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Laurène: Almost Six Months

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:

“You should speak with your father and your brother about enclosing your latrine so you can use it, because you will need it.”

When he arrived today, it was walled-in with new roofing tin. Quite an accomplishment for someone the week she gives birth.

Yvette: About One Year In

Yvette lives with her partner Edson and their boy just behind and beneath the main church in Ramye, which sits on top of a hill. Since she joined the CLM program, she has started to construct a vision. She has been able to carry out needed repairs on her home, and she plans to buy a cow by the end of the year, when her VSLA’s first one-year cycle ends.

She chose goats and poultry as her enterprises. The goats have made some small progress. She received two from Fonkoze. They are healthy and growing, but have not yet reproduced. She thinks they might finally be pregnant. She bought a young buck recently to add to her collection.

Her poultry has been less successful. She received three turkeys, but one died and one disappeared. It is hard to know what happened to the one that disappeared, but turkeys are subject to death and theft.

She says that would like to start a small commerce, but she doesn’t see how she can. She has nothing to invest, she explains.

This is where things get curious. She has been able to make the maximum weekly contribution to her VSLA every week because her partner is happy to give her the cash. He gives her all the cash she uses for household expenses, and he bought the materials for their home repair. He is showing himself to be a willing partner. He works sometimes fishing, sometimes felling trees and cutting them into planks. But when her case manager Dieunel asks Yvette whether she could ask Edson for money to invest in small commerce, she hesitates.

This is a very common way for a woman to start a business in rural Haiti. A man gets paid for a farming job or some other kind of labor, and he gives some of the money to his partner so she can start commerce. It helps his family a lot. He may continue to be the principal earner, but if his money continues to come in occasional lump sums, having a partner with even a small daily trickle of income can make a big difference.

So one would imagine that he’d be happy to support her initiative. There are men who are afraid of the measure of independence that a woman with her own income has. And there are women who are afraid that, if they start to earn an income, their partner will stop helping them out. Yvette knows her partner better than we do and she knows herself, too, but it all seems like something that would be worth looking into.

So Dieunel will need to talk more with her about the possibility. This could involve conversations over a couple of weeks’ of visits. Depending on what she tells him, he may want to talk with Edson, too, or with both together. Ultimately, any decision stands to affect both of them and their boy.

Enel: Another Six Months In

Enel is now nearly twelve months into the CLM program. We wrote of him here, about six months ago. He is a single father, a widower left with two small boys. His wife was selected for the program, but she passed away a few months after the couple joined it.

At the time, he was thinking that the best option for him would be to find work with his brothers-in-law in Pòtoprens. They work in construction. He had a couple of young men living in his house with him and the boys, and they said they would take care of his livestock while he was gone. He knew he could leave the boys with his mother.

But when he finally got to Pòtoprens, the work had been completed. There was no job for him. And when he got back to Ramye, he found the livestock in a bad state. The guys had not taken care of the animals as they said they would. He doesn’t really blame them. Living under his roof, they expected he would do more to keep them fed, and he just wasn’t able to. So they were much more focussed on looking for odd jobs than on helping him.

Because of the CLM program, there was a fair amount of construction going on in his neighborhood, and though Enel couldn’t get a job as a builder, he found that he could get hired to turn palm trees into the planks that local residents use to wall-in their homes. The job typically pays 1750 gourds for a tree, and though he didn’t get a lot of those jobs, he got some. “I would save 250 gourds each week in my [Village Savings and Loan Association], and if I had been paid for a tree, I’d take 500, and leave 250 in the VSLA’s box to add to savings the next week.” But as local CLM-funded construction nears completion, those jobs are drying up, and so Enel needs to make his next plan.

He’s done reasonably well, but not spectacularly well, with his livestock. Fonkoze gave him two goats, and he now has five. One of the two had a pair of kids, and he bought an additional adult female himself. The other of the two he initially received is now healthy after Enel spent a couple of months nursing it back to health after it injured its foot. Finally healthy, it might now, he believes, be pregnant. His sow is healthy and nearly ready to give birth its first litter.

