Rosemirline is just 18. She and her toddler live with her in-laws, the boy’s father’s parents, in Wòch Pab. Her sister-in-law, Rosemitha, a sixteen-year-old who also has a child, lives in the home too. Both Rosemirline and Rosemitha are program members. The heads of the household are not.
Rosemirline’s partner is a mason, but work for masons, especially young masons, can be hard to find in the best of times in Haiti, and these have not been the best of times. So he went to the Dominican Republic to seek farm work. He has been sending money to Rosemirline and their boy, but he cannot do so regularly. “He works way out in the countryside. He can’t always find someone to bring what he wants to send.” She thinks he’ll return soon, at least for a visit, because she needs his help to build their new home. They plan to put it on a small plot next to the house she is in right now. Her new latrine is already in place there.
With an infant in her hands, Rosemirline didn’t initially see how to start a commerce, so she asked the program just to give her goats. Her case manager Titon was able to buy three for her. Unfortunately two of them died shortly after she got them.
When livestock dies shortly after transfer, the team generally tries to replace it on the assumption that it may not have been as healthy as it appeared at purchase. Asset replacement has not yet started for the HTF cohort, however, and we do not yet know exactly what Rosemirline will receive to replace her goats. She and Titon will begin discussing it when he knows how much money is available for all the replacements needed.
In the meantime, Rosemirline would like to start a small commerce. It will be difficult for her to do so because she has no one to watch her boy, Jeanlixon. He is not yet two. What’s more difficult: Rosemitha counts on her to watch her boy, Odeson, too. He too is under two years old. Rosemitha found work as a maid in downtown Laskawobas.
If Rosemirline does start a business, it will have to be out of her home. She would like to sell rice, sugar, flour, oil: groceries in general. She thinks that she’d have customers. Her home is a little out of the way, but not too far. She knows such businesses are challenging. Neighbors will try to buy on credit, and it can be hard to get them to pay. But Rosemirline thinks she can manage.
She would be ready to start right now, but she doesn’t have the money. “Recently, things have been bad.” Ever since her weekly stipend ended, she’s been short on cash. She has had trouble making the weekly deposits she is supposed to make in her savings and loan association.
She could borrow it from the association anyway. She’s saved more than enough to qualify for a small loan, but she took out a first loan of almost 10,000 gourds to help her partner go to the DR. He sent the money for the first reimbursement, but she cannot borrow again until she has repaid the entire loan.
Edner Louis is a single father. He lives with his four children in a beat-up shack in Pouli. It is a single room, about ten feet by five or six, with walls of rotting palm wood planks and, in places where the palm wood has rotted away entirely, sheets of tach, the large, fibrous seedpods of palm trees which serve as a poor-quality but flexible building material for the poorest of Haiti’s rural poor.
They have only been living there a couple of months. Remarkably, their previous home was, in some ways, worse. Edner and his family joined the CLM program in 2022. He and his partner Merline were living with four children in an ajoupa in Pouli, an agricultural area just southeast of downtown Laskawobas.
Ajoupa are tent-like structures, shaped like prisms, with a central beam usually held up by posts that angle up to them, forming a triangle with the ground. In the Central Plateau, they are generally covered with tach. They tend towards the ramshackle, but that wouldn’t generally matter very much because they are usually just temporary dwellings. A farmer will throw one up in a field they are working in if the field is inconveniently far from home. It gives them a place to stay when there are large tasks to accomplish in the field.
But especially poor families can find themselves making an ajoupa a permanent home, and that is what happened to Edner and Merline. They had no place of their own, but Edner worked as a field hand for a wealthier neighbor. He watched some of the man’s animals, and he did chores in the man’s fields. The neighbor allowed the family to live in his garden shed. “It wasn’t a good house, but it was what we had,” Edner explains.
Edner tried to start small businesses several times while he lived in the ajoupa. He would sell kerosene or rum and cigarettes or gasoline. But Merline couldn’t stay at home all the time, and neither could he. If the kids wandered off while their parents were out and about, his merchandise would disappear. Their ajoupa had no secure door and no place to hide anything.
And that wasn’t all they would lose.
The tach covering their home couldn’t stand up to serious rain. The whole family would be drenched by each downpour, as would all that they had. The couple owned a bed, but rains gradually rotted out the wood. They had important papers, like birth certificates, but no place dry to store them. Edner lost his certificate to rain, but he also lost the one for one of his kids. The other were reduced to barely-legible pieces.
