Renia Similian lives with her younger son in Janlwi, a small neighborhood in northern Gwomòn. That son, René, is fifteen now. Her firstborn son, René’s older brother Odalin, is almost twenty. He left home a few months ago to move in with an aunt in Pòdpe, the major city on the coast, north of Gwomòn. He decided to go to try to make a living, and has begun to learn masonry through apprenticing at odd construction jobs.
For about fifteen years, since shortly after René was born, Renia has been a single mother. The children’s father moved out of the home and left supporting the family entirely to Renia. She would get by doing agricultural day-labor, earning 50 to 100 gourds, whatever the usual rate at the time was. As small as her earnings were, she would try to safe a little, building it up until she had something like 500 gourds. Then she could invest the money, buying pigeon peas or avocados — whatever was in season — and bringing them to the local market for sale. It enabled her to send her then-young boys into school, and to keep them fed.
She began to make progress in a surprising way. A neighbor of hers died, and the family was unable to find a woman to bathe the corpse. It was not an easy job. Disease had badly disfigured the woman, who had been her friend. But Renia girded up her courage, and she did the job. She split the 500 gourds she was paid with the man who helped her, and she played the lottery with the 250 gourds that remain to her. She won almost 900 gourds. She invested some in peppers and some in spinach, and sold both at the local market at a large profit. Eventually, she began selling okra, too. “That business saved my life. It sent my kids to school, and it helped me make friends.”
She spent most of her time in downtown Gwomòn, running her business. By then, her mother was living in her home, with Odalin and René.
Things took a bad turn in 2015, when her mother became ill. It soon became apparent that Renia would have to abandon her business to take care of her mom. “My mother was always apologizing for the problems she was causing, but I would tell that it didn’t matter. She had given me life and suffered a lot just to raise me.” By 2019, when the older woman passed away, Renia’s successful business was long gone. Once again, she was supporting herself and her sons with field work. “I would sometimes asks friends for money, but I wouldn’t ask just anyone. I had to know the person well.”
She chose goats and small commerce as her two activities. She received two goats, and one is now about two months pregnant. The other is still young, but it should be ready for breeding soon. She should be receiving her small commerce in the next days. She plans to start by trading in peanuts.
She is excited about her new latrine. Single women often finding it challenging and expensive to install a new latrine, mainly because they have to hire someone to dig the pit, which is a big and difficult job. People dig a pit about 15 feet down, but it needs to be narrow for it to hold the cement cover safely. Prices vary widely by region, but it is often, rightly, an expensive job.
Renia was unwilling to mess around. She dug it herself. “I didn’t have the money to pay someone, and i don’t like asking for favors.” So her latrine was installed quickly, almost as soon as the materials that Fonkoze contributed were available, and she walled it in and covered it right away after that.
She has another year in the CLM program before she graduates, and she’ll need the time. Not just because she needs time and coaching to build up her business activities to where they’ll need to be, but also to construct her vision. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to accomplish. She’s a lively, chatty woman, but when you ask her what her goal is, what she hopes to accomplish, she goes silent. After a long pause she says, “I don’t want to say just anything. I have to think about it first.”
Marceline lives with her three children in a small house just below the main church in Ramye, a small community across a muddy inlet from downtown Laskawobas. She is happy about the new home she just completed with the CLM program’s support.
Back when she was with her children’s father, the couple had a home. Her partner would farm and fish, like many of the men in Ramye. She would sell his harvest and his catch. Eventually, she joined Fonkoze’s main credit program. She started taking out loans with four other women. She established a business buying vegetables at the nearby market in downtown Laskawobas and selling them at the international market on the border with the Dominican Republic, in Elias Piña. The family was doing well.
The man decided, however, that he no longer wanted to live in Ramye, so they sold their house and moved downtown to Laskawobas. When she saw, however, that he was beginning to spend time with another woman, she decided to leave. She took the children, and erected a small straw shack on family land back in Ramye. Initially, the children’s father would visit, bringing money to help her with expenses. But the visits grew less frequent, and he eventually stopped coming at all.
Her business started to shrink when one of the members of her loan group failed to repay their loan. The other four members couldn’t get a new loan, so she tried to keep her business going with her own funds. But as the sole support for her kids, the business began to shrink. By the time she joined the program, it had withered away.
She chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and received two nanny-goats and a small sow. When the sow died, she was able to sell the meat for just enough to buy a third small goat in its place. Two of her three goats are now pregnant.
She thinks of her livestock as a long-term investment. “The goats can buy me a cow and, eventually, land.” She plans to add to this part of her investment buy using money from her savings and loan association. When its one-year cycle closes at the end of the year, she plans to add her pay-out to what she raises by selling a goat or two to buy a cow .
She used savings from her weekly stipend to re-establish her business. The training she received from the program helped her manage the business better, and now it’s starting to grow. It was shrinking for a while as she was spending money to build a better home for herself and her kids, but now that work on the house is finished, she should be able to build the business back up again.
