Lucienne lives along Ravin Gwomòn, a narrow channel running south and west of the town. It floods to become a river with every heavy rain.
She entered the program with nothing. She would occasionally keep livestock for neighbors, but they always took them back before she could profit by it. She and her four children shared one of the rooms of a two-room house with a neighbor. The children’s father had passed away. The owner of the home just let them stay there. Lucienne would feed the children and herself by buying small quantities of produce on credit from farmers. She’d then break what she purchased into even smaller quantities for sale to consumers in downtown Gwomòn. She struggled to feed her children and to send them to school.
She asked for goats and small commerce. The commerce she chose was the same one she was used to. Haitians call it “kase lote,” which means break down and parcel out. Having joined the program, however, Lucienne could buy her merchandise with cash, which gave her more freedom to choose what to buy and how much. Her goats really prospered. By the time that she was ready to graduate, they had more than doubled in value.
She was happy to join a savings and loan association, and has remained an active member. “It helps you save, and you can borrow the cash you need at the beginning of the school year.”
She speaks clearly about how she thinks CLM helped her. “It put me on the right path. There was training. They taught how life is and how life isn’t. If they hadn’t yelled at me, I wouldn’t own all that I own.”
And she has started to own quite a bit. She began buying additional livestock with proceeds from her small commerce and from the farming she had started to do. She eventually bought six sheep. But she wasn’t especially attached to the animals, viewing them just as an investment. When she saw a chance to buy land already planted with sugarcane, she didn’t hesitate. She sold all the animals she had to in order to accumulate what she needed for the purchase. She sold the cane and bought more land, which she and her new partner have already planted. She plans to use their harvest to start buying livestock again.
She’s happy about the way the new partner is working with her. He contributed to the second land purchase, and he does much of the farm work. But she has no doubt about her own value. When I too-casually mentioned how impressed I was by how much land she and her partner have now accumulated, she was quick to interject that she bought the sugarcane land on her own.
And she is determined to keep moving forward. “I was so poor. CLM helped me pull myself out. I have no right to go back. The humiliation that I used to feel keeps me from slipping.”
She has a larger vision for herself as well. She wants to be able to help others. “If somebody comes to me with a problem, I have to be able to tell them that half of their problem is mine.”
Jean Tanisma lives with his mother in Fon Ibo, a densely populated area not far from downtown Gwomòn. The CLM team was searching for new program members in Fon Ibo in early 2017, and they were lucky to come across Jean. He hadn’t been mentioned by his neighbors at the community meeting that opens the selection process. But Gissaint César, who was then the brand new supervisor in change of CLM in Gwomòn, was interviewing Jean’s niece, who was a potential program participant. He saw Jean and started asking about him.
Fonkoze rarely takes men in the program, and it rarely takes anyone who has no dependent children. But since 2016, it has included individuals with disabilities, as long as they are poor enough to qualify, and Jean clearly was. He went blind as a teenager. At the time he joined the program, he was 32 and entirely dependent on his mother, who was herself very poor. He had no economic activity of his own. The two sometimes went an day without a meal.
Like many of the members in Fon Ibo, Jean chose goats and a pig as his economic activities, and the program bought him two goats and a pig. But the goats did poorly. He couldn’t keep them healthy, so they didn’t reproduce. He finally gave up on them, selling them off to buy a sheep, but the sheep didn’t do much better.
Fon Ibo turned out to be a bad place to raise animals that graze. It’s densely populated, and the small spaces that aren’t covered with houses and their surrounding yards are thickly planted. The area is also fertile, and folks are very reasonably sensitive about their gardens. Few of the families in the neighborhood who chose goats made much progress with them. The couple of exceptions involved exceptional circumstances, like an unusually large yard or a partner willing to lead the goats to distant plots he was farming every day.