A successful litter of piglets would be a huge victory. The area is in the midst of an epidemic of pig disease, so much so that many CLM members who wanted pigs decided against risking one after all. Managing his so that it remains healthy has involved careful attentiveness and a large amount of luck. If he is able to raising a litter, even just until the piglets are weaned, it will me a large infusion of cash into his household.

Purchasing the extra goat took smarts. He had received cement from the program to build up a small protective barrier around the base of his home’s walls, but it was too little to do the job. Rather than waste it with a useless half-measure or let it harden in the sack while he saved up to buy the rest of what he’d need, he sold it and used the proceeds to buy the goat.

The useless trip into Pòtoprens convinced him that he is better off, at least at present, creating an activity near where he lives. But it isn’t a simple matter. The natural thing would be for him to start up a small commerce, but that usually takes capital, and he doesn’t feel as though he has any right now, especially as he faces the expense of getting his older boy off to school for the coming year. He could sell livestock and invest the proceeds, but it is a very unfavorable moment to sell. With the start of the school year, the markets are full of livestock being sold to pay school fees and associated expenses, so the prices are especially low.

He knows the business that appeals to him. He’d like to buy and sell livestock. If he turns out to be a good negotiator and knows his livestock well, he can buy and sell several times with the same money every time he goes to the market. In addition, he’s proven by his care for the sick goat he owns that he knows how to nurse a goat to health. He could make money buying goats that are in poor condition, taking care of them for a few weeks or for as long as it takes, and reselling them when they have regained value.

The one source of capital potentially available to him is his VSLA. He could either take out a loan at one of its upcoming weekly meetings or wait until December, when its one-year cycle will end, and he’ll get his annual pay-out. He has been scrupulous about saving the maximum amount, 250 gourds, every week, even when it has meant asking around for charity, so he will have between 13,000 and 15,000 gourds, depending on the amount of interest the group generates. If he waits, he will be able to get started without a loan, but he’ll be entering the market at the time of year when livestock is most expensive. And he’s sick of his lack of a reliable income, tired of asking his sisters for help, and unhappy with the days he wastes doing nothing.

Still, it is a difficult choice, one he wants to discuss further with his case manager.

Elismène: After Six Months

Elismène lives in Ramye, a secluded corner of Laskawobas. Getting into the neighborhood is harder or easier, depending on the season. During the rainy season inlets of the nearby Artibonit River flood and the area is served by canoe ferries. During the dry season, however, the inlets shrink and one hikes through the gardens of beans, tobacco, vegetables, and rice planted throughout. There is only a small channel to ford.

She had eight children, but only four survived to adulthood. All are off on their own now, but she and her husband Michel have two of her grandchildren living with them. They live in a isolated, dilapidated shack in the back corner Ramye. The children’s parents send them to school, but Elismène and Michel are otherwise responsible for them.

The couple did various kinds of work to support themselves and the kids. Elismène would find small jobs to do for neighbors. Charcoal makers would have her help collect and bag their charcoal. During peanut harvest, she’d shell the nuts. Michel worked hard, too. He’d farm or he would make charcoal for her to sell in downtown Laskawobas. Now and again, one or the other would work a day in a neighbor’s field. Both the work and the income were irregular. There were days when she wouldn’t even start a fire. On better days, the morning might begin with no more than a small saucepan of tea. But they are both getting older and they cannot work as hard as they once did.

Elismène chose goats and a pig as her two enterprises. Both activities are doing okay so far, even though it has been a hard few months for both types of livestock in Ramye.

The dry season has left little greenery in the area for goats to graze on. Many of her fellow CLM members have seen their goats lose litters because of lack of feed. Elismène received two adult females and one already had an unweaned kid following behind it. So that when one of her nanny-goats died, she still had two females. Now the remaining adult has had its first kid, and the younger one is nearly mature.

Disease has taken a toll on pigs in the neighborhood, both those belonging to CLM members and those of their neighbors, but Elismène’s sow is healthy and growing. It’s still too young too mate, but Elismène and Michel are watching it carefully for the first signs.

