose a sow, and all five of its litter of piglets have survived. She’s letting them nurse for now, but she wants to sell them at four months and use the money to buy a cow. “I’m not going to keep them longer than that.”

She also now has a small business. She started it with savings from her weekly stipend. Every two weeks, she buys five gallons of cooking oil. She sells it to her neighbors on credit, and they know that when she’s ready to buy another jug-full, they have to pay. So far, they are paying well, and the business is working. She’d like to make it larger, but she feels she can’t until her new home is secured. “As long as your home isn’t in good order, you can’t make your business larger.”

The home is otherwise complete, but it still lacks doors. She plans to add a wider variety of groceries starting in December but then really investing in April. She hopes to make enough money to be able to give up day labor.”I’d like to stop working in other people’s fields.”

Fonise

Fonise Joseph lives with her partner Thermidor and their three children. When they joined the program, Thermidor was working as a day-laborer. Fonise had a small business selling groceries. She’d buy for about 1000-1,500 gourds at a time. But the commerce would collapse now and again. It never earned enough to cover their expenses consistently, and folks would buy on credit and then be unable to pay.

She chose goats and a pig, and both activities have really taken off. The two goats that the program gave her have had three kids so far, and she has purchased two as well — one out of savings from her weekly stipend and one out of earnings from her business. Her pig had seven piglets, and she sold six to buy a cow. She’s keeping two pigs now.

She also invested in a new business selling used clothing. She buys a small pile from wholesalers in San Rafayèl — just like Natacha — and sells her pile in Piyon. But Fonise has learned an additional trick that maximizes her earnings. Before she takes the pile to Piyon, she picks out individual pieces that she thinks will sell well, and she sells them retail herself. The family lives right next to the local soccer field, and she added a small additional business that takes advantage of that fact. She sells little snacks — crackers, cookies, and the like — to kids who come to play.

The two businesses together are really pushing her forward. They’ve allowed her to make additional investment in livestock, and they enable her to save. She has a savings account and she deposits 500 gourds per month. She also keeps a bwat sekrè, or “secret box,” in her home. That’s a wooden box with a slit in the top that allows someone to insert coins or bills. Like a piggybank.

Thermidor cannot hide his excitement about being a part of CLM. “We imagine what we would have had to go through to have a goat, and we never even thought of owning a cow.”

And Fonise is clear about what is making the program work for her. “The training is important. We are learning to manage what we have. In the past, everything we earned passed right through our hands.”

Rose-Milove — Almost Ready to Graduate

Rose-Milove lives with her older brother and their widowed mother in the older woman’s house in Ti Jaden, a neighborhood just across the river to the north of Gwomòn. She and her mother are pictured above. She wasn’t among the 200 who were selected to be part of the CLM program a year-and-a-half ago. Her name did not even come up when the CLM team met with residents of the neighborhood to identify its families. It is not unusual for community members to forget about the kinds of people who qualify for CLM. Many live in isolation from their neighbors. Some go unmentioned because they are not the principal person in the house they live in.

But none of this was the case in the meeting nearest Rose-Milove’s home. She simply lives outside of the small area that the participants in the community meeting view as theirs. The team’s supervisor in Gwomòn, Gissaint César, met her when he went to the area to attend an event for young people. It’s the kind of thing he does to integrate himself and our team into the communities where we work. He came across her, seeing that she was struggling to get around with a walker. A CLM member from nearby had just abandoned the program, and it was only three months into the 18-month cycle. So Gissaint felt he could replace her and have enough time to bring an additional member all the way to graduation.

He sat and spoke with Rose-Milove, and felt she had a good chance of qualifying. He sent case managers to do the team’s standard preliminary selection survey. They recommended her for the program, and he was able to give her final approval.

The decision was easy enough to make. All three members of the family were managing small activities. But they were very small. Rose-Milove herself had a commerce, selling laundry detergent by the cupful. She had about 200 gourds invested, which was less than $2.50 at the time. She ran the business out of the home because she can’t get around well enough to do anything else. Her mother would buy her merchandise whenever she needed to restock. The older woman could do so conveniently during her frequent trips downtown to sell the snacks that make up her own business.

She chose goats and a sheep as her two enterprises. Her family agreed to help her care for them. Both seem devoted to Rose-Milove. The livestock hasn’t yet produced young, but all three animals are pregnant. And Rose-Milove has a goal for her livestock. She plans to sell offspring to buy a cow. “I want to increase my business by selling cold drinks, and selling a small cow would help me.”

In the meantime, the business is flourishing. Using savings from her weekly stipend, she began adding one product after another. First cooking oil, then coffee and sugar. The business now has the look of a rural Haitian Seven-Eleven.