Jean’s pig was another story. He gave it careful attention, raising it and successive litters of piglets in a back corner of his mother’s yard. Because it was right in his yard, he was able to take care of it himself, rather than depending on helpers who were willing, but not always reliable. He bought the feed it needed. It was a lot of work, but he was happy to have something useful to do. When each litter was ready, he sold it off and deposited the money in his account at Fonkoze.
But earning money in occasional lumps when he sold some pigs would present challenges that Gissaint helped Jean see. Like all the CLM members who joined with him, Jean was part of a Village Savings and Loan Association, and membership required him to have at least 100 gourds to buy shares with at weekly meetings That might not seem like much. At the time is was just about $1.50. But it was more than Jean could count on having every week.
Gissaint told Jean that the best thing he could do would be to establish a small commerce. Even a very small one could help him make his weekly contributions, even if his pigs remained his principal source of income. So Jean decided he would take the advice, and started thinking about what he might sell.
The idea he came up with was very good. He took some money out of his bank account, and bought pig feed. And he has kept up that business ever since. He buys it by the sack, and sells it by the cup or can. It’s not very profitable, but it makes him enough to contribute to his savings group, and allows him to keep his own pigs fed as well. He also can give his mother the money she needs to feed herself and him.
He can’t make sales without help. He can’t see well enough to distinguish denominations of bills. But finding people to help him out has never been his problem. Others simply act as his cashiers.
From Jean’s perspective, the change in his life has been monumental. “It makes me so proud when I reach into my own pocket to buy something I want. And to know that if I need 5,000 or 10,000 gourds, I can lay my hands on it.”
Jean has a plan for the current litter of piglets. He plans to sell all but one female. That will give him two sows, which will double the size of his operation. He’ll put the rest of the money in his Fonkoze account. He’s saving to buy a cow. He’s not sure what he will do with the cow, but he sees it as the next step forward. “When you start at the bottom, you have to think bigger and bigger, one step at a time.”
I went to Mazonbi today to see Mimose. She was part of a cohort of 350 CLM families who completed their eighteen months in the program in December 2014. I have written about her before. Like about 4% of the families who complete the program, Mimose was unable to graduate. In her case, the total value of her business assets was below the minimum value for graduates. Her goats died just before she was to be evaluated.
But not graduating didn’t seem to affect Mimose and her family too badly. After graduation, she and her husband Wozen kept working hard. They bought a cow, and sold it off eventually to buy a large piece of farmland to add to their holdings. More recently, they sold that new piece of farmland, and used the money to buy another one, closer to home, that became available when Wozen’s mother passed away and his father wanted to sell off land to pay for the funeral.
Though Mimose manages a small commerce on and off, the family depends mainly on their earnings from farming. They farm their own land, and Wozen works for other farmers as well. She was proud to tell me that all her children are in school, and she made it clear that her crops are the reason. She said that harvests have been poor this year. Actually, she said, “There was no pigeon-pea harvest at all. None at all.” But, it turns out she was able to sell some part of “none at all” to pay 10,000 gourds in school fees for her children, buy their uniforms, and make sure they have the other little things they’d need.
And she’s had an even bigger problem to deal with in the last months, too. In the early fall, her home was destroyed by a storm. Heavy wind and rain sent a small church sliding down a steep incline. It fell into her house, ripping the house apart. She was inside at the time, but was unhurt. The kids were out playing in the rain. She quickly cleared out the rubble and improvised new walls as well as she could with sheets.
It could have been a terrible moment for Mimose and Wozen. She consistently names her house as the most important, life-change success from her time in the program. But the couple just looked at the fallen home, figured out what it needed, and spent what they had to spend to rebuild it immediately.
Between the cost of repairing her home and the cost of the children’s school, Mimose used up the money in her commerce. All she can do right now is take some of whatever they have in the garden each week — lately it has been sweet potatoes — and sell it at the small mountain market in Dalon. It is just enough to keep the kids fed, though she jokes that her growing boys are starting to eat a lot.