She has plans for further progress. She and Michel squeeze something out of whatever they can bring in each week to contribute to her savings and loan association. “When I have money from charcoal, if I spend 60 gourds, I save 40.”

She hopes to have enough so that, by the end of the association’s year-long cycle, she’ll have enough saved that she will be able to take the money, add to it by selling a few goats, and buy a cow. The interest she expresses in a cow is different from the explanation one often hears from younger women. “I want a cow because my husband helped me a lot when I was raising my kids, but just one of them is his. If he dies, a cow will help me pay for his funeral.”

But she worries about making progress, too, because she worries about the jealousy it can lead to. “When folks see you have two or three animals, they try to kill them. My husband doesn’t really sleep anymore. He spends the night lying in the house, listening to make sure the goats are okay.”

Mimose: After Twelve Months

Mimose and her husband Dieulifaite live in Gad Mamon with their six young children. Manno, their CLM case manager, has been working with them closely for a year. I have written about the family before. (See: here.)

All CLM families are living with ultra-poverty when they enter the program, and Mimose and her family were especially poor. They lacked the assets they would need to earn income. They had no livestock of their own, for example. Most importantly, they were feeling pressure to leave land they had no claim to. Having been tolerated as squatters for a time by the land’s owner, he had decided make them leave. Manno’s first job was to help them lease the land so they would know where they stood. He negotiated a five-year lease at a very low price, and they were able to pay thanks to help from a visitor who met them.

Mimose has seen some success. The two goats that CLM gave her are now six, and two of the six are pregnant. She could have eight or even ten within weeks. Though her first pig died shortly after she received it, the program was able to help her replace it by helping her collect the money she was owed by those who bought the meat and then providing enough additional funds to make the purchase. That new sow is now pregnant, which could mean a windfall soon. She started raising guinea fowl, and now has eight of them. They sell well, especially around Easter.

So Mimose has started to accumulate a modicum of wealth. She’s worked hard to do so. Manno, however, has been continually frustrated by his sense that Dieukifaite wasn’t pulling his weight, that Mimose was doing all the work. So he finally had a serious conversation with the man. On one hand, he let Dieukifaite understand his sense that the man was simply letting his wife do everything. He does not help much with either farming or animal care. On the other, he made sure to leave an opening, asking Dieukifaite questions about ways in which he’s earned money in the past.

And Dieukifaite started talking proudly about his trade. He used to make pots, he explained. Pots of various sizes, but with one standard shape, are produced in Haiti out of cast aluminum. Small roadside shops use intense charcoal fires to melt old car or motorcycle parts. Pieces from the motor itself are especially sought after. The molten metal is then poured into molds made of tightly-packed soil.

Manno asked him why he wasn’t making pots. Mimose would be excited to sell them for him. Dieukifaite explained that he didn’t have the money he’d need to get started, and a short conversation led Manno to reach in his own pocket and pull out 1000 gourds, just under $15. Dieukifaite had established a workshop within a week.

But the family still has a long way to go. Their new house is far from finished, they haven’t yet assembled the lumber they will need. And though the kids were in school before the new year, they haven’t returned since the end of vacation. And Mimose recently went to see a doctor about persistent heartburn, but came back discouraged when she didn’t have the money to pay for the medication he prescribed.

The thing is that she does have that money. Or at least she could have it. She’d just have to sell a chicken or one of her guinea hens. She could afford to send the kids to school as well. That would probably take a goat. But that’s why she’s raising livestock. So she can use the livestock as a resource to improve her life. She takes good care of her animals, but she doesn’t yet see what they can do, what they already should be doing, for her. She still thinks of herself as a desperately poor woman with no means at all.

Manno will have a lot of work to do to help her see herself in a new way. The first step is a plan to help her meet with the principal of her children’s school. Manno is convinced that the principal will be willing to agree to a payment plan that Mimose is capable of respecting.

