Category Archives: After Graduation

Jocelyne Right after Graduation

Jocelyne has been a widow since 2019. She lives with her six kids and her mother along a dirt road that leads into downtown Laskawobas from the east. Until recently, only her three younger children lived with her and her mother, who is showing signs of dementia.

The three older ones lived in the Pòtoprens area, with her sister. There they went to school there with her sister’s help. Jocelyne couldn’t afford to send them. But her sister lives in central Kwadeboukè, in an area controlled by one of the many gangs who dominate much of the Pòtoprens area now. Her kids felt unsafe, and she was scared to have them there, so she made them come home. Seven dependents is a lot for her to manage, but she did not feel she had a choice.

Before she joined the program, she fed her family with a small business on the road in front of her home. She made pate, a fried pastry popular as a snack food in Haiti. They are usually filled — with meat or eggs — before they are fried. But Jocelyne filled them with neither. “I couldn’t afford to buy meat or eggs. I just put a little dried herring in mine.” She took care of a pig, but it didn’t belong to her. It was, however, a reason for hope, because those who take care of livestock for others a generally paid in kind. Jocelyne had a chance at owning her own pig whenever the sow in her care might have a litter.

She asked the CLM team to buy her goats. She received two, but one died. When her case manager was ready to replace it for her, she asked whether she could have money to start a business instead. Her case manager agreed, and she started selling cold soft drinks.

That business worked well, but there was a problem. The drinks sold well whenever there was a public gathering, like a cock fight or a wake. But in her neighborhood, there were too many days with nothing going on.

So she came up with another idea. The Dominican border is not far from her home. She began buying basic groceries in Elias Piña, in the DR. A lot of goods are cheaper there than in most places in Haiti.

And she came up with a unique way to sell them. She goes door-to-door offering her wares. Her clients do not pay her right away. She makes a second visit to collect what the owe the day before she is to go back to Elias Piña. She says that her clients pay on time. “I don’t really give them a lot,” she explains. So her new business keeps the cash she needs coming in. When there is an event in the neighborhood, she can still buy soft drinks for the occasion.

But though the business helps her with a steady income stream, it is not her principal success. When she was evaluated for graduation, she had 105,000 gourds in assets. That’s over $800. The program had given her business assets worth just 18,000 gourds.

Her spectacular growth depends on livestock. With profit from her business, she bought a sow. She bought another with a loan from her savings and loan association. She now has four sows, one of which has a litter of eight piglets trailing behind it.

She serves as the president of the association, and she opened two accounts in it. That means she can save twice as much each week as most of her fellow members. “I had been in an association before, though it hadn’t really worked. I thought that with my case manager there I could use it as a good way to save.”

Her first priority with the money she saves was to make sure she can always pay for her children’s school. It gets to be a lot. That’s how she used most of her savings at the end of the association’s first 12-month cycle. But she should have enough money when the next cycle ends to buy a cow, an important goal. “My house belongs to me, but I rent the land it’s on. A cow could help me buy my own land.”

Yvrose, Right after Graduation

Yvrose graduated from the CLM program at the end of January. In December, when she was evaluated for graduation, she had accumulated 82,000 gourds of wealth, over $630. That is a lot for a woman who had reported owning nothing less than 18 months earlier.

When she joined the program, she, her husband Jean Gaby, and their three kids had been living in the kitchen of a church that had been built on her family’s land. Seeing her situation, the church’s pastor eventually threw up a shack for the family, built of old roofing tin and wooden planks that no one wanted.

Her case manager, Figaro, told her that she’d have to have a dry, secure home to graduate from the program and that the program would help her. She answered that there was no way that she and her husband would be able to do so, even with CLM’s help. She now looks back at Figaro’s response with a smile. “What do you want me to do?” she says he asked, “Kick you out of the program because you can’t build a house?”

“If you start, you’ll finish,” he added. “Just start.”

Figaro was right. Few families have succeeded more dramatically in their effort to build a new home than Yvrose and Jean Gaby did. Typical CLM members’ homes are two rooms, built of palm wood planks or rocks and dirt, but Yvrose now has a solid three-room home of cinder blocks. Jean Gaby brought down the cost somewhat by collected the sand they’d need to make the blocks for construction from the local riverbed, bucket by bucket. But the home still required a lot of expense. It involved taking out and then repaying three loans from her savings and loan association, worth a total of 45,000 gourds in all.