Recently she considered going off to Pòtoprens to work for a few months as a maid. It is one way she could save up some cash to go back into business. But she finally decided against it. “When I thought about the way my girl is growing, I didn’t want to leave her alone in the house with the little ones.. Their father is off farming, sometimes for days at a time.”
Evens Victor is a young blind man. He lives in the countryside outside of downtown Gwomòn. He joined the CLM program in 2017 with the first cohort of families who went through the program there, and he graduated from it in January of 2019.
Before he joined CLM, he depended on his parents for everything. “If I wanted to have a few gourds in my pocket, I had to ask them for it.” But he joined the program, chose goats and poultry as his two assets, and got to work. He couldn’t take care of the livestock by himself, but his mother was willing to help him manage it.
The poultry didn’t do very well. He couldn’t keep an eye on them himself, and his mother was too busy with other things to give them all the attention they would have needed. But his goats flourished. The program gave Evens just two young females, but he soon had eight goats. That is as many as he really wants to have. He sells younger ones now and again, and he puts the money into one of his savings accounts.
That is an unusual decision. CLM members and graduates frequently sell livestock, but usually they do so to cover an expense or to make an investment. They might sell goats or pigs to buy a cow. They might sell an animal and use proceeds of the sale to buy merchandise for a small business or to invest in their farming. They might make a sale to cover school expenses for their kids. But they wouldn’t normally sell an animal just to put the money away. Savings are important, but they don’t grow the way a young pig or a turkey does. “Kòb sere pa fè pitit,” or “Money you put away doesn’t reproduce,” as they say.
But Evens knows what he’s doing. His mother has her own work to do, so there are only so many goats she can watch for him. He’s noticed that when they get to be too many, they sometimes go hungry and get sick. Their value decreases. Selling some of them to keep the numbers down might not earn him any profit, but it prevents losses. He uses some of the money to buy shares at the weekly meetings of his savings and loan association and he puts some in a savings account at Fonkoze.
He’s also started a new business. Another member of his church taught him to make liquid laundry detergent. He has a circle of regular customers in his neighborhood. They pay him when he’s ready to buy ingredients. He sells out each batch in about two weeks. The sales give him the kind of regular trickle of income that livestock cannot easily provide. He wants to learn macramé next.
On Thursday, Evens came to downtown Gwomòn to attend the graduation of the second cohort of CLM families. One of the graduating members invited him to the festivities. She asked him to be her godfather.
Haitians have various sorts of godparents: those who preside at an infant’s baptism or their presentation before a congregation and those who preside at a protestant baptism later in life. But there are godparents for weddings and for graduations, too. His goddaughter chose him as someone she felt she could count on for help. “She looked for someone who would be able to give her something,” Evens explains.
He’s delighted that she chose him. “It shows that people think of me as someone who’s able. I go by to see her often now, because it makes me so proud to hear her call me ‘godfather.’”
Marie Tojou is not from Mibalè. She was born and spent all the early part of her life in Paredon, in northern Laskawobas, along the road that leads from the important market town of Kas southward to the Artibonit River. She split from her partner when she was in her 30s. They no longer had small children. Not knowing what else to do, she moved in with her sister, who was living in Niva, a farming community just south of downtown Mibalè. There she met Thomas, who also had older children already, and the couple moved in together onto his mother’s land. They quickly had a child together. By the time Marie joined the CLM program in 2013, she was in her mid-40s and they boy she had with Thomas was a young teen.
At the time, she and Thomas had very little. Thomas farmed land as a sharecropper, and they planted the steeply-incline plot of land leading from their hillside home down to the main road. Thomas would also buy trees from neighbors on credit and turn them into cooking charcoal. He’d repay a tree’s owner when he sold the charcoal. Marie herself would earn an odd gourd here and there by sorting and bagging charcoal for neighborhood producers. The family had no livestock, and their planting was limited by their ability to invest in seeds and labor. They often went hungry. Their boy Olma had been in school, but he stopped going when they could no longer pay. The loss of one of Marie’s older daughters in the 2010 earthquake removed an important source of support.