She sells groceries, kerosene, candles, matches, cleaning products, and various kinds of snacks. Her mother still does most of her business walking around Gwòman, but she also leaves merchandise in Rose-Milove’s shop. As does her brother, who makes and bottles cleaning liquid. A business that started with 200 gourds of laundry detergent now has 15,000-20,000 gourds of this, that, and everything.

As the business grew, she needed a small structure to sell out of. It became too much to arrange in a corner of the house. But she and her case manager, Figaro, worked out a plan. The program normally provides members with assistance repairing their home or building a new one. Rose-Milove’s home was in good condition. It belongs to her mother, and Rose-Milove would not consider moving. She needs her mother’s support. She hasn’t been able to walk comfortably in more than eight years, and on her worst days she cannot walk at all.

So she took the investment that the program would have made in a home and used it to build a small shop. The roofing material that CLM provides was enough for both roof and walls. She used savings from her stipend to install its shelving.

Although she joined the program late, Rose-Milove is well on her way towards graduation, which is scheduled for November. In fact, when she was evaluated at twelve months, she already qualified. Five months later, and ready for final graduation, she has made more progress still.

Guerda — Eight Months into CLM

Guerda and her partner, Renaud, live with their three-year-old daughter, Guerda’s little brother, and Renaud’s mother in a house that belongs to the older woman in Osedi, a neighborhood in northeastern Tomond. Gueda’s not from the area, but from Ench. Renaud explains that they met because “gason konn mache” or “guys get around.” He went to her home community in rural Ench to attend the first communion of the child of someone she knew. She had been living in downtown Ench at the time, but she went home for the communion as well. “That’s where we met.”

When the family joined the CLM program, Guerda had just begun a job as a cook in a local leader’s home. She felt forced to take it because the family was going hungry much of the time. The job paid just 1500 gourds per month, however. At today’s exchange rate, that’s just $25. For most of the summer, the exchange rate made it worth less than $15. She and Renaud would plant some crops on his mother’s land, but without resources to invest, their harvests couldn’t support them.

Guerda chose goats and peanut-farming as her two assets. After providing initial training, the CLM team gave her two goats and eight mamit, or coffee-cans, of peanuts for planting. She got lucky with her goats, because one of hers actually had a small not-yet-weaned kid already trailing behind it.

She and Renaud planted their peanuts using the training the program provided, and their harvest was good enough that they were able to sell two-thirds of it to buy another adult nanny-goat, one already pregnant. They re-planted the other third, which still was a marked increase over their first, eight-mamit planting.

Renaud then took a contract on a motorcycle taxi. That means that he found someone with the means to buy a new motorcycle, which Renaud pays for in eleven months by giving the owner 300 gourds per day. That is almost 100,000 gourds, which is over $1600 right now. It will be a windfall for the person he’s buying it from, but it is a way for him to get a motorcycle of his own. Even now, the income earns after he sets aside the 300 gourds is important to the family. It allows Guerda to save almost half of what she earns from her job, and she’s already purchased a pig from her savings. The small livestock is important to them — both the goats and the pig — because, as they say, “In the future, [these animals] can turn into a cow.”

And the couple really works together. Guerda is in a community savings and loan association that the program set up for its members, and she already took out her first loan, for 7500 gourds, to finance repairs to the motorcycle. Renaud explains that the motorcycle’s owner is not responsible for any repairs unless there is something wrong inside the engine itself, so he’s had to spend money on tires, the transmission, and other things as well. Guerda says that she’s made her first repayment, and she’s set aside the money for the second one, which comes due shortly. She’ll have two more payments after that.

She says that she is really happy about being in the program. “I speak to my case manager. She pushes me to move forward from where I am so I can change my life.”

Just Getting Started in Kapab

Kapab is close enough to downtown Laskawobas that older children from Kapab can hike to Laskawobas for school every day. But it is, even so, a little out of the way. It is inaccessible by car and even by motorcycle. You can get there with one of the canoes that are used as a taxi around the Artibonit River and its flood plain, or you can hike uphill, to the top of the ridge that cuts it off from the nearest road. and then down into the valley, towards the river.

Jeannette St. Fort was born and raised in Kapab, and that’s where she lives with five of her six children and a grandchild. The sixth child, the grandchild’s mother, lives in Port au Prince, where she works as a maid. Jeannette’s husband died about four years ago, after a long illness.

Even before the man passed away, the life that he and Jeannette shared was difficult. He would find work as a day-laborer in neighbors’ fields, and Jeannette would walk to Laskawobas to do laundry for families there. Neither had a steady income, but both would work as many days as they could. It was enough to keep their children in school, but just barely. The children would frequently be sent home because of unpaid tuition.