The results of her efforts are clear for anyone to see.

The new house on the left, the old one on the right.

But 45,000 gourds was a lot of money to borrow and repay, and Yvrose had to start generating income to repay those loans. The CLM team gave her two goats and a small package of poultry, and she succeeded to a degree with both, but neither would help her manage those construction costs or, for that matter, her family’s daily expenses.

So she also borrowed money from her savings and loan association for commerce. She took a loan of 15,000 gourds — about $115 — and started buying plantains and other produce from farmers and others bringing them to market. Her home is right along an important dirt road that leads to downtown Laskawobas from farming areas to the east and south. She would just wait for sellers to pass by. Many were happy for the chance to sell to her. They carry their merchandise to market themselves, balancing it on the head, and are happy if they can get rid of their load early.

She would sell the produce to wholesalers, who would bring it for sale to Pòtoprens. “I try to avoid having to bring it to Laskawobas myself, too, so I won’t have to pay a motorcycle.” She waits for buyers coming up the road just as she waits for sellers coming down it. She makes her money by being in a good spot and by negotiating prices skillfully.

But the unrest in Haiti has made it almost impossible for buyers to reach her from Pòtoprens. She had to give up that business.

Fortunately, she had another option prepared. The CLM team tested a new kind of training workshop for her group, and Yvrose was excited to participate. She learned to make different snack foods out of plantains, peanuts, and coconut and to package them for sale. It is a way to make higher-mark-up items out of commonly available ingredients, and it can be more profitable than mere trading is. By then, Yvrose had built her business capital up to 30,000 gourds, and she put all that money into her new snack business. The business is now growing. Her products are popular. More and more people hear about it. They come to her home to buy.

And Yvrose has a plan for her next steps. She wants to add another room to her house to give her children more space, and she wants to build up her assets though investments in livestock so they she and Jean Gaby can buy more land.

Yvrose and Jean Gaby

Woodia after Graduation

Woodia graduated from the CLM program late last year. We have written of her before. When she joined the program, she and her three children were living with her parents. She depended on them for almost everything. Her only income was money she made by selling a few snacks from a small table next to her mother’s shop. Her mother encouraged her to sell for herself even as she sat in the shop, selling for her mom.

Woodia asked for goats, but hasn’t really succeeded with them. She also asked for small commerce, and with it her success has been remarkable. She started with just 15,000 gourds’ worth of merchandise, about $115. But she took what she learned from her mother, and made the business grow. It is now worth over 125,000 gourds. She sells at the Savanèt market. She was selling from a small booth within the market, but she outgrew it. She now lays out her merchandise on a neighboring field, with other larger merchants.

Successful program members have always used the program to build dry, secure homes as well, but Woodia had to do something different. “Building on the land I had would have been too expensive.” The only plot she had available was what her parents could give her, and it was sleepy sloped. She would have had to pay a team to cut a flat space into it to build on, and she didn’t think it made any sense.

So she rented an apartment in downtown Savanèt instead. It costs 25,000 gourds for a year. It was expensive, but she thought it was important. “Now I am close to the market. I don’t have to walk back and forth to my mother’s house anymore.”

She has been saving 2,000 gourds each week in her savings club. The club’s rules allow members to buy just five shares each week, and the share purchase price is 200 gourds. So, to increase her ability to save, Woodia opened a second account. She buys five shares each week for each account.

When the cycle comes to a close, she knows exactly what she wants to do. She plans to buy a piece of land she can build a home on. She does not want to keep paying rent forever.

When asked how her mother, who first taught her business, feels about her success, Woodia smiles. “She’s really proud. And I am too. She knows that if she needs anything — food to make dinner or money to buy merchandise for her business — she can just send me word. I can take care of it.”

Vernette after Graduation

Vernette and her husband Rodrigue live with their two small children just east of downtown Savanèt on the dirt road that winds all the way to the Dominican border. Before their family joined the CLM program, they really struggled. Rodrigue got work when he could as a mason’s assistant, mixing cement with a shovel or lugging blocks or buckets of cement for skilled builders. Vernette would occasionally do laundry for neighbors.

Vernette asked the program to give her goats and small commerce, but she’s been able to do very little with them. The very small plot of land they live on gives them very little space for goats to graze. She received two and she chose to buy a third, but they haven’t reproduced. She started buying poultry, but her luck with that has been even worse. Most of what she’s acquired simply died.