Marie chose goats and a pig when she joined the program, and her livestock prospered. Before she had been in the program for a year, her pig had grown enough that she was able to sell it and a couple of her goats’ kids to buy a small cow.
By the time she graduated in December 2014, she had that cow, a goat, another pig, and a handful of chickens. All-in-all, her livestock was worth more than twice the minimum value of productive assets that she needed to qualify for graduation. The couple had replaced the shack they were living in with a small, two-room house with a tin roof. Olma was in school, and they were eating two-three meals per day.
In some respects, their life six years after graduation has changed very little. Their main source of income is still the charcoal Thomas makes on credit, and Marie still sorts neighbors’ charcoal. They still have their one cow and two goats.
But there have been some changes nonetheless.
There is now a small, one-room house a few feet from their own. It belongs to Olma. He left school a few years ago, and started working on local sugar mills. He handles the bulls that turn the mill itself. He built himself his own small house with his earnings. “He doesn’t want to go to bed at night under his parents’ roof anymore,” Marie explains with a laugh.
And Olma’s presence in the household, if not in the house, is important, because Marie farms the hill in front of their home more vigorously than she once could because she can invest. Olma weeds and prepares the plot, and she plants it. Right now, she’s waiting on crops of plantains and pigeon peas. She points to her recent corn harvest. “I harvested 70 makonn. They’re hanging in that tree. Thomas harvested about 70, too.” A makonn is a braid of ears of corn. The individual braids are then braided into a bundle that hangs for storage in a tree.
She still has just two goats, but it is not that her goats have not been producing. She sells one now and again to buy food for the house or invest in the family’s farming. She now has a turkey as well because the last time she sold a goat, it was to buy food, and she didn’t want all the capital to be lost. “If you don’t manage what you have, you aren’t in the game.”
He one cow is not the cow she bought when she was in CLM. That first one was hard to handle, so she sold it and replaced it with another small bull. She, Thomas, and Olma took care of that bull until it was large enough to exchange for a good-sized young heifer. She thinks that it will be ready to be bred with a bull next year. She thinks of the calf as her hope that she will one day have the resources to buy some land.
What strikes me most about her story is that her sources of regular income have changed so little since she joined CLM. She can now sell an animal if she has to, but otherwise she and Thomas depend mainly on the same activities they already depended on. And those activities do not amount to much.
Since the beginning, the CLM program has been focused mainly on increasing its members’ wealth. We measure the assets they own that they could use to generate income as carefully as we can, but we don’t measure the income itself. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with that.
But perhaps at least our case management, or coaching, should focus more on ways that families can establish day-to-day and week-to-week cash income. That way, the capital a family accumulates — in livestock, for example — could be more an investment tool and an insurance policy that a source of the income the family regularly needs.
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.
In 2015, Sonia Pierre joined the CLM pilot for persons with disabilities. I wrote about her and her neighbor, Mimose, in 2016. (See this link.) A stroke had left her partially paralyzed on her right side. Getting around was difficult for her. On entry into the program, she depended on her daughter and her neighbor for the food she ate. When she left the program, however, she had livestock, a small commerce, and a home in good repair. She had also learned to save.
But four years later, things aren’t going well. Her paralysis has gotten much worse. Both feet are now affected. She can’t walk farther than the area immediately surrounding her house, her right hand is now entirely useless, and even speech is now a struggle. For her adult daughter, the explanation is simple. “When my mother was part of CLM, she was going to the clinic regularly. They’d check her blood pressure, and give her medication.”
In the years following the program, however, getting to the clinic, though Partners in Health runs one only minutes away from her home, became more difficult. Eventually, Sonia stopped going at all.