She strengthens the business by belonging to three different sòl. A sòl is a savings mechanism common in Haiti. Its members make fixed weekly contributions. Each week, one member takes the whole pot. If she were to count only on herself to keep revenue in the business, it would be too easy to spend the money in other ways. But the three sòl provide social pressure that helps her avoid unnecessary expenses, and so her business can grow. “M ap kite komès la lè m mouri,” she says. “I will give up commerce when I die.”
Mikerlange lives in Ramye, down near the spot where the canoe-ferries land. She’s just twenty years old, and she and her partner share their small home with their single small girl.
In some respects she has done well in the year since she joined the program, but not because of the assets the team transferred to her. She chose goats and a pig, but with pigs in her neighborhood dying due to disease, she asked Fonkoze to give her a third goat instead of the pig. One of the goats, however, died in a fire in the woods near her home. Neither of the others has reproduced yet.
Her more important success has been with her business. She borrowed 5000 gourds from her Village Savings and Loan Association, and bought garlic. She takes it around to local markets, where she sells it. It can me traveling as many as five days a week, but garlic sells, so the business works. It enabled her to buy another goat and some turkeys as well. She repaid the loan easily and on time.
But the turkeys are the beginning of her problem. She had three, but one got into a neighbor’s freshly-planted garden of young plantain trees, and started feasting. The neighbor promptly cut off its head. Not aware that the turkey he had killed belonged to Mikerlange, he made a well-intentioned decision to visit her and encourage her to keep her turkeys tied while local gardens are starting to develop. He wouldn’t want her to suffer losses.
So she’s done just that with her two surviving turkeys, but it isn’t really a good solution. Turkeys don’t like being kept on a leash, and hers have been losing weight and, therefore, value even though she is careful to feed them.
So she’s left with a difficult decision to make. If she lets the turkeys loose so they can graze freely, they might gain weight again, but they could easily be lost as one of her animals already was. If she continues to keep them tied up, they could simply lose value. If she decides to sell them, however, she will certainly lose some money. She bought them at a moment when prices were high. The pair cost her 3000 gourds. The most she thinks she could get for them now is 2000.
She should make a decision one way or another, but she’s inclined to hesitate. She’s so unhappy about any potential loss that she could end up losing much more than she needs to. So her case manager, Enold, spends some extra time with her, drawing out her thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of each choice she could make, including the choice to do nothing. She’s generally negative about all of her options, and with good reason. It is easy enough to go through the choices and explain why each is a bad idea. But Enold works hard to help her see that she has to choose something.
She eventually decides to sell the turkeys, but this just brings up a second question: what would she like to do with the proceeds from the sale. She’s inclined initially to buy more livestock. And one can see why. It’s relatively cheap right now. And she likes the way owning livestock makes her feel like a woman of means.
In the meantime, however, her garlic business has been steadily shrinking. Not because it isn’t successful. Nor, as we often see in other families, because her household is too dependent on it for daily expenses. Her husband is hard-working and helpful. Her problem is that she keeps taking money out of it to buy livestock. She bought a goat, the turkeys, and has purchased several chickens as well. That’s all well and good, and she can do that if she really wants to. But Enold wants her to see how successful she is already as a business woman and how she could make further progress by keeping more capital in her business.
By the time Enold and I leave, Mikerlange has agreed to put the money into her business. She says she’ll let him know when he comes next week what merchandise she decided to buy. But, at bottom, the conversation Enold needs to have with her will be long and, probably, drawn out over numerous visits over the coming weeks and even months. His job will be to help her see herself as the source of her success in a way that gives her enough confidence to keep taking appropriate risks. It is the best way he has to help her grow,
Cenel Joseph is a single man. He lives in Tomond, a few minutes north of the downtown area along the national road to Ench and beyond.
As a young boy, he was helping his mother bring a load of mangoes to Pòtoprens in one of the many large trucks that worked the route. Back then, the road was unpaved, and the last hill separating the Central Plateau from the metropolitan area around Pòtoprens, Mòn Kabrit, was notoriously dangerous. The truck that he and his mother were in lost its brakes heading down the final slope, and she was killed in the accident that ensued, as was the boy’s uncle. He was badly hurt. He spent seven months in a hospital bed, and he lost his foot. He’s been moving around ever since on a single foot and two crutches.
Losing his mother changed his life. She was the one who really cared for him. Though he had been a poor student, she always made sure he went to school, but he dropped out after her death. He would farm a small plot of land, but he struggled in the muddy soil during planting and harvest seasons. His crutches would get caught in the deep mud, making it hard to get around. He had friends who would give him small amounts of cash, but often he would go hungry. “Sometimes I would just go off into my field to cry.”