Things only got harder when Jeannette’s husband died. She spent what little she had on the funeral. And it would not have been enough, but one of her regular laundry clients bought a casket for her. She continued to do laundry in Laskawobas, sometimes staying overnight to eliminate the constant back-and-forth. She has been able to keep her children in school, mostly through occasional gifts from clients who could tell that she needed help, but she will owe money when the new school year begins in November, and she doesn’t know where it will come from.

She’s excited to be part of the CLM program now. “They said they would help me fix my house. It’s falling apart. When it rains, we all get wet.” And she looks forward to raising livestock. She wants goats and a pig. “If you are careful and don’t waste what you get, the livestock will increase and you’ll be able to buy a cow.”

Leodile After Fifteen Months

Leodile Marcelin is a 31-year-old mother of three. She lives in Kanifis, a wide area of northern Gwomòn. Each of her children has a different father, and she’s not together with any of the men. Two of the three live with her, but the third lives in Leyogann, halfway across Haiti from Leodile’s home. “I was having trouble taking care of the kids, so his father took our child and sent her away to live with his sister.”

When she joined the CLM program, she was really struggling. She had finally given up a business buying produce by the sack and selling it in smaller quantities because she spent all of her business capital trying to take care of her health. “I had been sick for a long time. I kept going to healers, spending money wherever I heard there was good treatment, but nothing helped.” The word she used for “healers,” “papa ti chèz,” or “little-chair-fathers,” is a way to indicate practitioners of vodoun. It plays off of the tendency of many to sit on low stools when they practice.

Without her own income, she came to depend on a man, but not the father of any of her children. He made money as a motorcycle driver, bringing some of his earnings to her. He also rented a room for her to live in.

But he wasn’t faithful. Leodile says that he was with a lot of women, so she decided to move out. Without her own place, she and her kids could only move into a family member’s home. That situation might have worked out, but the earthquake that struck Gwomòn in 2018 leveled the house she was living in. She then moved in with another family member, but it wasn’t a good situation. She was constantly feeling humiliated. “They made a big deal if I made food for my kids, and they laughed at me when I had nothing to give the kids, too.”

She joined the program, and chose goats and a sheep as her assets. Her livestock developed slowly because Kanifis was in the midst of a long drought when she received them, but both the sheep and one of the goats eventually produced young, and both are once again pregnant. Leodile wants to sell the other goat and buy another. “It has been mounted by a buck a couple of times and nothing happened.”

She eventually found a place to build her home. Her cousin Estelia is an older women who has a house on family land. She saw the difficulties that Leodile was facing, and she offered her a corner of her yard to build her house on. One of Estelia’s daughters had a home on the plot as well, and she was also willing to have Leodile join them. “They are really good people,” Leodile explains.

Leodile used money from her stipend to restart her business, but it didn’t last. She spent the business capital to start construction of her new home.

But then she ran into a problem. Estelia’s grown son, a man who lives in Pòtoprens, contacted her, ordering her to take down the home she had started to build. He was unwilling to have her on the land. And his word meant a lot. Estelia depends on him entirely. Though the land is more hers than his, his financial importance makes him the power in the family. Estelia had no choice but to stop building.

When the CLM learned about her problem, they went with her to talk to the local Village Committee. The program sets up these committees of local volunteers to support the program and its members in various. Leodile went with the program’s Gwomòn supervisor, Gissaint, to speak with the committee’s president, Cétoute. As the principal of the local primary school, he is widely respected. He listened to the situation and agreed to talk to the man in Pòtoprens. It wasn’t long before than man had changed his mind. Once he really understood the situation, he said he’d be happy to have Leodile build on their land. He let her know that by phone, and when he next visited his mother, he made certain to see her personally.

So Leodile was able to get back to work. She is now almost finished. She’s behind most of the 200 families who joined the program with her, but she’s confident she’ll be able to finish in time to graduate in November. Her partner moved in for a while, and that helped with expenses, but when she saw that he was still seeing other women, too, she kicked him out.

But she’s got a long road ahead of her otherwise. She is in debt to two local savings group. She took out the first loan to help her then-partner pay the owner of his motorcycle when political unrest decreased his income so much that he was unable to pay. She borrowed from a second savings group to buy the building materials she needs to complete her home. “One thing’s for sure, I won’t ever leave my savings group. When I think of what it help me do!”

But with two debts and only, for the time being, the barest trace of an income, she has some problem-solving ahead of her. For the time being, she depends on friends who lend her small amounts that she uses to buy little bits of merchandise. She sells quickly, and repays the money right away. The CLM team knows her former partner and has a good relationship with him, and we hope to make him recognize that that debt is really his. The leaders of the savings group have agreed to show special patience. But she will, at the very least, have to find the money to pay 5400 gourds plus interest and penalties on her second loan.