But she had no trouble qualifying for graduation, because she built up a small grocery business that she runs out of her home, and it is succeeding well.

To say that she runs it out of her home is misleading, however. In fact, she and Rodrigue built a a separate one-room shack next to the two-room house she built as a member of the program for her business. And the construction of the two buildings is an interesting story.

When she joined CLM she was living in a home, but not a shelter. The walls of her then-home were falling apart. Its roof was in ruins. It could not keep her and the family even minimally dry. She could not establish a business, because she had no way to secure her merchandise. Or anything else. She would complain to Rodrigue, but he had no interest in helping her build a new home. “He would always say that many women had it worse than I did.”

Faced with the chance to receive the program’s support, she decided she had to act. She started pulling out the rotted wood planks from their home’s walls, making their situation worse. She wanted to bring Rodrigue to recognize and grow ashamed of their circumstances. She started talking to neighbors, friends, and anyone who would listen about Rodrigue’s unwillingness to do anything.

It worked. As Vernette says, “He was embarrassed. So when he saw the 22 sheets of roofing that the program gave me, he got to work, collecting the lumber we needed. Before long, the family had a dry, secure home. Rodrigue realized he had done the right thing on the first rainy night. “He was so happy that we were dry.”

With a secure home, she was able to start to grow her business. But there was a problem. With just two small rooms for her family and her merchandise, there was not enough space. She and her case manager talked about it, and they talked with Rodrigue. By this point, his attitude had changed. He was ready to help however he could. And he used income from his labor to buy what they needed — roofing material, lumber, and cement — to build a second small structure in their yard. That second building is now her shop.

And Vernette has bigger plans. She cannot sell her goats right now, because they are not in good shape. But Rodrigue has agreed to help her nurse them back to health. He takes them with him into the fields when he does his farming. She hopes that when her savings club ends its next one-year cycle, she be able to take her payout along with whatever she can get from selling the goats to buy a cow. Owning a cow will put her and Rodrigue on their way to achieving their larger goal. They want to buy more land.

Roselène Genéus — Seven Years After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clermicile — Eight Years After Graduating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just After Graduation

Manise lives in Laflòt, not far from the main road through Dezam, just a short walk from the border with Lachapèl, farther to the east. She hasn’t always lived there. She moved a couple of times while she was growing up.

She spent her earliest years in Palma, a market town on the upper end of the island of Lagonav. Her mother was from Dezam, but her father was from the island. The two met at the market in the small port city of Arkaye. When her father passed away, Manise’s mother struggled to care for her. She gave the girl to the father’s cousin, who lived in the nearby city of Ansagale, because she could not keep Manise fed. Manise grew up in the cousin’s home.

Manise’s mother then returned to Dezam, but when she became sick and required someone’s care, Manise moved to Dezam to be with her. She already had a child by then, and had to leave the child with the father, on Lagonav. But she didn’t feel that she had a choice. Back in Dezam, she soon had another child. But she also met her eventual partner. “He saw me and he liked me. And I like the way he treats my boy as his own child.”

The couple got by, but things were hard. Manise worked as a second-grade teacher, making 3,000 gourds per month, which is now less than $30. When, that is, the school was able to pay her at all. Her partner did odd jobs. Anything he could find. Despite the couple’s efforts, the small family frequently went hungry. Manise could not afford to send her young boy to school.

Manise chose goats and small commerce as the activities the CLM program would transfer to her, but after she received her two goats she and her case manager Odiel realized there was a problem. Manise was nursing a baby, so she and Odiel decided it was no time for her to be managing a business that would force her out of her home. They took money that they had set aside to purchase merchandise to buy a third goat instead.

The third goat didn’t end up getting Manise anywhere. Neighbors jealous of her participation in CLM killed it. But her other goats prospered. She would have had eight by graduation if she hadn’t already sold two to manage expenses. Four of her six remaining animals are pregnant. Before graduation, she had added two turkeys, which she bought out of savings in her VSLA, and a large pig. She had also started a very small commerce, selling snacks like crackers and candy out of her home, something she could do while managing the couple’s infant. At graduation, our evaluators assessed her productive assets at over $700, more than three times what she needed to graduate. Shortly after graduation, her pig succumbed to fever, but she purchased a small replacement almost immediately.