Sonia’s increasing limitations meant she couldn’t take care of her livestock, and it all died. She couldn’t manage her small commerce either, and it disappeared. She still lives in the small house that CLM helped her repair with her daughter and granddaughter, but now her daughter is entirely responsible for the household. The younger woman supports herself, her mother, and her daughter with small commerce. She works the markets in Laskawobas, Mache Kana, and Kolonbyè as a machann kaselote. That means that she goes to the market with her capital, buys something in bulk, breaks it up (kase), and puts it into small piles (lote) for sale. She stays in the market until she sells out. Generally, she buys some kind of produce, like tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, okra, peppers: anything she thinks she can sell. For now, she is managing to take care of her mother, but the small savings Sonia had built up when she was active are gone, and the younger woman hasn’t been able to build savings.
Mimose Florvil is doing much better. “When CLM came, I had nothing at all. I was alone.” But Mimose established a business while in the program. She sold marinad, a seasoned fried dough popular in Haiti, by the side of the road that passes next to Sonia’s house. She would set up her stand in Sonia’s yard, and the two friends would spend the day chatting while Mimose sold her wares.
Four years later, the business is still going strong. She sells Monday through Saturday, though Wednesday and Saturday are the best days. “I sell more on market day, to people going to and from the market.”
She changed her product, though. The marinad always sold well, but she decided to give them up. “Oil got too expensive, and frying marinad takes a lot of oil.” Now she sells pate — small , stuffed turnovers — instead. Pate are fried too, but she explains that they don’t require as much oil as marinad do. “In downtown Laskawobas, they fill pate just with herring, but here we mix the herring with onions.” Like Sonia, Mimose lives with limited mobility. She gets around better than she did when she joined CLM, and much better than Sonia, but it is still a struggle. Getting to the market in Laskawobas would be a challenge, but Sonia’s daughter is willing to do all her shopping for her.
Mimose still keeps a small collection of livestock. She has goats, turkeys, and ducks. She hasn’t been able to increase her holdings, but it leaves her feeling as though she has a form of insurance in case something goes wrong,
Pierre Floral was in the program together with Sonia and Mimose. He’s a farmer, working land that belongs to his elderly father. He plants corn, beans, and pigeon peas. When he’s not too busy with his own crops, he’ll sell a day of work to another farmer. He walks with a heavy limp because a childhood accident permanently damaged one of his legs. One of his arms was also affected.
Of the three of them, Pierre is the one who insists most strongly that his life was improved through CLM, even though he has very little progress he can cite. When he is asked how the program helped him change his life, he points to just one thing. CLM helped him build his house. Before he joined the program, he was homeless, spending nights on porches in his neighborhood. “I had been living with my aunt, but she was always so mean to me. Eventually I left. I’d stay with other people, getting up and going to sleep whenever I had to. Now I have my own home.”
He wasn’t able to finish the home while he was a CLM member. At the end of 18 months, its roof and its walls were still unfinished. But he kept at it, and finally completed the work, down to all its windows and doors. He is happy to be able to lie down and get up whenever he wants. He never has to worry about being in anyone’s way.
He continues to save in the lockbox that he learned to use as part of CLM. The training he received around saving was based on an approach called “More than Budgets,” which was developed by Dawn Elliott, a professor at TCU. There’s no money in his box right now, but that’s only because he just invested his savings in his fields this spring. He won’t have enough income to save until harvest.
I wrote about Yves Révot at the end of 2016. (See here.) When he joined the CLM pilot program for persons with disabilities, he was often going hungry. He’s a farmer who lives in Pouli, an area along the river that eventually runs through downtown Laskawobas, but he has been blind for years due to untreated glaucoma. He was living alone in a deteriorating shack that belonged to his father. Though he was surrounded by his family, they did not see him as important. “When you have no hope, people don’t value you.”
Yves chose two kinds of livestock as the enterprises he would develop. Fonkoze gave him two goats and a pig. He saved as much as he could from his weekly cash stipend and invested it in his farming. For the first time, he could rent land and farm it himself, rather than just working for other people, and his hard work helped him prosper. His livestock holdings grew, he repaired the shack he lived in, and he rented additional land. When Yves completed the program, he easily met Fonkoze’s standard graduation criteria.