It might make sense for her to sell an animal to do so, especially if it leaves her with a little something to restart her business with as well. That’s something that she and her case manager will need to work out.

Starting in Ramye

Laskawobas commune straddles the Artibonit River in the southeastern part of the Central Plateau. A word like “straddles” misleads, however, if it suggests two pieces of the commune, one on either side of the water. The layout is much more complex, with multiple strands of the river and small lagoons cutting much of the center of the commune into odd-shaped pieces. The mountains and hills that run through the area only further complicated that landscape.

The CLM team has been working off-and-on in the commune for several years, serving hundreds of families, mostly in the north and the west. We had hit some of the harder-to-access stretches, but we had heard over the last few years of a pocket in the midst of areas we had worked in that we had not yet reached. The region is called “Wòch Milat,” and we completed selection of 100 families there earlier this month. Yesterday was the first day of initial training for almost half of the families.

The training is being held in Ramye, one of Wòch Milat’s larger neighborhoods. It’s a short motorcycle ride north from downtown Laskawobas, but the motorcycle only takes you to a canoe landing. Most of the year, you have to take a canoe across a dirty lagoon to reach the area. The training site is then a short, upward hike to the top of the hill.

Saintilia is a widowed mother of nine. She lives in Bisent, a smaller neighborhood next to Ramye. Her children are grown, and they no longer live with her. But she has two grandsons with her, one twelve and one ten, and she is fully responsible for both.

Her husband passed away just seven months ago, but she had been struggling with his bad health for a long time. She supported herself and her grandchildren as a weaver. She would buy latanye, a fibrous leaf, at the market in Kas, to the north, on Mondays, and spend the week weaving makout, a bag with a shoulder strap that many rural Haitians use. She’d sell them on Saturdays, at the market in downtown Laskawobas. She might make as much as 150 gourds for each one in good times. It wouldn’t amount to much, however, because the weaving was time consuming. She couldn’t do more than five in a week. But it was income.

But as her husband’s health deteriorated, her own strength suffered. She would support his weight with her right arm, and doing so awkwardly over the course of months left her arm so sore that she couldn’t weave any more. A friend saw her situation and lent her money to do small commerce, but that didn’t last long. The friend no longer has extra money she can let Saincilia use.

So she’s back to weaving, though it is hard with the constant pain in her arm.

Aniolie is from Ramye itself. She and her husband have six children, though one lives in Port au Prince with a family friend. “I keep in touch with him.” Her friend sends the boy to school, but Aniolie imakes an effort to contribute. “I don’t want to have to feel ashamed.”

She and her husband, Jean Ermane, have struggled to support their children by selling charcoal. They buy a sack from a neighbor, then Aniolie carries it to downtown Laskawobas for sale. “If I can get a good price for the sack, I sell it in one shot. Otherwise, I sit and sell it by the small pile.” Sometimes they buy a small tree and Jean Ermane turns it into charcoal for her to sell.

Occasionally, she sells fish. That depends on her finding a fisher willing to sell his catch on credit.

The area around Ramye is lush. The land looks fertile. So, one would expect the couple to be farming. But, as Aniolie explains, “It’s a good area to farm, but you have to have land. We don’t have anything you could call a garden, just the small plot our house is on.”

At the moment, the family is really struggling. Her boy in Port au Prince will go to school this year, and the oldest of her children and home, but she can’t yet see anything she can do for the other four.

Mimose — Seven Months into CLM

After seven months in the CLM program, Mimose somehow looks younger. She complains about her health, and has been get care at a local clinic, but somehow her changing circumstances seem to be changing her.

Her biggest problem when she joined the program was the lack of a place to live. A well-meaning landowner had let her and her partner, Dieulifaite, build a small shack on his land for themselves and their five children, but he had begun pressuring them to give him back his property. One of her case manager’s first interventions was to help her negotiate a five-year lease on the land. The lease cost her just 5000 gourds, which is only a little more than $40 these days, but it would have cost twice as much without her case manager’s hard negotiating. And that is if the landowner would have been willing to rent it at all.

And she didn’t have 5000 gourds, much less 10,000, until she joined the program. Much of the initial payment came from money she received from a foreigner visitor, who had come to see the CLM program and was moved by her story, but she just completed paying off the lease, using savings from her weekly cash stipend to make the last two payments.

As Dieumanuel went over Mimose’s weekly stipend with her, he was initially concerned. She seemed confused, and he worried that “li pa konn kòb” or “she does’t know money.” This is a way Haitians talk about two different, challenging issues. We come across women who, for whatever reason, have trouble distinguishing between different bills, though Haitian denominations differ by color. The expression also covers, however, people who can’t make change because they cannot do simple addition and subtraction.