Manise has progressed in another way as well. She followed advice she received at agroforestry trainings that the CLM held in Dezam. She has been planting trees in the same fields in which she grows her usual crops: coconuts, mango, papaya, lime, and cherry. But also trees that bear no fruit of any value, but which leave her leafy, compostable that she can use to build up her garden’s ground soil. Though her neighborhood has been dry recently, her trees are starting to grow.

Despite her progress, Manise still struggles. Her baby has been developing slowly. It is early still, but he seems to be falling behind. He’s 18 months old, and he cannot yet support the weight of his head with his neck. We plan to help her access the services the boy might need in the next weeks. If we don’t, she is likely to burn through the wealth she has accumulated doing what she can for the boy.

Suzette lives in Lanbè, a neighborhood in eastern Dezam. Before she joined the program, she and her children were living with her mother. The arrangement led to conflict. Rather than live with constant arguments, Suzette chose to move out. She and her partner, Davilmar, could afford very little. Just a rented room that was soaked through with every rain, but it gave her some distance from her family.

She had no source of income herself when she joined the program. Davilmar was responsible for everything. He talked to a cousin of his who sold lottery numbers. Such people earn a small percentage on every ticket they sell. People are not inclined to do it if they can find something else. It is very little money. But Davimar needed money, and his cousin could see that. So they agreed that Davilmar would take over. “He works hard, and will do whatever he can,” Suzette says. Davilmar’s income meant that they had at least something to eat most of the time. They could not afford, however, to send the kids to school.

When she was invited to join CLM, Suzette figured that she and Davilmar had to talk. “When you are with someone, you shouldn’t make big decisions by yourself.” The couple was afraid to join the program. “People in the neighborhood were making up all kinds of lies about it. They said it was the devil’s work. We talked and talked, but we finally decided that we didn’t really have a choice. We needed the help.”

Suzette asked the CLM team to give her goats to get her started, and she received three. She cared for them, and the three turned into seven, but she sold a small male to buy school uniforms for her kids. She’s added other livestock. She owns turkeys and chickens, and a large and growing pig.

She started saving money in her VSLA. She and Davilmar really pressure themselves to save 250 gourds every week. Suzette used a 7,500-gourd loan from the VSLA to start a business. She would buy beans in the local market, and bring them for sale to other markets just down the road. When bean prices rose too high, she switched from beans to eggs. She now buys six cases of eggs each week at one market and sells them at two others. She can make enough to keep her family fed and continue saving. “I want to make my business bigger. I didn’t want to sell a goat to pay for school, but I had no choice. You can’t not send your kids. Next year, I want my business to be able to pay.”

Dieula and Mathurin: Months After Graduation

Dieula and her husband Mathurin live with their three children in Wodo, a small, very rural area in southeast Tomond. It sits well down a long dirt road that runs eastward from the main national route through the middle of the Central Plateau.

Before 2019, the couple was relatively prosperous. Dieula stayed at home, managing the household. Mathurin was a farmer, but his and the family’s main source of income was lumber. He prepared and sold wood, mostly for furniture. He would buy trees, and then hire an assistant to help him fell them and then cut them into planks. Then he’d sell the planks either at the large market in Ench or in Potoprens. “If CLM had come through the neighborhood back then,” he explains, “they wouldn’t even have spoken to us. They’d have walked by our house. We didn’t need them.”

Disaster stuck one day in May 2019 when he was setting up a large tree to be cut into planks. Haitian lumberjacks work in pairs, using a long saw with a handle at each end to slice trees’ trunks. They lift the log onto a frame they erect onsite. Then one man stands on the log, and the other stands below it as they saw. Mathurin’s frame collapsed, and the log fell on him, badly breaking his leg.

There is no good time for such a horrible accident, but the timing for this one could hardly have been worse. The big hospitals in the Central Plateau, the ones who might have been able to help Mathurin, depend for their medical staff on Pòtoprens. They commute from the capital on Mondays and return on Fridays. But the socio-political upheaval in Haiti meant that their trips to their places of work were uncertain. Roadblocks might interfere at any time. So the staffing for hospitals was uncertain as well. Mathurin was afraid that he would get to a hospital without its best doctors, and they’d just want to amputate.

So he joined his younger brother, who lives in the Dominican Republic, and went to a hospital there. He received care, but it was expensive. He sold his saw, the couple’s livestock, and finally their farmland. They sold everything of value except the small parcel of land their house was built on to pay his medical costs.