The last couple of years, however, have been challenging for Yves. His business model began to fail. He still owned no farmland of his own, and each year he would sell offspring from among his livestock to rent land. He’d work the land and use the crops both for his own nourishment and to bring in cash income. But his crops have failed the last two years because of drought.
His home region, in the valley that reaches from the Dominican border, across the Lower Central Plateau, and towards the sea, is one of the more fertile, less drought-stricken regions of Haiti. But the rains even there have become less and less predictable. When they come at all, they come at moments you would not expect them, too late or too early to do his crops any good. The investment he made in the standard crops of corn and beans were lost. “If I had least been able buy a chicken out of my profits, I’d wouldn’t have been so discouraged.”
At the same time, his success with livestock allowed him to take a major step forward. Last year, he sold a cow and a pig and bought his own plot of land, just downhill from the house he lives in. He’s been planting his new land, but not with corn or beans. Instead, he has planted viv. In Creole, that signifies a range of starches. Mostly roots, like yams, malanga, manioc, and sweet potatoes, but also plantain. He finds them less vulnerable to the irregular timing of rainfall.
So, Yves changed his strategy. “I am not going to sell livestock to rent land any more. “You sell a goat and you can’t be sure you’ll get anything back.” He’ll still rent land when he has the cash to do so. “I can rent, but the money will need to come out of what my farming earns.”
When he shows me his land, he also explains his plan for it. He points out where he’ll put the pig pen and the goat pen, which part he will continue to farm, and, very importantly, where he will build his house. He has made himself comfortable in the family house he repaired while he was in the CLM program. He once sold a pig to buy his first bed. But he eventually wants to move into a home of his own. He has two female goats that he will use to rebuild his stock. And he has a small sow that he hopes to use to build the house.
When you visit Yves, he does not seem much like the poor, isolated young man he was when he joined the program. There is a constant back and forth in his yard: his siblings and other family members start coming by to see him as soon as he returns from the fields. They are bringing him something or coming by to ask a favor. Or just to hang around. He has no trouble getting help from boys when he wants to offer me coconut water. He can climb the tree, but they collect the coconuts he throws down, and they open them with a machete. He now has a status in the lakou, the yard that includes the collection of houses his family lives in, that allows him to assign chores. He is an important part of the family in a way that he had never hoped to be.
Ezione François lives in Bwa Kabrit, a small rural neighborhood just outside of downtown Laskawobas. When she joined the CLM program in 2016, things were really hard. “I didn’t even have a chicken. I had to depend on what my husband’s family occasionally sent to pay for the children’ school.”
It hadn’t always been that way for her. Early in her marriage, she and her husband were doing well. He’s a professional baker. He worked for a bakery owner six days a week. On Sundays, the owner allowed him to use the bakery to make his own bread, which Ezione would come sell. Roving bread merchants would take a supply fresh out of the oven early Sunday morning on credit, and they’d come back to pay for the bread in the afternoon. Ezione and her family were making progress.
Then her husband left her and their children to take up with another woman. He would occasionally send Ezione small sums to support the kids, but they didn’t amount to much. She depended on them entirely, however, and on sporadic gifts from others until she was hired to manage meals for her local branch of a network of community organizations. She had been a faithful member of her organization for years, and as its leadership saw her struggle, they decided to do what they could. She made 1000 gourds per month – about $20 at the time – and was allowed to take extra food home to her children.
The job enabled her to take care of her children until she had to give it up to take another. She had a dream in which she was confronted by a crowd of young children. When she told her pastor about it, he explained that he had been thinking of establish a community school in her neighborhood. She took the dream as a sign that she should be working for the school. So she started as a recruiter for the school before it opened, going around the neighborhood to get parents to sign their children up. Once the school opened, she became a teacher’s aide in the preschool. That became a long-term commitment, and she was working in the school when the CLM program selected families in her area. The problem was that the school couldn’t pay because parents didn’t pay fees. Ezione continued to work because she felt committed to the children, but it only made it harder to make ends meet.