Cenel joined the CLM program in early 2020. The CLM team had been going through its selection process in his neighborhood. He did not initially show up on the team’s lists because those are made up of the households that each community identifies as belonging to it. Cenel was not a household. He was living in his father’s home. But the team’s supervisor came across him and struck up a conversation. As he came to understand how difficult Cenel’s life was, he assigned a staff member to collect initial data about him, then he verified the data and invited him to join the program. Cenel was excited. “I would just sit by myself by the side of the road, waiting for what might come. When they asked me whether I wanted to join the program, I thought it was a gift from heaven.”
He chose goats and a pig as his two enterprises, and his results were mixed. His first pig was stolen, and when Fonkoze helped him replace it, the second pig died.
His goats fared much better. The program gave him two, and he has grown that investment by managing the animals carefully. He now has seven. He plans to sell some of them so that he can buy a cow. He explains that cows involve less risk because you can let them graze farther from home. Goats get into peoples gardens. They lead to conflict. Already he is struggling to care for as many goats as he has, and he has started to assign some to young neighbors. Each cares for one and then gets some of the goat’s offspring as payment. It takes some of the pressure off Cenel and helps young people get started in life. This latter point also helps him manage some of the jealousy neighbors might feel at his success.
That success, however, has much more to do with the business he’s established than with his livestock. When he and his case manager began to talk about home repair, he insisted he didn’t really want a house. He wanted to build a small, one-room building at the side of the road that he could use as a little convenience store. He would put a bed inside and sleep there, too, but he would mainly use it to sell basic groceries.
Because it was so small, he was able to finish it quickly. He took out a loan for 10,000 gourds from the savings and loan association that CLM set up for him and the other members who live near him, and he bought his first merchandise. He used half the money to buy food basics, like rice, oil, and sugar, and the other half to buy hygiene products, like soap and shampoo. He made the effort to travel to Ench, the Central Plateau’s largest city, to purchase what he needed. The prices there are slightly lower than Tomond because there’s more whole business going on.
His store business took off. He returned to Ench once each week, buying more and more products each time. By settling on a small number of wholesalers, he enabled them to see him often and to gain a sense of his reliability, and soon they were allowing him to buy for more than the cash he had on hand, owing them a running balance, so that he could expand his business even more.
His earnings allowed him to continue to save in his savings and loans association, but he did more than that, too. He join a sòl, a Haitian savings club in which members make weekly contributions and then one receives the whole pot each week.
And when he decided that the association and the sòl offered too little opportunity for savings, he himself established another device for himself and 13 of his neighbors. It is called a “sabotay.” The fourteen participants each contribute 250 gourds every day, and each day someone takes the pot. And he has uses for each type of savings.
He repaid his loan from the association, and he took out another, larger one. The second one was for for 15,000 gourds, and he combined that money with money from his sòl to buy a freezer for his shop. He now sells cold drinks alongside his groceries. “I keep the money from the groceries and the money from the drinks in two separate buckets so I know what I am getting from each.”
When his association completed its first one-year cycle, he used the money to buy an additional goat. “The goats are important for my business. If I have a loss, I can sell a goat and the business will keep going.” The next time his turn comes around in his sòl, he plans to use the money to buy his cow, selling as many goats as he needs to add to the money. He has a plan for his sabotay as well. He will use that money to buy cinder blocks. He wants to tear down the wooden walls of his house and replace them with blocks and cement.
What is most striking about Cenel’s success is that all of the thinking behind it came from him. He has shown since joining the program unusual creativity and initiative. Each new idea was his own. He would suggest it to his case manager to hear her advice, but he is happy to tell you that the ideas were his. This makes you wonder why he couldn’t get started until CLM came along.
Cenel’s answer has a couple of elements. On one hand, he is quick to explain that before he joined CLM he didn’t have the vision. Even as he entered the program, he wasn’t able to imagine himself running a business. That’s why he chose two forms of livestock as his initial enterprises even though the program would have been happy to provide merchandise for small commerce in place of the pig. “You attend the workshops and you hear what other people are doing. It makes you think.”
He also talks about how he learned to manage money. He was always getting 50 or 100 gourds at a time from friends or neighbors who felt bad for him, but he would spend all of it on food right away. “You learn that even if you only have 100 gourds, you should eat only 75 and save 25. Little-by-little you can build up what you need.”
And he comes back to the livestock as well. Before CLM he had none. He was afraid of business because any loss would be irreparable. Having goats as additional assets as insurance against losses helped him feel the confidence he needed to start investing.
Marina Charles is a widow. Her children are grown, but she has four grandchildren living with her. Their home is in Bisent, one of the many small neighborhoods of Laskawobas nestled along the Artibonit and the many small inlets created by the hydroelectric dam in Pelig.
When her husband passed away a few months before the CLM team came to her area, she couldn’t afford a funeral. Various relatives chipped in to hold a small one for her. The couple had been supporting the children through day labor in their neighbors’ fields. It was enough to keep the family fed most of the time, but not much else.