So Dieumanuel slowed things down. Counting out the money Mimose was due bill by bill, and making all the relevant calculations extra-clearly. He eventually was able to determine that Mimose understands money perfectly well, but that she was confused because, while he was purchasing livestock for her and other members, he missed some visits and had to give her two weeks’ worth of her stipend at once on a couple of occasions. Once they both understood what had happened, they were able to move forward.

The landowner’s friends and family still give Mimose problems. They resent the fact that she’s rented the plot, and are happy to let her know it, telling her and Dieulifaite that they should go away, that they shouldn’t forget that the land isn’t theirs. Dieulifaite’s explanation is simple, “They don’t like seeing us make progress.” But these people cannot dispute the family’s right to stay where they are, at least for now. She, Dieulifaite, and their case manager will need to work together over the coming months to figure out how the couple can accumulate enough wealth to be able, eventually, to buy land they can settle on more permanently.

The case manager, Dieumanuel, is excited about the progress she is making with her livestock. He bought her two goats, and one was already pregnant. It has since given birth, and that brought her to three. She bought an additional goat with savings from her stipend. Finally, she was given two goats by an international NGO that works in the area. Their arrangement stipulates that she must give the organization two small female offspring before the nanny-goats become fully hers, but it means that her two goats are now six.

She also received a pig, and Dieumanuel reports that she was taking good care of it, just as she has been caring for her goats, but it died suddenly over the weekend.

She and Dieulifaite prepared it immediately to sell to a butcher. Such transactions are common. Butchers in such circumstances won’t pay cash. You have to sell to them on credit. But it is the one way to extract at least some value out of a dead animal.

None of the local butchers were willing to purchase it at all, however. Here, too, Dieumanuel was able to help. Part of his job is to use the time he spends in her community building strong personal relationships with people who might be useful to the members he’s responsible for serving, and when he called one of the butchers, he got a different answer than Dieulifaite did. He walks around with social capital that Mimose and Dieulifaite can not yet dream of.

Another key area of her success has been her farming. According to Dieumanuel, Dieulifaite doesn’t help her as much as he should, but Mimose has worked hard and has planted much of the land they have rented with sweet potatoes, manioc, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas, pumpkins, and corn. She should have crops both to feed her family and to sell, and as harvest approaches Dieumanuel with need to talk with her about what she will sell and how she wants to use the money. Helping her learning to make such decisions is one of the important parts of his job.

The couple is clearly close to their kids. The five of them are dressed up as if to go out somewhere when Dieumanuel and I arrive. Dieumanuel lets me know that it’s always like that. “Ever since I began talking to Mimose about the importance of good hygiene, she’s made sure that the kids are clean whenever I come.” It isn’t yet clear, however, whether this is something she does to please Dieumanuel or something she has come to value. Time will tell, but it’s a good start.

If you look carefully, you can see a belt in the youngest girl’s right hand. She seems to give her parents and siblings a lot to put up with. She was whacking older brothers and sisters with the belt, eliciting mostly laughter, through much of the visit.

Dieumanuel and Mimose have a lot of work still to do. After seven months, Mimose can not yet write her name. Most CLM members learn to do so quickly — except for those with vision problems and a few who may be dyslexic — but Mimose hasn’t even been motivated enough to buy a copybook and a pencil. Dieumanuel finally decided to buy her one, and they had a lesson during our visit.

Dieumanuel prints “Mimose” at the top of the page in clear block letters. Mimose’s job is then to fill the page by copying what she sees.

The other area in which they are behind is home repair. This requires a lot of work on their part. The CLM program provides much less than what they need to complete the job. And it is more than Mimose could easily do by herself. Most women who have partners rely heavily on their partner for this part if the work, which involves assembling the construction materials that the program does not provide and doing other related chores. But Dieumanuel is not seeing much willingness to work in Dieulifaite. Their latrine is built, but it is not yet walled off. And part of the new home’s frame is up, but much is left o be done. Dieumanuel will need to work with the family on this, too.

Their current home on the left and the beginning f the new one on the right.

More from Urban Jeremi

Manoucheka Dossou lives with her husband, Kesny, and their son, Woodjerry, in a small house in Makandal, one of the neighborhoods of urban Jeremi. Compared to almost all of her fellow CLM members, Manoucheka is in a great situation as far as her housing goes. She and Kesny own both their home and the small parcel of land it’s on, and the home is in excellent condition. It was built for her by a charity that built a number of homes in urban Jeremi. It’s a solid, two-room house with a poured-concrete floor on a raised foundation and a corrugated roof. As small as her family is, Manoucheka and Kesny have blocked off the inner door that connects the two rooms, and they’ve rented the one on the back.