One day, for reasons he still cannot explain, he saw that his home’s owner was starting to hire other men to do the work Edner would normally do. The man never said anything to Edner, but Edner knew that he needed to look for another place to live.
Edner talked with a friend he often worked fields with, and the friend was willing to have Edner and his family move into the shack that sits on his land. At the time, the CLM team was in the process of distributing the materials that members would need to install a latrine, which included four sheets of roofing tin. Edner borrowed the roofing intended for his latrine to cover his new house. Now at least some of it is rain-proof.
This is where Edner’s story gets complicated. Around this time, Merline started working as a maid. It gave her a small, steady income, and soon she had left her family and moved in with another man. Shortly after that, she disappeared. We do not know why. Rumors say that she moved to the Dominican Republic, but Edner and the children have had no word of her. Without steady work from his landlord he can count on, Edner has been hustling, getting day-labor in local fields to keep the children fed and in school. He and the kids take good care of their goats, but they still have just the two that the program gave them.
He would like to open a small commerce. He has experience. And normally he would be able to take a small loan from the couple’s savings and loan association to get started. But Merline took out a loan before she left him, and she moved away without paying it back. Unless he can pay it back, he won’t be able to get a loan himself. So for the time being, he is reduced to farm labor. Fortunately, there is a lot of work available this time of year.
And he has begun to talk with his friend about the land the shack is on. The man is willing to lease it for three years initially. That’s enough time to make it worth Ender’s while to build his CLM-supported house in the space. They have agreed to postpone talk of Edner’s eventually buying the parcel, but the friend has said he might eventually be open to that, too.
Johanne and her husband were Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Their three boys were living there with them.
She didn’t have the documents to give her legal status. The family had ongoing expenses, and she could not find work to help cover them. So the couple decided that she would return with the boys to Savanèt, where she was born and raised. Her husband stayed in the DR. He helped her rent a room for 7,500 gourds, about $50, per year. But she says that he soon found another women back where he lives, and has shown no further interest in her or their children.
When her rent was about to come due, the owner decided to double it to 15,000. There was no way for her to pay. She had just moved back to the region, and owned almost nothing. Her only source of income was occasionally doing laundry for neighbors. She looked around, and eventually found a room she could rent for just 4,000, though it is only for six months. She moved in with the boys and her mother, who helps manage the house.
She asked the CLM program for goats and small commerce. She knew she needed to create regular income to feed her boys because she has no land to farm. So, she asked for just one goat, which left her 8,000 gourds to invest in merchandise.
She and her boys take good care of the goat, and it has already had its first kid. When she began to think about investing in commerce, however, she hesitated. She realized that 8,000 gourds was more than she knew what to do with. She didn’t want to waste it. So she took 5,000, put it together with a pay out from her savings club, and bought a second goat. If she keeps succeeding with the goats, she would like to buy a cow.
She then took 3,000 and invested it in detergent and laundry soap. That sold well, but when the price of detergent rose, she switched to school supplies. She makes weekly contributions to a savings and loan association, and used a first loan from the association of 5,000 gourds to add some cosmetics to her business. “Hair jell sells the best.” When she finishes repaying that loan, she’ll take another. She would like to add detergent, laundry soap, and basic groceries to the business next.
With her rent due in the next couple of months, she is anxious to get into her own home. At first she thought it would be impossible. She owns no land. But that is where Webert is helping out.
He is a local carpenter and a preacher at her church. He also serves as a volunteer on the committee that the CLM team organized of local leaders willing to give the program and its members their support. Webert offered to sell Johanne a small plot of land for 75,000 gourds. That would be impossible for her except that Webert is willing to let her take possession of the land and build her house on it without any downpayment whatsoever. He discussed the decision with his wife, who agrees with it, but they have had to ask Johanne and her case manager not to let anyone else know. They’ve told people in their community that Johanne has paid some of the money already.
Johanne will be able to invest earnings from goats and from her growing business into the land. It will come slowly, because she also has to take care of her boys. But Webert and his wife are willing to wait.
I spoke to Roseline Jean a little over a month ago. (See: here.) She was struggling. Her children’s father passed away, and her new partner is off working in the Dominican Republic. He accepts her three children, but she isn’t sure how motivated he is to really help them. A sick baby led to expenses and to days of missed work that only made things harder, and one of the two goats that she received fro the program died shortly after she received it.