It is still her main source of income. Inflation has driven wages up to 200 gourds for a day’s work, which is about $2, and with that she must feed her family of five and take care of their other needs as well. Last year she was able to send only two of the four children to school. Even so, she has been able to manage the small income well enough to save. She has almost 5000 gourds in the savings and loan association that the CLM team established in her area.
She chose goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she has made modest progress with them. She received two young female goats, and one had a healthy kid. All three are doing well. She received a small sow, but she realized that she has no place secure to raise piglets. Unless you can shut them in somewhere, they get into people’s gardens and cause a lot of trouble. So she decided just to fatten it up rather than breeding it.
In a few months, her savings and loan association will conclude its one-year cycle and pay out both what she has saved and her share of the interest it earned through the loans it provides to members. She plans to put the money from her pay-out together with money from the sale of her sow to buy a small cow. She explains that a cow will be useful because it can be sold to pay for her funeral.
All this is to say that, though she is improving her housing, and though having a latrine and a water filter have brought her family better hygiene, too, the economics of her household have not yet changed very much. She isn’t sure yet what she will do to send the children to school in September. Day labor earns her a consistent, though very small income. And it may continue to do so for some time, as long as she remains healthy. But unless her livestock holdings increase dramatically or she establishes another investment, she will continue to struggle.
Gislène Cénatus is a young mother in Ramye. Like Marina, she is about halfway through the 18-month program.
She’s not from Laskawobas, but from Granbwa, a mountainous area on the southern side of the ridge that separates the Central Plateau from the region around the capital.She lived there with a partner and their three children. The five lived with her inlaws. He own parents had died. But she couldn’t get along with them. She felt persecuted, and her partner always sided with his parents.
So she eventually left. Her two older children stayed with their father, but she went to live with her brother in Ramye with the youngest child, a girl, and her nephew, her deceased sister’s boy. She met Fedgard, her current partner, and became pregnant with her fourth child just before the CLM program came to Ramye.
The couple has really struggled. She would ask he brother to send her food, and he would if he could. Some days, she would just home the kids were fed by neighbors. She herself would go without.
Fedgard earns money sawing hardwood trees into boards for carpenters. He’s hard-working, but there are only so many trees to cut up. He and his partner on the two-man saw do not earn income every day. Gislène had her baby just two months ago, so her ability to work outside the home is limited. She is still breastfeeding the child. She would like to start a commerce. She plans to start small, setting up a tray with onions, garlic, leeks and bouillon-cubes. But feels that she must wait until her baby is weaned.
Like Marina, she chose goats and a pig as her enterprises. One of the two goats she received gave birth to its kid still-born, but the other gave her a healthy young buck. She is doing her best to make sure it stays healthy. She wants to sell it as soon as she can to buy another female. She already bought a third female with savings from her weekly stipend. Four productive females should enable her to create a strong base.
The sow that the program gave her died. Pigs are a risky investment. When Fedgard went to the market with the couple’s case manager to buy a replacement, they couldn’t find another sow, so the bought a small boar instead. Gislène intends to raise the boar until she can sell it to buy a cow. She works hard to do what she can to help it grow and stay healthy. “I give it water to drink, and I prepare its food every day.”
In one way, she is really happy with the collaboration she gets from Fedgard. Though she isn’t making money herself right now, she’s able to save money in her savings and loan association every week because Fedgard always gives her money to contribute. His income is irregular, but he’s well-regarded. “If he doesn’t have the money to give me, he borrows it from one of the association’s leaders.” The couple is building savings steadily. When the association pays out at the end of the cycle, Gislène thinks she will either buy a couple more goats or rent land to plant peanuts on.
She does, however, have one conflict with Regard. Neither her nephew nor her daughter has ever been to school. She feels she should send them in September. “They are the only kids who don’t go.” But she doesn’t have an income, and Fedgard says he won’t help. He says their fathers should pay. Gislène responds that Fedgard took her with both the kids. “He knew they were with me. It looks bad when people see we have children with us who aren’t in school.” It is an ongoing argument between the two, because Gislène is not willing to give up. She and her case manager will need to see how she can negotiate with Fedgard to convince him to help her out.
Wislande Racius lives with her partner and their three children in Gwomòn, a small corner of Dezam, a large rural section of Verèt Commune. She and her family have been part of the CLM program since December.
Before they joined the program, she and the kids were living with her mother and a brother. She didn’t have her own place. She was contributing to the household whenever she could with a small business selling bleach crystals in small bags to folks planning to do laundry. She had about 1500 gourds — something like $15 right now — in the business, money that her partner gave her. He did farming, working sometimes as a day-laborer and sometimes getting paid larger sums for completed jobs.
During their first weeks in the program, they moved to the home of the godfather of one of her daughters, but the man grew tired of their presence in his home, and started to show they were no longer welcome. “He would make fun of us for being mountain people. We had to move.” So her husband quickly put up a small house on a plot of land he had begun to buy through a kind of rent-to-own arrangement.