Manoucheka used to depend entirely on Kesny for their income. He’s a motorcycle taxi driver. He doesn’t own his own motorcycle, but works on one through a kind of rent-to-own arrangement common in Haiti. He pays the owner a fixed sum every week, and will gain ownership of the motorcycle after an agreed-upon number of payments.

Unfortunately, he was involved in an accident a few months ago and was injured badly enough that he has been unable to drive. It’s meant an enormous loss of income for the couple and it involved a lot of expense. On one hand, however, the couple is lucky. Kesny is recovering well, and the motorcycle’s owner is willing to wait until he can start driving again. Manoucheka explains that he likes the way Kesny drives. “He takes good care of the motorcycle.” On the other hand, however, it means that they’ll have a lot of debt when Kesny is finally able to start driving again later this month, because he’ll still have to make up the missed payments.

Building up her own business is challenging for Manoucheka. Years ago, she was struck by an illness that robbed her of the use of her legs and left her nearly blind. Though the CLM team was able to help her get a wheelchair from the Haitian government, she rarely goes out. The narrow path from the street to her front entry, and the step up onto her floor makes getting in and out a nuisance.

She started a small business with funds that Fonkoze made available. She sells cleaning products — detergent, laundry soap, etc. — out of her home. She keeps her merchandise locked in a cabinet, and removes it as she makes sales. She is limited, however, because she doesn’t feel she can make sales at all unless someone is with her. That usually means Woodjerry, but sometime it’s another neighborhood child. Sometimes Kesny, if he’s available. She has some ideas for growing the business, too. She wants to start adding related products until she can display them on a table, rather then selling them out of her cupboard. It will be difficult, though. Maneuvering around the table to make sales will not be easy, even with her wheelchair. The space she lives in is too cramped. But it is a promising sign of her optimism that she wants to try.

She has also started a second business selling charcoal for cooking. She can buy two sacks of charcoal at a time, separate it into retail-sized bags, and sell out the bags within a few days. She makes a couple hundred gourds on each sack.

Marie Oxiane François is a widow who lives in Lapwent. She has seven daughters, but no sons. The older ones are off on their own, but they live nearby and she and they count on one another. A couple of the grandchildren live mainly with her. The house belongs to her, though the land it sits on does not. She’s been paying 2500 gourds-per-year as rental, but the landowner has informed her that he plans to increase it to 5000. 

She used to be a successful fish and conch merchant, buying from fishers each morning. She had 15,000 to 20,000 in capital to work with. But when her husband died, expenses dried her business up. She tried to keep it going for a while by borrowing the money she needed, but the interest on her loans was too much for her.

When she joined the CLM program, she took some of the money the program provided as business capital and invested it in a new business, cooking meals. Prepared meals of beans and rice with meat or fish sauce sell well in urban slums like the one she lives in. But she cannot work hard or consistently, because her blood pressure runs extremely high. So she can miss days of work unless one of her daughters is available to cover for her. 

Her second business is important, therefore, because it requires less consistent physical effort. She has begun buying fish again. It’s on a much small scale than her business was when she was younger, and rather than buying and selling the fish fresh, she now dries it. When it’s ready, one of her daughters carries it around town to sell it. Salting and drying fish is a skill, and she has customers who like to buy from her. The sales, therefore, are reliable. She plans to continue to build it up as much as she can. It’s good for her, and it’s good for her daughter as well.

Marie and her son, Tcheve.

Marie Ducarp Nazaire lives in Makandal. She’s a single mother with six children. Only three live with her now, though. A friend found a place for the other three in a children’s home in Dichiti, a small town on the road from Jeremi back to Okay. Marie felt she had to give the children up because she not only had trouble keeping them fed, she didn’t even have a place to live with them. She had been moving from friend’s home to friend’s home, counting on each to give her a corner of their space, but not wanting to impose on any of them for too long. “I never had the money to pay any rent.” She plans to visit the children soon. “If I see that they look good, I’ll leave them where they are. Where I live is too free.”

The program provided funds she could use to rent her own place. It is just for a year, and she will have to plan for next year and the years that follow, but it takes away some of the stress that comes from homelessness.

Because she’s now in her own space, where she can store merchandise securely, she’s been able to start some businesses, and she’s doing very well. She began to buy salt and corn, both by the sack. She sells them by the cupful. Both sell reliably, and though the profit is small, she can count on it.

She also has been buying used clothing, a few pieces at a time, and strolling around the neighborhood with it, trying to find someone to buy a piece here or there. There is not much money in the business. It depends on choosing pieces that are attractive and negotiating good prices. She’s hoping to save up enough to start buying used clothing from wholesalers. It is risky business, because you never know what will be inside the packages of clothes you buy, but it can be very profitable if you get lucky.