She has made good progress in the short time since we spoke. Her focus now is on her commerce. She still sells fried snacks in front of her home in the afternoons. It’s a small, but steady income. She was previously buying produce by the sack as a second activity and selling it in smaller quantities, but she gave that up because prices became too unpredictable. And, especially as main harvest season passed, it was hard to count on profit.
So she tried something else. For many Haitian families, Sunday dinner is something special. It is the one day of the week on which even poorer families try to eat meat. She buys chicken meat in Laskawobas every Saturday and delivers it to her clients late in the afternoon so that they can prepare it for their Sunday meal. She sells on credit, and goes around to collect on the following Saturday morning, before she goes to buy again. Clients appreciate the service, and the business is growing. It provides a nice additional lap of income each week.
There is, of course, risk involved in selling for credit. Clients might not pay. But unlike a lot of CLM members, Roseline is comfortably literate, and she keeps careful track of what folks owe her in a notebook.
She tracks the debts in dollars because, like many Haitians, she thinks of money in terms of Haitian dollars, not gourds. A Haitian dollar is five gourds. It is a holdover from the Duvalier dictatorship, under which the gourd’s value was fixed at five to the dollar. She has a similar list for her snack business, and says that she hasn’t had trouble collecting what she is owed so far.
Though forage for her surviving goat has been in short supply since the weather has turned drier, she and her children have been fighting to keep it healthy by bringing food to it. “We collect leaves from the trees around here and bring it to our yard. We make sure that it has a lot to eat.”
The goat is pregnant, and means a lot to Roseline. She says that eventually she’d like to buy more of them. “Raising goats can leading you to raising a cow, and raising a cow can enable you to buy land.”
Katiana Joseph lives in the same small neighborhood. She seems much younger than Roseline. She and her partner, Raulner, live with their child in his mother’s house.That house is home to quite a crowd. About ten in all are cramped into the small space.
Raulner is the home’s main earner. He works as a taxi driver, with a motorcycle that he rents from an older brother. Between what he earns and the contributions that other household members make, the family usually has something to eat.
Katiana received two goats, and one is pregnant. They are healthy and growing. She is hopeful. She would like to start a small commerce, but she isn’t really sure how she should go about it. She will need a lot of help from her case manager to establish the direction she was to take.
She is happy, however, that her family now has a latrine. “Everyone has to have a latrine. If you don’t have one, everyone can see you.” Raulner worked hard so that the family would be able to use what the CLM program was offering. Raulner himself dug the pit. He then had to carry all the cement and other materials they would need. They live some ways off the main road.
They haven’t been able to enclose the latrine yet. For now they are using sheets, but they are hoping to buy and prepare palm wood planks to wall it in.
Rosemène Elsaint lives in Gwayal, one of the small neighborhoods in Pouli, a broad area of southeastern Laskowobas. She has seven children, and about four years ago they returned to her mother’s house. Her husband had died, and she did not know what else to do.
Her family had been living in Delma, the populous residential town immediately north of Pòtoprens. Her husband worked construction, sometimes as a mason and sometimes as a supervisor. She managed a small grocery business, though she would also go to the countryside to purchase loads of produce at harvest and bring them to Pòtoprens for sale. The family was living reasonably well. Her commerce was reliable, but any time she needed extra cash, she could count on her husband to add to what she had.
After her husband passed away, her business had to bear the burden of all her household expenses, and it quickly evaporated. Back at her mother’s home, she joined a traditional Haitian savings club, called a “sòl.” Its members would make weekly contributions, and each week one member would receive the whole pot. Her friends saw her problems, and they helped her by letting her take the pot first each time through the cycle. Her sòl was thus an interest-free loan. She came to depend on the money to keep a small business afloat. She’s buy produce from farmers, and sell it in retail-sized lots. “I walk around the neighborhood selling, carrying my merchandise in a basket, and I’d sell in the market two days a week.” It helped her keep her seven children fed. By this time, her mother too was more of a dependent than a source of additional support.
She chose to invest the resources that CLM provided in goats and chickens, and her case manager bought her two goats. The chickens she purchased with the rest of the money died. The larger of the two goats is now pregnant.