She asked Fonkoze to give her goats and a pig as her two enterprises, and she got the two goats right away. Before her case manager bought the pig, however, they had a serious talk. Pigs have been dying a lot lately. The CLM team has had trouble getting all the necessary vaccinations for the pigs it distributes. So Daphnée, the case manager, was reluctant to provide a pig that was likely to die. The result of their conversation was that Wislande asked for a third goat in place of the pig. One of the nanny-goats gave birth to a small buck, but it did not survive. All three of the nannies seem healthy, however, and she expects more offspring in the months to come. But though she’s excited by the prospect, she isn’t really sure what she wants to do with additional goats. She doesn’t yet have a plan.
She also wants to get back into business. She hasn’t been selling bleach for a while now. But she has two problems. On one hand, her home doesn’t yet have a door. She is reluctant to go too far without the security of knowing there is a door she can lock. On the other, her youngest child is just a year old, and now that she and the family are in their own house, she no longer has someone obvious to leave the baby with when she goes out. “If your children are young, you have to find someone to leave them with.”
Yoline Dort lives in Ti Plas Mori, near the eastern edge of Dezam. She and her husband, Franslin, live in a small home with their one child.
Before they joined CLM, all the household’s income came from him. He struggled as a day-laborer, work that is both poorly paid and irregular. But things got harder and harder when Franslin became ill. Yoline isn’t sure what is wrong. She thinks that he was poisoned by a neighbor. But he was initially so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed. He’s has gotten a little bit better, but he cannot work yet. “Just the other day, he had to stop to rest three times just to walk to his mother’s house.” The mother’s house is just a block or so away.
His inability to work has impacted the family. Not only have they had much less to eat, but their boy missed a year of school because they could not pay the tuition.
Yoline chose goats and small commerce as her two enterprises. She received two goats from the program, and both are healthy. One already had a pair of kids.
She used the business capital that the program made available to start a business selling laundry products: soap, detergent, and bleach. She sells her merchandise twice-a-week at the large market in downtown Dezan, which is nearby. She can sell out her product in one or two visits to the market, so she is beginning to establish a good stream of income.
But that was actually the second business she started as part of CLM. She bought a sack of cooking charcoal with money from a food and transportation stipend she received during a three-day refresher training, and she sold it to neighbors by the bagful. She has been in the charcoal business ever since. The charcoal sells fast, and though the profit is small — especially with the price of a sack increasing because of the rainy season — she can count on it.
Between the two businesses, Yoline has been able to feed the family even without help from Franslin. She’s even been able to grow the business by participating in a sabotay, a kind of savings club popular in Haiti. She pays a hundred gourds into her club every day, and can plan with its organizer when she would like to receive her savings. She’s also confident that she’ll be able to send her boy to school once more come September. “They don’t ask me to pay the whole tuition at once. I will make payments throughout the year.”
She’s working on another source of income as well. With the program’s encouragement, she planted a small field of hot pepper plants. “My mother used to plant them, but this is the first time for me.” It is taking a lot of work, because she has to water them. The rains haven’t been enough. But when the peppers start ripening, she’ll have something additional she can bring for sale to the market each time she goes.
Mirome Agréus and her four children live in a beat-up two-room house that her older sister originally rented to send her own three children to school in downtown Dezam. The sister moved Mirome to the house when the latter had grown so sick that she could not take care of herself. Mirome’s partner had refused to take responsibility and had abandoned her and their children.
The sister took her to hospital after hospital. Mirome eventually spent three months at the Partners in Health University Hospital in Mibalè. When it was finally time to come to the house that had become her home, she could not find a motorcycle taxi willing to bring her from the place on the main road where the pick-up truck dropped her off up to the house. Motorcycle drivers didn’t want to carry someone so obviously sick. “My sister had to put me on her back and carry me.”
By then, the sister’s husband had left her. He felt she had spent too much of the couple’s money on Mirome. She was supporting herself, Mirome, and their seven children doing laundry for other families and selling used clothes.
That fact that neither of the women is from Kristan, the neighborhood of Dezam where they live, complicates a lot for Mirome. “We have no one here to take a problem to.” For one thing, she had no land that she could build a home on. Her case manager, Fabienne, talked to the members of the local committee of community leaders who volunteer to support CLM, and one of them was willing to sell Mirome a small piece of his land for the very-reduced price of 15,000 gourds.
But Mirome simply didn’t have the money. Her sister could give her 5000, but no more. So the CLM team found some extra funds and gave her the other 10,000. She still needs to build her house, and she lacks resources to buy the materials that she is required to provide, but here again the committee has begun to help her out. Various members have donated lumber she’ll be able to use as support posts.
She has received three young female goats from Fonkoze. Like Wislande, she initially wanted a pig, but also like Wislande she came to agree with her case manager that it wasn’t the right time to buy one. One of her goats even had a small kid when she first got it. And though that kid did not survive, Mirome thinks all three are pregnant now.