By that time, her husband had returned to her. But he and his other woman had, Ezione says, “wasted everything they had.” Her husband had gone back to making bread, but he could no longer get a regular job at a bakery, much less his own day to work the equipment. Ezione began selling bread when she could, paying the bakery at the end of the day as her customers had paid her.
When she joined, she chose two goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she was able to make some progress with each. Her pig eventually had two litters. The first she sold to buy a cow, and though she lost most of the second litter to disease, she used proceeds from the sale of the two survivors to pay her children’s school expenses. Her goats never took off, but she has been able to sell one now and again for school expenses.
She used savings from her cash stipend, however, to add to her small commerce. She began to sell sugar together with the bread. It doesn’t bring in much, but it enables her to buy shares in her Village Savings and Loan Associations every week.
The VSLA that CLM established is into its fourth year, and she liked the activity so much that she established a second one at her church. “I like the way the VSLA brings us together every week. If neighbors have problems with one another, we can help them work them out. We pool what we have, and we work together.” The VSLAs like her, too. She was just elected as its new president.
Ezione has plans for the future. She used proceeds from the sale of her cow to send her husband to Chile. He hasn’t been sending back much so far, but she says it’s because he only recently got working papers. She’s ready to take a loan from her VSLA to start a small business selling coffee and hot chocolate in addition to her bread and sugar. And she already knows how she wants to spend her money the next time the VSLA’s cycle ends. She’s planning to invest in a pig.
When you ask her what she values about her experience in CLM, her response is quick and clear. “I liked all the training. You learn so much you didn’t know.”
Byeneme is a small community in Sodo, one of the communes along the southern border of Haiti’s Central Plateau. It sits near the ridge that divides the commune from the plain that encompasses Pòtoprens, and offers a panoramic view of the valley to the north, which includes downtown Sodo and downtown Mibalè, too. The road into Byeneme does not pass through Sodo. The only direct route to the downtown area is a footpath straight down the hill. The road in runs, instead, along the ridge from National Route 3, in Fon Cheval.
The CLM program launched in Byenmeme in 2011, as part of its initial scale-up. The single case manager assigned to the area worked there one day a week with about a dozen families. It was a separate little population of members, disconnected geographically from the rest of their cohort. They graduated as part of a group of 300 families in downtown Sodo in March 2012.
Joisimène Bernard was a member of the cohort. At the time, she, her husband, and their children were really struggling. She wasn’t able to send the kids to school consistently, and the family lived in a shack covered only with a tarp.
The couple was excited to be able to build a new house. They received roofing tin, cement, and money to hire a builder from Fonkoze, but they wanted a larger house, so her husband went off to Delma, the populous residential suburb just north of Pòtoprens, and found whatever odd jobs he could so that they could double the amount of roofing tin they had to work with and, so, build an additional room.
Joisimène received goats and small commerce from the program. The goats never really prospered, but her commerce took off. She would buy produce — anything in season — at three different local markets: Dalon, Ti Sekèy, and Labasti. She kept 2000 gourds or so in the business. Then she’d haul her merchandise for sale in the large, residential areas near the capital. It was a reliable business, and it allowed her to grow. She saved some of her profit in her Fonkoze savings account until she had enough to buy a small cow. The cow grew and eventually had a calf. Then it got sick and died, leaving her with a healthy heifer. She’s hoping that, with patient care, it will eventually take its mother’s place and provide her calves.
The commerce was working well until the political troubles that developed in Haiti over the past year made it difficult. Prices for the kind of merchandise she would buy increased more quickly than her capital did, and at the same time transportation strikes and blockages increased the cost and the difficulty of getting merchandise to Pòtoprens.