The program also established a savings and loan association for her and other members, and she’s making good use of it. She no longer depends on the kindness of the fellow members of her sòl. She runs her business with money she borrows from the association. Her first loan was for 4500 gourds, a little less than $35 at the current exchange rate. She paid it back easily and took a second for 12,000. “When I have more money, I can buy more merchandise and make more money.”
She doesn’t feel as though she’s made real progress yet. Her business is more or less what it was when she used the sòl. “At least I have some goats now.”
But she has a plan. She wants to return to being a Madan Sara. That is what Haitians call the merchants who buy commodities wholesale in the countryside and ship them for sale to the cities. She thinks she’ll need about 30,000 gourds to start.
Jocelyne Michel lives in Montas. She lived in a house on her father’s land, but couldn’t get on with her sister-in-law. She chose to rent a plot for her home down the road. “I get along with my family, but it was much too hard when we lived right next to each other.” She’s been renting the same spot for six years for 5000 gourds a year. She and her children’s father separated long ago. “He wasn’t any help. He would waste any money I managed to save. He lives with another woman now.”
She would support her kids with a business that changed depending on the season. During harvest, she would buy produce from the farms along the mountainside just south of her neighborhood, and bring it to market for sale. When there was no produce to be found, she’d buy flour, oil, and seasonings, and make fried dough to sell by the side of the road.
But with all five children depending entirely on her, and school fees increasing over the years, her business was dwindling. By the time the CLM selection team came through her neighborhood, she had just enough capital left to buy a mamit or two of flour at a time — that’s a standard Haitian dry measure, about the size of a coffee-can — just enough to make a day or so or snacks. “I couldn’t save anything anymore, and it was hard to pay for school.” She was buying for 500 gourds at a time, so she only made about 200 gourds each time.
Like Rosemène, she’s made good use of her savings and loan association since she joined the program. She used a first loan of 5000 gourds to reestablish her snack business on better grounds. She was able to buy an entire sack of flour, which meant that she had less frequent need to travel downtown to buy. Travel costs are very high in Haiti right now, so saving multiple trips makes a big difference. She paid back that first loan and had enough left over to buy a small pig, even though the business was also funding household expenses.
She immediately took out a second loan, this one for 10,000 gourds. But she knew that she could not just keep growing her snack business, so she added a second business. She bought eight sacks of charcoal for cooking and sold them at considerable profit. “When I was with my husband, it was hard to lay my hands on just 100 gourds because he wasted it all. Now I’m getting ready to borrow 15,000.” She plans, for now, just to keep growing her charcoal business.
She likes her association. “It helps us save.” She’s not sure yet what she’ll do with her savings after the association’s year-long cycle is over, but she’ll have that money, and may have goats she can sell, so she’ll need a good investment plan.
Roseline Jean was born and raised in Gwayal. She and her husband had three children, but the man died in 2018, while she was pregnant with their third. After he died, she supported herself and her kids with small commerce. She counted on neighbors to lend her the couple of thousand gourds she’d need to buy produce, which she brought to market and sold in small piles. She made her purchases directly from farmers on Tuesdays and Fridays, and she brought her merchandise to market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
She was able to keep her children fed most of the time. She could even send them to school thanks to a school director who allowed her to pay their tuition a little at a time. Before her husband passed away, he helped out by farming. When he died, she lost that source of income and had to sell the couple’s land to pay for his funeral. Even then, she still had debt, which she paid by taking work as a maid.
She had to move in with a second partner just to get herself and her children out of the street, but this second man works in the Dominican Republic, so she doesn’t see him much and he doesn’t help very much either. “He took me with my children, but I don’t have a child with him yet, so he isn’t very motivated.”
She chose to receive goats from her case manager, and though one of them died, the other is now pregnant. She is taking care of herself and her kids with a business she established with money she borrowed from her savings and loan association. She borrowed 5000 gourds, and now sells fried snacks. She made the first repayment, but has two more to go.
She is struggling. Her baby caught typhoid, and it both cost her some money but also kept her from working for a few days.
She is not sure yet how she will grow her business if this first one continues to succeed. But she hopes to use her business and her livestock to eventually buy a cow because a cow is the first step towards buying a pice of land. She would like to have her own land again.
Mariane is a single mother of two boys who lives well off the main road that leads north from Gwomòn. Neither of the boys’ fathers help her with them. “I have to be everything,” she says.