The leg was set with screws, but something went wrong, and it would not heal. Months went by, and Mathurin was still unable to walk, or to put even a small weight on his foot. He was in constant pain.

His income, of course, disappeared. Dieula managed to borrow a little money from a friend and start a small business. She carried groceries to nearby markets on her head, and sold as best she could. But when the CLM selection team passed through their neighborhood in late 2019, the family was really struggling.

When they joined the program, they chose goats and peanut-farming as their two enterprises. With no farmland left of their own, they had to find a plot to rent, but they managed to do so with savings from their cash stipend. Their garden prospered, as did their collection of goats. They now have nine, even though they have sold some of them to get their kids back into school.

Dieula also used savings from her cash stipend to invest in her business. Careful management has increased its value to about 7500 gourds, or about $75, even though she uses most of what she makes to feed her family and she also uses its revenue to buy shares each week at her Village Savings and Loan Association.

At the end of the association’s first one-year cycle, she used the payout to pay debts. She had been feeding her family by buying on credit from local merchants. She needed credit because her business was not big enough to feed the whole household. But she wasn’t able to repay the merchants who trusted her. She hopes to use the next payout to add to her livestock.

So the family was turning things around, but they were still limited because Mathurin wasn’t contributing at all. “My wife really does everything.” The team realized it needed to see whether it could help Mathurin with his leg, so it took him to see an orthopedist at the public hospital in Ench. The doctor was sorry to say that he couldn’t help. He could see Mathurin’s problem in the x-ray. The broken bones weren’t healing correctly. He suspected that another surgery would be necessary to reset the leg, but he explained that the type of screws that had had been used to set the leg were not the kind used at Haitian hospitals. He had no access to the special tool it would take to remove them. He said that Mathurin would need to go back to the DR.

This would be complicated. Though Dieula was building up her earnings, she didn’t have enough to pay for the care that Mathurin needed. The CLM program ensures its members and their families access to free medical care while they are in the program, but generally depends on Partners in Health. an important international organization the works closely with the Haitian ministry of health to provide it. There has been a three-way agreement between the ministry, PIH, and Fonkoze for over a decade. Because Mathurin needed to return to the DR, PIH’s free services would be unavailable.

That’s where the CLM emergency fund comes in. It is a small amount of money that the program sets aside for each family, design to protect them against the de-capitalization of their new wealth while they are in the program. Most often, it is used to help offset funeral expenses. We don’t want a sudden expense to wipe out the first steps of progress that CLM families make. The fund is less than $50 per family, but since most families don’t need it at all, it can usually cover even large expenses for the few families who need it to. Mathurin’s care would cost well over a thousand dollars. There is no way that he and Dieula could have paid for it, but the CLM program had the funds they needed.

But the couple had another problem. Graduation was scheduled for August, and by then Mathurin still had not been able to complete his treatment. A range of problems, including especially complication connected to gas shortages, political unrest, and COVID 19, delayed things. In addition, the treatment itself turned out to need time. Rather than another operation, the Dominican doctor treatment with medication over a series of weeks and months before deciding whether a new operation was even necessary.

Normally, work for a cohort of CLM families closes with graduation. Fonkoze completes expenses and sends a final financial report to its funding partner. But Opportunity International, the partner funding Dieula’s cohort, was happy to extend the deadline for expenses related to the cohort, so all Fonkoze needed to do was free Dieula’s case manager to continue to give the couple a small amount of guidance and get the funds they would need into Mathurin’s hands.

Thanks to Opportunity International’s flexibility and to the persistence of Dieula’s case manager, Manno, Mathurin did get the care he needed. His doctor decided against an operation. He was able to manipulate the leg by strapping Mathurin in place as he pulled and twisted.

As bad as that all might sound, the results have been encouraging. Mathurin now walks pain-free. He’s not ready to walk very far or to work the leg hard, but he’s happy with the progress he’s made. “I can walk again.” He is afraid to go back into the lumber business, but he already has another idea. Once he is strong enough for longer hikes, he plans to return to the market, this time as a livestock merchant.

He and Dieula are targeting purchase of a horse as their next goal. It will help Dieula get her merchandise to market and help Mathurin get around.

Right After Graduation

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.

Memène: More than Six Years after Graduation

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.