But even if she succeeds with her goats, she will have a problem. Goats won’t provide the steady trickle of income that she’ll need to manage her children’s daily needs. She will need eventually to establish a daily income, and her most likely path towards doing so is small commerce. But right now she’s reluctant to start one because her youngest child is still nursing. In principle, she could start one near to her new home, but she’s afraid people won’t buy from her because she still feels like a stranger there.
Claudenise Pierre lives in a small house just before the Kashima intersection on the major dirt road that leads to Kas and back towards the Artibonit River. She shares her house with her two children and a young cousin. “My cousin really just sleeps here. He leaves in the morning and spends the day doing any work he can find in the neighborhood.”
She returned to Haiti with her children a few years ago. They had been living with the children’s father in the Dominican Republic. He’s successful auto and motorcycle mechanic, but Claudenise decided to leave him while pregnant with their second child because of frequent abuse. “He would drink, and when he drank, he hit me.”
She went back to the shack that the family had abandoned when they moved to the DR. She did what she could to enclose it. “I wove walls out of straw and palm leaves. I covered holes with dried mud. I did what could.” She asked her cousin, then in his late teens, to sleep in the house with her and the children because she was afraid to be alone with them. She fed the children and sent her older child, the girl, to school by doing odd jobs, like shelling peanuts, sorting charcoal, or laundry. Keeping her daughter in school wasn’t easy. “I sent her, but sometimes she went hungry. I couldn’t give her anything to eat in the morning before she left. I didn’t have even five gourds if she wanted a snack.”
Everything changed for her after she joined the CLM program. She chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. Like most families in the area where she lives, she lost her pig. It had begun growing well, however, and she was able to sell the meat for 5000 gourds. She used that money to buy peanuts, which she planted. She’s hoping to harvest them in August.
She had much better luck with her goats. Fonkoze gave her two females, and now she has seven. “I would have nine. One of my females just gave birth to two still-born bucks.”
She wants to continue keeping goats because they give her a way to ensure that she can always keep sending the children to school. In fact, the seventh goat was her own purchase.
The goats do not, however, ensure steady income. She cannot sell a goat to buy food every day or even every week. So, Claudenise wanted to start a small commerce as well. Small commerce was new for her, but her case manager encouraged her. She took money she saved from her weekly CLM stipend, and bought what she needed to begin selling peanut butter on bread or kasav, which is a Haitian flatbread made from manioc, in front of a nearby clinic. She also sells groceries.
Together, her various products are keeping the family fed and allowing her to grow. She saved money through the first year-long cycle of her savings and loan association. When that cycle ended, and a new one was ready to start, she decided to save with three separate memberships. Two are for her, and one is for her girl. She plans to buy a cow with the money she’ll save in her two shares, and her daughter’s share will help her ensure that the girl always has what she needs for school.
Nicole Olman lives with her partner and their two younger children just down the road from Claudenise. Her older boy, now just 16, left home earlier this year to seek work in the Dominican Republic.
When Nicole joined the CLM program, she was struggling. “I didn’t have anything, anything at all. The day the supervisor first came to my house, I was barefoot. I had bought sandals for my children, but I didn’t have money left over to buy them for me.”
The children’s father went around doing odd jobs for the family’s neighbors, but Nicole had no income herself. “I was just sitting there.”
When she realized that she might have a chance to join CLM, she was delighted. The program had already worked with other families nearby, so when they came by her house to ask questions, she knew what it was about. “I was so happy. I told them I didn’t have anything. That they could ask around. If anyone told them I owned stuff, it was just to keep me from the program.”
Like Claudenise, Nicole chose goats and a pig, and like Claudenise, she had no luck with the pig. “My first one died. Then I bought a second one and it died, too.” And also like Claudenise, she’s done better with her goats. She now has ten.
Much of her progress has depended on a small commerce she started with money she borrowed from her savings and loan association. She initially tried selling basic groceries — rice, flour, oil, sugar, and the like — but it didn’t work well. Too many people would buy on credit. So she switched to seasonings and moved her business to the local markets. She sells garlic, leeks, bouillon cubes, hot peppers, onions, etc. She goes to Kas on Mondays, and to Tomond on Thursdays. “People don’t expect to buy seasonings on credit, and everything you sell at the market is for cash.”
The business is profitable. It enables her to keep her family fed and to save money too. Every Monday, she contributes 1000 gourds to a savings club at the Kas market. When it’s her turn to collect, she’ll get 10,000 gourds. She plans to use 5000 to buy another goat and pour 5000 into her business. She also saves 750 gourds each week in two savings and loan associations. At the end of the associations’ year-long cycles, she plans to buy a second cow.
Things have accelerated for Nicole in recent months for a reason she did not anticipate. She was unhappy when her boy left for the Dominican Republic. He didn’t tell her he was going, having called her to let her know where he was only after he arrived. But he’s been sending money back to her since he first got there. “It isn’t always a lot, but he always sends something.” He’s doing really well. Much of what he sends is just to help her support the household, but he’s begun sending back larger sums as well, trusting her to invest for him.