When she joined the CLM program, she was supporting them with an interesting job. A wealthier neighbor had a severely handicapped teenager. The young man had been living in Pòtoprens, but his parents had trouble getting him the constant, comprehensive care he needed. He could not move on his own or even speak. So they moved him back to the countryside, and looked for a full-time caretaker. Mariane got the job. She would get to the young man’s home early every morning, get him up, bathe him, feed him, and care for him through the day. In the evening, she went back to her two little boys.
She had to give up her small commerce to take that job because it took up all her time. “I thought getting money every month would be better for me.” But the salary was small, just 4000 gourds per month. That’s less than $40. She struggled to pay her children’s school fees. And she had very little time to spend with them.
Things began to change when she joined the CLM program. She chose to receive capital for small commerce and goats, and has made progress with both. Her case manager bought two goats for her, and with the two kids they’ve had so far, that would have brought her to four. But she has come much farther than that. Profit from her business has enabled her to buy three more, some of which have also had young, so she now owns 11. She also purchased a small pig.
Her business is straightforward. The market in downtown Gwomòn is very active. There are three main market days each week. Mariane buys a large jug of cooking oil early in the morning on each of the days. She separates it into small soft-drink bottles, and walks around town, selling the small bottles of oil out of a tub that she carries on her head. The regular price for bottle of oil is 250 gourds, but she sells them for 225. She could sell for the higher price, but wouldn’t sell them as quickly. “I sell out at a single market, and make 500 gourds each day. At 250 gourds, it might take me two or even three markets to finish selling.”
She has clear plans. She expects to continue to manage her household with her commerce. Meanwhile, she’ll use her livestock to make other investments. She hopes to sell some goats soon to buy a cow. She hopes to raise the cow so that she’ll eventually be able to buy land. She is okay where she is right now. With the program’s help, she built a small new house for herself and her boys on her mother’s land. But she would like to buy land herself. “It is better when you have your own.”
Louirana lives in Zarat, close to the main road out of Gwomòn. She has two girls, and the girl’s father lives nearby, but they cannot count on him. “He found another woman.”
When the man was still with her, the family was making progress. Louirana had begun work on a house, buying materials with profit from her own business and her partner’s contributions. But by the time she joined CLM, work on her house hadn’t been progressing for a long time. She was struggling to support herself and her girls with a small commerce, selling used clothing, but had very little capital to work with, just a few hundred gourd she made now and again by selling one of the chickens she kept in her yard, all descendants of a hen a friend had given her.
The program gave her two goats, and she now has three. One of the two had a healthy kid. The other had twins, but they did not survive. She is also keeping a goat for a neighbor. When it has kids, she’ll be entitled to one as payment. She does not, however, have big plans for her animals. She seems to think of them as savings. She can sell one if she has a sudden need for money or to send her girls to school.
Her main focus, however, is her commerce. If you ask many CLM members what their commerce is, they won’t be able to tell you. They’ll say that they go to the market with their capital looking for something that they think they can sell, and then they buy it. They don’t have a fixed business.
But like Mariane, Louirana is different. She has found a very specific niche. She buys used sheets and blankets from used clothing merchants and sells them individually. She says that if she’s careful she can buy them for 500 gourds each and sell them for as much as 1000. It depends on her eye for the product and her knowledge of the market. She says that her business would have grown already if not for the money she’s had to take out of it to complete work on her home.
She credits her older sister for teaching her how to run a business. “Our mother died when I was young. I moved in with my sister, and she would take me to the market with her when I wasn’t in school.” She did not get very far in school, but learned a lot about buying and selling. And she is passing on her sister’s gift to her. Whenever her older daughter Loudjina, who’s ten, is out of school, she gives her some money to buy cookies and crackers, which Loudjina sells to children in the neighborhood. Louirana smiles as she explains that Loudjina doesn’t like sitting around. When asked to explain why she likes commerce, the girl’s answer is simple. “I like to make money.”
Rose Martha is from Mache Kana, the area around what is, perhaps, Mibalè’s most important rural market. She and her mother were living with her grandmother. But the older woman died, and Rose Martha’s mother eventually hooked up with a man from the hills above Kaledan, in Savanèt commune. She moved there with Rose Martha, who lived on the side of the hill with her mother and stepfather until she found her partner, Examé, who was living in along the main road that traverses Savanèt east to west.