She also has a plan for August. That’s when the seasonal fishing gets especially busy, and she plans to start making prepared food to sell to fishers at the wharf.

Darline and Eveline Joseph: Five Months into the Program

Eveline Joseph is one of two sisters who live in neighboring yards in Savann Plat, a broad area of extreme southern Ench that stretches out east of the national road through the Central Plateau. It’s where they were born and raised, and where they found two brothers to share their lives with. They are part of a cohort of 400 families who joined the CLM program in January.

Eveline lives in a small shack thrown together out of tach, the tough pods that palm seeds grow in. Tach is the most common roofing material for poor Haitians in the Central Plateau, but Eveline’s house is enclosed by walls of tach as well. She uses the few sheets of roofing that she has as the house’s front wall.

It’s a full house. She and her husband have two children, and the four were recently joined by her younger brother and his pregnant girlfriend. “He has other sisters, but I guess he decided he feels most comfortable with me.”

She’s excited to be part of CLM, because things have been so hard. “I didn’t have anything, and neither did my husband. Even if we needed just 50 gourds for something, we would have find a day’s work in a neighbor’s field.” The two would spend their days looking for someone who might need help in the field. Occasionally, her partner would make kayèt, tubes formed out of the same palm-seed pods that most of their house was made from. He’d sell them to makers of rapadou, an unrefined sugar popular across Central Haiti. The sugar is sold in cylinders about two feet long and three-four across. The kayèt are easy to sell, but bring in very little return.

She’s gotten off to a strong start, especially with construction, but she’s encountered problems, too. When they started to dig a latrine pit in her yard, it filled with with water right away. So they tried on the other side of the yard, and they were able to complete a pit, but it too filled with water within a few days. So they started a third pit, and were able to finish it and to cover it with a concrete slab and install the seat, but then it, too, started flooding. She isn’t yet certain what the best solution is, but she’s frustrated. “The other women don’t have this problem.”

She’s also started work on a new house. It will have two rooms and a porch. She got a builder to begin even before the CLM program provided building materials. The frame is already up, and the walls are going up as well. They are made of palm-wood planks. She started by purchasing 2000 gourds of planks. She got them at a good price because she had family members willing to sell them to her. She collected the money by contributing a portion of her weekly stipend to a savings club. “When it was my turn [to collect the pot] I used it all to buy wood for the house.”

She chose livestock for both her businesses — two goats and a pig — and she has an easy time explaining her choice. “When they start having young, I can sell the young to buy other things.”

She’s never had a small commerce, but she’d like to start one. The problem is that she isn’t sure how to get started, because she doesn’t yet see where she’ll find the means. One thing she feels certain about is that she doesn’t want to borrow money to establish a new business. “When you have children, it doesn’t make sense. Any time they are hungry, you’re going to reach into the business to feed them, so the business will dry up fast.”

Eveline’s current home on the right, and her new one, under construction, on the left.
Darline and her son, Venelson.

Eveline’s older sister Darline lives with her partner and their two kids in a wooden home within a hundred yards of Eveline’s. “The land belongs to our husbands’ uncle. He lets us live here.”

Like Eveline, she had nothing when she first joined the program, but unlike her sister, for Darline things had not always been that way. She had had her own small business selling snacks: peanut butter on bread or a Haitian flatbread made of manioc called “kasav.” Sometimes she’ll sell cookies, crackers, or candy, too. She would buy her provisions on Tuesdays, at the nearby market at Nan Pòs, spending from 1500 to 10,000 gourds, depending on what she had. She made sales on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays at local cockfighting rings. “It was a good business. I could always find a little money when I needed it.”

She lost the business because of an accident. She and her husband had planted a small crop of sugarcane in a field next to their house. They harvested it themselves, and rented a local mill to turn it into molasses. While they were milling the cane, a neighbor’s child, who was playing at the mill, was injured badly. He was in the hospital for months recovering, and all the costs fell on Eveline and her husband. They burned through all the money they had. Eveline was left looking to her neighbors for income. She would go out mornings asking whether anyone needed someone to do laundry or to shell their peanut crop.

Like Eveline, she chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises, and both goats are now pregnant. And Darline’s hopes are high. Both goats are showing four distinct nipples on their udders. This is often taken as a sign that they will give birth to multiple kids — three or even four. “I want to sell the kids to buy a larger animal, like a cow. I’ll be able to use them to pay for school, too.”