Mirana Mauricette and her five boys live in Osedi, much farther off the main road than Nicole and Claudenise. It is a hike down a narrow path, along peanut fields and across a narrow ravine, from her home to the the secondary road that branches of the road to Kas in Kashima. Her youngest children, twins, are almost nine, and she hasn’t seen or heard from their father since he left for the Dominican Republic shortly after they were born. She’s had to raise and to support her children on her own.
Before she joined the CLM program, she managed to do so through a small business. Her mother’s cousin has a bakery in nearby Tyera. Five days each week, he would sell her 250 gourds of bread on credit, and she would carry it around her neighborhood, selling it from a basket on her head. She would bring him the money in the afternoon, after she finished her sales, and she would have 250 gourds for herself and her kids. When the CLM selection team came by her home in late 2019, her kids were evidently hungry.
The two goats that CLM gave Mirana are now nine, and she bought a second small boar to raise alongside the one the program gave her. Like the other women, she hopes to keep raising goats because they offer a convenient way to make sure she has funds to keep her kids in school. “The kids have to go to school. They have to keep making progress.”
Like the other two women, being able to build a small commerce has been more important than her livestock, as important as that is to her as well. She got started by using 2500 gourds she saved from money Fonkoze gave her to buy a tree. She turned the tree into charcoal, and it was enough to yield four loads.
When it was time to sell it, she told her case manager, Islande, that she wanted to take it to Pòtoprens. She knew she could get a better price. “Islande asked me whether I knew Pòtoprens, and I said that I didn’t. But she encouraged me to give it a try, and I sold the charcoal for 8000 gourds.
She invested that money in another business. Each Friday, she crosses the border into the DR, and takes a truck to the international market between Beladè in Haiti and Elias Piña. She buys housewares — like curtains, sheets, towels — but also clothes. Then she brings them back for sale at the markets in Kas and Tomond. The business is flourishing. She already bought a cow and a large hybrid billygoat out of her profits. She hopes the latter will improve her stock of animals.
When asked how she has made so much profit so quickly, Mirana credits her case manager. “She taught me to save money. I used to just spend everything I made. Now I know that, even if I have just five gourds, I can’t spend all of it.”
But she describes a second, perhaps more important, kind of help that Islande provides. She says that she’s always had business ideas. And every now and then, she’s had some money she could invest. But she’s always hesitated. Before she could decide, the money would have melted away. She was managing a lot of expenses. Islande provided encouragement she had never found anywhere. As soon as she has means, she can share her idea with Islande, and she quickly makes her investment.
And she’s determined to continue to make progress. Even though she won’t have Islande’s weekly visits anymore, she’s confident that she can. “I won’t go back to what I was. I have to be both mother and father to my kids.”
She’s planning to use her savings and loan association to save to buy another cow next year. The one she has is pregnant, so she could soon have a small herd. And she’s getting ready to return to work on the home that she built with the program’s help. “It’s made of palm wood. I don’t want to wait for it to collapse on me. I’ve been following the price of cement, and I’m beginning to collect rocks.” She hopes to replaces the wooden walls with ones of stones and blocks, and to cover the floor with cement soon.
Béatrice lives with her five children in Kamas, a community well off the main road that leads north out of Gwomòn towards Pòdpè. Abandoned by the children’s father, the job of caring for her children has been all her own. Before she joined the program, she would borrow money from a woman who herself borrowed it from a microfinance institution. Béatrice would use it to buy plantains from the farmers around her, bringing them to market for sale. “I could make a little profit after I paid my friend back. And I would also take home any single plantains that broke off the bunches. We eat them.”
But the situation of the woman she was borrowing from changed. She no longer had anything she could lend Béatrice. So Béatrice’s life became much more difficult. Though she was used to being able to feed the children every day, the family was now going hungry often, and one of Béatrice’s children was beginning to show signs of malnutrition.
In the couple of months since she joined the program, things have started to improve. She’s been using most of her food stipend to buy food, and the family’s eating better. “You might not be able to make rice, but you can make cornmeal.” She used 1000 of the 1500 gourds she collected from the savings club she’s in with other CLM members to pay money she owed at her children’s school, and used the other 500 gourds to buy plantains, so she’s back in business. She still owes the school another 1000 gourds, however, and she doesn’t have the money right now, so she’s not out of the woods yet.
On Friday, Béatrice came to the livestock market in downtown Gwomòn. The CLM team was buying goats, and two of them were for her. She’s excited to have goats to raise. When she joined the program, she owned nothing but a single chicken. “I have already built my goat shed.” Her plans for the goats are clear, too. “I’ll take care of them, and if they produce young, I’ll have a way to pay to send my kids to school.”
The other asset she chose is small commerce, and she has no doubt how she will invest the money the program makes available. “I’ll buy plantains. That’s the business I know.”