The couple’s life together started well. Examé was willing to work hard. Savanèt is on the Dominican border, and he’d cross over frequently, staying for weeks at a time, to earn what he could to support their family. Rose Marthe would buy produce in the hills above their home — plantains, sour oranges, or passion fruit — and sell it in Mibalè. She had 6,000 gourds or more in her business, back when that was more than enough for an activity like hers. They eventually had five children, and though they had to choose the least-expensive of the nearby schools, they were able to send them as they grew old enough to go. They had begun work on a four-room home.
Things changed when Examé grew sick. The couple spent what they had, seeking help from traditional practitioners, to save his life. He stopped going to the DR to earn, and Rose Martha burned through the money in her small commerce. By the time the CLM team passed through her neighborhood, it had been more than three years since she had had a business of her own. She, Examé, and the children were sharing a flimsy shack, getting by by raising their own crops and working their neighbors’ land. The foundation they had traced for a new home sat empty, with weeds growing in its wall-less, roof-less rooms.
Rose Martha chose goats and small commerce as the assets she’d receive from the CLM program. She hasn’t yet receive the goats, but her small commerce is off to a good start. She decided to go straight back into the business she knows well, buying produce for sale in Mibalè. She has already increased her capital from 5,000 gourds to 6,000, even though she has to spend some of her profits to manage her household and even though she’s been saving 250 gourds every week in her savings and loan association.
She is excited about membership in her association. It will help her save the money she needs to add to the livestock that the CLM program gives her even as it gives her access to small loans that will help her send her children to school in September and finish work on the home that she and Examé hope to build.
The support that the program provides to help her build a new home is especially important to her. “The five kids are stuck now in one small room.” But they are growing, and she wants them to have some space.
Lanise lives with her three children in one room of her parents’ house, just a few feet from Rose Martha’s home. Her younger sister lives in another room with her children, and a cousin lives in a third room. The parents themselves live in the fourth.
Her children’s father, Molière, is from the hill above Kaledan, but when the couple’s first child was born, he decided to move down the hill to be closer to Lanise. Since they do not yet have their own home, Molière lives with his sister, whose home is close by.
Like Rose Martha’s partner, Molière would travel now and again to the DR for farm work, and like Rose Martha Lanise would manage household expenses with a small commerce. But she had much less to work with than Rose Martha. She depended on a nice neighbor, who’d lend her 1,000 gourds at a time so she could buy bread and peanuts to make peanut butter, which she would sell as a snack in front of the local school.
Both she and Molière have been willing to work hard. “The kids didn’t ask to be born. You have to feed them and send them to school.” But with very limited resources, it has been hard to get anywhere. She still owes 3,000 gourds of the 7,000 she’s being charged to send her two older kids to school.
Her biggest hope for the CLM program is to get herself and Molière into a new house, and the couple has been working hard. They have been using savings from their weekly stipend and anything they can take from the income they earn to begin assembling the construction materials they’ll need. The program’s contribution is limited. But Lanise is willing to set a conservative goal for the time being in order to make it easier to achieve. The couple plans just a single room, which Lanise thinks will require 15 support posts and planks cut from four palm trees for the walls. They’ve already purchased eleven of the posts and two of the palm trees. They are anxious to move into their own place. “When you’re in your own home, you can get up when you want.”
Lanise chose goats and a pig as her two types of assets, but she changed her mind when she saw that there weren’t a lot of good pigs on the market. It was getting near planting season, so she took the money and bought beans, which she and Molière planted on his family’s land. The rains have been enough to give her hope, and she expects a harvest in July. Income from the harvest should be more than enough to help the couple finish their new home and pay the balance of her children’s school fees.
Eltha lives in Beke, a hillside neighborhood south of the main road that follows the Artibonit River through Verèt Commune, in central Haiti. She lives with her three children. The children’s father left her five years ago, though their youngest child is still just three. “I have to be mother and father to my kids.”
When Eltha first saw the CLM team walking around her neighborhood towards the end of 2020, she didn really give it a thought. “Other people have come through asking questions. They take your information, some even ask for your ID, but nothing ever comes of it. I went along with it anyway because they didn’t ask for my ID, so I had nothing to lose.”