She’d like to get back into business, but she doesn’t want to return to the same one she’s had in the past. “I am a Christian now. I don’t want to go to cockfights.” She’s thinking of used clothing or basic groceries, which she would sell in the markets. There are four major markets — Nan Po, Nan Kas, Tomond, and Ench — reasonably close to her house. She thinks she’ll need about 10,000 gourds to start.

Louimène — Five and a Half Years after Graduation

I’ve written about Louimène before. (See: Louimène.) Her paths into and through the CLM program were both unusual. She initially missed out on the program, not because the CLM team missed her when they passed through her neighborhood in Labasti, nor because they mistakenly thought that she didn’t qualify, but because she temporarily moved from her own home to her mother’s between the time she was selected for CLM and the time she was slated to begin. The older woman was sick, and Louimène had gone back to Bouli to care for her.

It was unfortunate because Louimène, her partner Lucner, and their two boys really needed CLM. They were living in a straw tent-like structure on land they neither owned nor rented. Someone who used Lucner to help him do his farming let them use a corner of a field to live on. They had been driven away from Lucner’s family’s land by some of his relatives. They could hardly have been poorer.

They got a second chance when another CLM member abandoned the program almost nine months after it started. That left Louimène, Lucner, and their case manager half the usual time to work together, but thanks to the couple’s willingness to work especially hard, she graduated nonetheless.

They didn’t receive the full complement of livestock that members normally receive, only what could be recuperated from the woman Louimène replaced. But they took good care of their animals, and they flourished. Lucner took any work he could find in neighbors’ fields, and Louimène started a small business. She invested 1000 gourds she received from the program into a small commerce, buying spaghetti and canned milk. She carried it on her head five miles into Mirebalais, selling it on the way. She’d restock when she got to town.

They continued to struggle some after Louimène graduated. Lucner went through a long period of bad health. He was weak. He couldn’t work the way he was used to working. It turned out to be H. Pylori, a bacterial infection that can be hard to cure. Louimène went through two pregnancies, and their small family of four became a family of six.

Worst of all, the man who had given them land to squat on began to resent their presence. He made things difficult for them, showing them that he didn’t want them there any more. Initially, they had to put up with his humiliations because they had no place to go, but eventually they found a very small plot of land they could buy by selling the cow they had bought at the end of their experience with CLM. They took the tin roofing off their house and built a new shack on their own land. They also went to the trouble of installing a latrine.

Things improved some for the couple and their children after they moved. Lucner returned to health, and though the couple had no farmland of their own to work, they were able to rent a plot. Lucner farmed that plot and worked a second as a sharecropper. Until last year, they continued to count on his harvests, but the prolonged drought that struck Haiti last year ended up destroying their fall crops. It then extended far enough into this year’s customary planting season that Lucner’s been reluctant to invest much into new crops.

Louimène continues to earn money through small commerce, however. She sells basic groceries. She’s currently the principal earner, bringing in enough to feed the family and make weekly contributions to her savings club, or “sòl,” Every week, members of the sòl make a set contribution, and one of them receives the whole pot. When it’s Louimène’s turn to receive the pot, she usually invests it right into her business. So her business grows and shrinks cyclically as the date of her receipt of the pot is nearer or farther away. At times, it is nothing more than garlic and bouillon cubes. At other times, she sells rice, oil, and other staples as well. Its value can shrink to as little as 1500 or 2000 gourds, but it can grow to 10,000 gourds as well.

But though their income has grown only slowly since Louimène graduated, their lives have changed in important ways. Despite their struggles, they recently bought a small pig, their first investment in new livestock in a couple of years.

And Louimène is quick to talk about another, more important change. She and Lucner married in December. “We got married, and started going to church.” They can’t attend services during the coronavirus crisis, but they can pray with their fellow congregants. “I visit neighbors’ homes every morning so that we can pray with them.” Louimène no longer carries her merchandise all the way into Mibalè on her head. On Thursdays, she sets up her business at the market. On other days, she sells right out of her home.

Between her business and Lucner’s farm income, they’ve also managed to create a different sort of home. They tore down the walls of their shack, which had made of thin sticks that were woven and then covered with mud. In their place, they covered the two sides of their home and its back with palm-wood planks, which they painted a creamy orange. They built a new front wall of stone masonry. It is much more solid and attractive than the house it replaced. They also enclosed what had been a covered porch-like area in the front, so the inside of the house is about a third larger.

And they continue to make plans. The children lost out on school this year, but they are already focused on sending the two boys in the fall. They aren’t sure about their third child, the older girl. The baby isn’t ready. Louimène plans to continue her business, and Lucner is thinking of starting in commerce, too. He has experience in it from his years living in Pòtoprens, and he thinks it might be a safer investment than farming, especially for someone without their own farmland.

Louimène and the kids.