Ketline lives with four of her children in Ba Kamas, a long ride on a secondary road through a corner of northern Gwomòn. She and her partner had seven children, but the man abandoned her and the children for another woman.
Ketline continued to support the children herself by doing laundry for families in downtown Gwomòn. She also sells candy out of a wooden box on legs, called a “bak” in Creole, in front of her home. It was enough to keep them fed most of the time, but there were days when they had nothing to eat. Her family eventually took three of the kids to live in Gwomòn. Ketline herself couldn’t afford to send them to school. “But I keep an eye on them. They are doing well.”
When members of CLM’s selection team started coming around, collecting information, Ketline didn’t know what to make of it. “I started asking myself a lot of questions.” She imagined that there must be a program involved, and she hoped it would help her. And though she hasn’t been in the program very long, she is already pleased by the progress that she’s made. “I already learned to write my name, and they’re teaching me how to manage what I have.”
She’s already bought herself a small pig out of savings from her weekly stipend. “It wasn’t enough to buy a sow, so I bought a young boar.” She plans to raise it until she can sell it to buy something more valuable. “I’ll buy a cow if I can, or a piece of land.”
She chose goats and small commerce as her two enterprises, and though she hasn’t received either yet, she is expecting them soon. She wants to start a business selling chicken meat. She can buy it frozen, by the case, at the market in Opoto and sell it in her neighborhood. She doesn’t plan to give up doing laundry, however. It’s hard work, but she likes the steady income.
Memène and her partner Chiver live in a small house on the side of the hill below the dirt road that leads from the Labasti market into Demare. It’s a farming area along the road south from downtown Mibalè towards Pòtoprens. They share the house with Memène’s daughter Lovemia and two of Chiver’s kids. Though they’ve been partners for years, they have no children together. They are, however, comfortable parenting each other’s children. I have written about the couple before, here and here.
Memène graduated from CLM in December 2014, when both Lovemia and Chiver’s older boy, Chivenaido, were very young. The family made great progress while they were in the program. Memène started earning money through her own small commerce. That small, regular income freed Chiver, who is a much-sought-after agricultural laborer, to focus on larger, better-paid jobs, rather than on the poorly-paid day labor he had to take as long as he needed income every day. They then could use his larger income to accumulate livestock, including cows.
They continued to make progress after graduation. They eventually bought their own land, which enabled them to move out of the shack on Chiver’s father’s land where they had been stuck. Living there had been difficult, both because they had very little space, especially as their kids grew, and because Memène didn’t always get along with Chiver’s sisters. They built a house on their new plot: still small, but larger than the one they had built while in CLM.
But the last few years had been hard. Chiver was sick for a while, then Chivenaido got sick. Much of their savings went to getting Chivenaido healthy again. Last fall, they didn’t have the money to send the kids to school. It was the first time that had happened since before they were in the CLM program. “I can’t say that it’s been as bad as it used to be. We have bad weeks. We might only eat once a day. But we don’t go two weeks that way. The next week we’ll eat two or three times. Chiver works really hard.”
Late last fall they joined a new kind of program. The CLM team has been organizing Village Savings and Loan Associations for all CLM members for several years. VSLAs help communities to organize a way for its members to save money and access small loans. VSLAs have been a popular addition to the CLM program.
But Memène and virtually all CLM graduates in Mibalè were part of the program before VSLAs were added to it. This new program was a return to Mibalè to establish VSLAs for 800 members who had graduated without them. CLM staff organized 32 VSLAs across southern Mibalè, timing them so they will complete their first cycle in time for members to use their savings to pay for their children’s school in the fall of 2021.
Memène is really happy about the new program. “It helps me save money. CLM taught me not to spend everything I have, but this gives me someplace to save. And the money will be ready for me when it’s time to pay for school. I already told Chiver that I am NOT keeping any children at home next year.”
Memène makes contributions to the VSLA in meetings every week, and she has already taken out two loans. “I repaid the first one, and have just one payment left on the second.”
She used the first loan to expand her small business. She sells the various things that Haitian cooks use to prepare meat: bouillon cubes, garlic, baking soda, etc. “I was buying these things in small amounts and reselling them. I couldn’t make any money, because I had to sell for the same prices as the women who buy enough to get better prices. Now I can get those prices, too.”
But her household expenses mean she doesn’t make enough to keep the business going on its own, so she invested the second loan into it as well. She has, however, made enough to reduce how much she needs Chiver to contribute, so the couple can save much of what he brings in, buying additional livestock. They now have four large nanny goats to go with the cow they’ve had for several years.
The new program is faced with challenges. Memène reports that any time CLM staff isn’t at their meeting, things are a little chaotic. And that’s not what the CLM team is hoping for. CLM cannot accompany the VSLAs forever, their members need to be ready to take them over themselves. In the next few months, the team will need to provide additional training to the leaders of the VSLAs, and those sessions are already planned for July.