She joined the program just over a year ago. At the time, she was really struggling. She and her kids lived in a room in her mother’s house. They had no place of their own. She supported her children by selling mabi, an herbal drink popular in Haiti. It was a good business for her in a sense, because it requires only a minimal investment — just a couple of dollars — which is all she had, and it earns small but reliable income. She could spend three days each week at the large markets in Ponsonde and Lestè, leaving the children with her mother and sister, and she managed to get by. “My children ate, but not the way they should have been eating.”
Joining the program, she took advantage of the flexibility it now offers members as to their choice of the businesses that want us to provide. She chose to receive only goats. In the past she would have been required to choose a mix of two different businesses. By choosing just goats, she was able to get three despite the increased price of them. Those three are now eight, even though she lost one to disease.
And she has plans for them. “If you take care of them, they can lead to bigger things, like a cow or even land. I built my new house on my mother’s land, but I’d like to have my own.
She and her case manager were comfortable with her taking only goats because she already had a plan for her small commerce. She was part of a sòl, a traditional Haitian savings club, with several of her fellow CLM members. When her turn came to receive the sòl‘s entire 1200-gourd pot, she invested it all in commerce.
But she saw that there was no point in putting all that money into mabi. It isn’t a business that can absorb much investment, at least not the way she knew how to manage it. So she took her money to the market to see what she could find. She decided to invest in over-the-counter medications. She would become a traveling pill merchant. She began with a small bucket, mostly containing generic pain killers, like ibuprofen and the like, and the business has steadily grown, from her small bucket to a washtub full of products that she carries around on her head. And she’s been able to make it grow it even while using it to support her family, to invest in building her new house and latrine, and buying a small pig as an additional investment.
She explains her success simply, and does so in a manner that shine a light on her further ambition. “If you are down in a hole and someone extend a pole to you, you need to use the pole to pull yourself out. CLM offered me the pole, so I have to pull myself out of the hole I was in. Someday I want to be able to offer a pole to someone else in that same hole.”
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.
Laumène is a mother of seven children with five different men. She lives in Dipwi, in northern Gwomòn, with the father of her two youngest children, their two kids, and two of the man’s children from a previous relationship. His young teenage daughter, Laurène’s stepdaughter, is now also Laurène’s makomè, the godmother to Laurène’s one-week-old baby.
Laurène is from Dipwi, but seventeen years ago she was living in Pòtoprens, supporting herself through small commerce. She sold used clothing and cosmetics. Then she became pregnant with her oldest child, and she moved back to Dipwi. The child’s father wanted her to move to his family’s home in Plezans to have the child, but she was unwilling. The five children who do not live with her are all living either with their father or their father’s family. She keeps track of them, and thinks they are all well.
She alternated through the years. When she had young children to manage, she sought help from a series of partners. As they grew, and she could leave them with other children, or on their own, she would try earning money herself. The father of her fourth and fifth children, who also lives in Dipwi, used to help her with her kids. He wasn’t willing to pay for school for the ones that weren’t his, but he gave her his harvest to sell, and he bought their own children what they needed.
That was, however, some time ago. She hasn’t had her own business in some time. She can’t right now, while she’s nursing her infant, but she plans to return to small commerce in about five months. “As soon as I can leave the baby with his godmother.” The young girl smiles when she hears Laumène mention her future responsibilities.
Laurène chose goats and a sheep as her two enterprises, and she’s excited to have them. “I have my little brother and my uncle. They can help me take care of them.”
She knows what she wants to do with them. Her objective is clear. “I own my house, but I don’t own the land it’s on. If the animals produce young, I want to use them to buy a small piece of land to build on.”
She explains her situation. The house stands on land that her grandparents left to her mother and her aunt. A couple of years ago, the aunt told her that the side of the plot that Laurène had built on belongs to her. Laurène had no idea. She didn’t think the grandparents had parceled-out the land specifically that way.
The aunt hasn’t been pushy about it, but she’s made it clear that she’d like Laurène to put her house elsewhere. Though Laurène knows that neither the aunt, who lives in Pòtoprens, nor her cousins, who are generally well-off, particularly need the land, the situation has become uncomfortable for her, and Laurène would like to move on.
In the meantime, she is managing things, even in her current state, so that her family keeps moving forward. Last time her case manager saw her, just a day before she had her child, he gave her a week to finally get her latrine enclosed. She agreed that she’d speak with her father and her brother. Here is the note the case manager left in her information book:
When he arrived today, it was walled-in with new roofing tin. Quite an accomplishment for someone the week she gives birth.