So she gave it up. She saw that she needed to keep working, however, so she came up with another plan. With as little as 500 gourds — less than $5 — she can go down to Mibalè and buy bread, which sells well in her community. She can sell it for 1200 to 1300 gourds. So it’s profitable, even when she pays 250 for transportation. She doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s enough to send her kids to school and keep them fed. “Children are different from adults. If they get nothing to eat, they complain.”
Wideline Pierre and her husband, Louinèl Maxi, were part of the cohort as well. They, too, chose goats and small commerce, but Wideline’s business was less successful than Joisimène’s. She sold basic groceries in Byeneme. Things like rice, oil, seasoning, etc. But such businesses are extremely hard to sustain. Neighbors buy on credit, and they don’t always pay. Eventually Wideline gave up. The capital she had left wasn’t enough to continue.
But in a sense, it wasn’t important to the couple. They have a strong partnership, and were used to depending more on what Louinèl could bring in. He would travel from Byeneme to Delma every Sunday afternoon and work there until Saturday, when he’d return home with his earnings. He would do construction jobs when he could find them, but he was never very particular. When he couldn’t find a job, he would hang out at the stations where riders get on and off the pick-up trucks that provide most of Pòtoprens’s public transportation, and hire himself out as a porter.
But in the last couple of years, things have gotten harder. Louinèl hasn’t been well. He’s had stomach problems that he hasn’t been able to shake. He can’t eat much of anything. His family makes him a watery soup out of stale bread and greens. For someone in his line of work, nothing is more important than physical strength, and he hasn’t been able to keep his strength up.
So Louinèl and Wideline had to change the way they do things. Wideline and the youngest of their six children moved to Pòtoprens to live principally with the child’s godmother. Wideline found work as a maid. She gets paid at the end of every month, and come up to Byeneme for a couple of days at home.
The new way of life works for the couple in a sense. Their children are healthy and well-fed, and they attend school, things the were a struggle before Wideline joined CLM. But their life isn’t what they’d like it to be. Louinèl explains, “You’re never really doing well when you’re working for someone else.”
Like Wideline, Marie Lourde Ciléus is hard to find in Byeneme. Her husband, Beauvilus, is more stable there. But her story is quite different from Wideline’s. Marie Lourde is a merchant.
Every Monday, she travels north from Byeneme to a large rural market in Difayi. Farmers come to Difayi from all across the mountains of northern Boukankare, and Marie Lourde buys their produce. Then she hauls whatever she’s purchased south for sale in the large produce market at Kwabosal, below Pòtoprens. She spends a night at home on the way.
It’s a hard life, but life was harder before she joined the program. Beauvilus reports that their children would get sent home from school because the couple couldn’t pay school fees. They had a hard time even feeding them, and the children sometimes missed school because there was nothing to eat at home. “We wouldn’t even bother to light the fire,” he explains.
Even now, life has its ups and down. Their sixth child had to be delivered by Caesarean section, and the expense ate up all the money Marie Lourde had in her business.
Beauvilus himself had always been a farmer. “When I was young, my parents didn’t think it was important for me to learn a trade.” But farming in Byeneme has been increasingly difficult. Water is scarce in the area, and millet, which had long been the most important staple in the region, was eliminated by the same disease that eliminated it throughout Haiti. Beauvilus now plants a little corn, and a few pigeon peas, but it’s not a living.
Marie Lourdes success as a business women, however, comes with advantages. When she was ready to go back to work after having their child, she talked to a merchant she travels with. The women who run such businesses in Haiti are called “Madan Sara.” It’s a name they share with a highly social species of bird known especially for making a lot of noise as they chatter with one another.
Marie Lourdes and the other Madan Sara talked, and the woman agreed to lend her the money she would need to return to business. Some weeks it’s 5000 gourds, sometimes it’s 10,000. It depends on what the other woman has available. But for the other woman, it’s worth it to be traveling in business with a trusted friend. It has meant that Marie Lourdes, Beauvilus, and their kids can get by as Marie Lourdes rebuilds her own capital.