Manno also wants to encourage her to show more grit as she struggles to learn to write her name. She’s not been been inclined to really try. She hasn’t even be willing to keep her notebook orderly and clean. Manno risks speaking more forcefully than he might otherwise want to speak with an adult, letting Mimose that he will be unhappy with her if she doesn’t do her homework by his next visit. There’s a carrot, too. He promises her older two children a reward if they make sure to help her.

He invests the energy into what might seem trivial because he wants Mimose to see her own success. The prouder she can be of her own accomplishments, the more capable she’ll feel of reaching further goals.

Mimose — Seven Months into CLM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Urban Jeremi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie and her son, Tcheve.

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

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

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

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

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

Emania Sidues — After Four Months

Emania’s first four months in the CLM program have been eventful, almost disastrous.

One day in late February, her baby was sick and she arranged through the CLM nurse, Lavila, to take him to the hospital in Gwomòn, just down the road from where they live. Partners in Health does not have a facility in the area, and the local hospital charges fees for most services. Fonkoze will cover those fees if Lavila informs the hospital that the member’s visit is covered. The hospital then bills Fonkoze. The baby saw a doctor, received medication, and Emania took him home.

That evening, her mother was preparing a meal by the light of a kerosene lamp, and the baby fell backward into the lamp. He was badly burned. Emania rushed him to the hospital. The hospital staff then called Lavila, to confirm payment for services. Once Lavila confirmed payment, staff at the hospital could get to work, but they quickly saw that the case was beyond them anyway, so they referred the child to the larger hospital in Gonayiv, the much bigger city down the road.

But in Gonayiv, doctors had to say that they didn’t have the facilities to treat a serious burn either, so they put the baby and his mother in an ambulance and sent them to the Partners in Health hospital in Mibalè, a good three hours or more away. Even Mibalè, however, lacks a burn center, so after offering a little basic first aide staff there put the pair in another ambulance. This time they were sent to the Doctors without Borders burn center in Port au Prince.

Emania and the boy spent more than a month at the facility. He received a couple of skin grafts. But he also needed blood. With Emania’s most likely donors, her family, a long way off in Gwomòn, CLM staff travelled to the hospital from Mibalè to donate. The boy is now at home and recovering well.

And despite the interruption in her work, Emania is moving forward. She completed construction of her latrine and the repair of her home. This latter task was made easier by the fact that she merely fixed up her mother’s home, which was severely damaged in the earthquake of 2018. The two single women live together. “The walls had holes so big that you could have walked by and stolen one of the kids right through them.”

Her biggest challenge right now is building an income. She asked the program for two goats and a sheep, and has received the goats. But none of that livestock will bring in regular income anytime soon. And things are only going to get harder for her and her mom. Her sister recently moved into to a room in the house with her kids after splitting up with the children’s father. It isn’t yet clear to the CLM team what resources that other sister brings to the household, or whether she brings any.

And Emania presents challenges to her case manager, Pétion, and to the CLM team as well. He and the team did nothing for her that they would not have done for any CLM member. But Emania appears to believe that she is able to get special treatment by pursuing help vigorously. Pétion’s heard other CLM members say that she told them that they can get what they want from Pétion if they “fè l cho.” That means “if they make him hot,” which is a way of saying, “by nagging.” Emania is apparently telling CLM members to nag Pétion to get what they want.

The attitude is positive in the sense that it shows she credits herself for the help that she’s getting. We want CLM members to see themselves as agents. But it is hard to Pétion to find out that a member looks at him that way. Though perhaps he can take comfort in the attitude displayed by the members who told him what Emania has said.

Marie Joseph — Just Getting Started

Marie is a 35-year-old mother of two girls, age 18 and 16. They live in Tyera Miskadi with Marie’s husband, Honora, and the older daughter’s baby boy, who was abandoned by his father before he was born.

A cohort that included families from Tyera graduated in August of last year. And in a simpler world Marie and her family would have been part of that cohort. The CLM team’s plan, after all, is to pass from one community to another, always identifying everyone in the community who belongs in the program.

The reality, however, is more complex. Fonkoze depends on grant money to implement CLM, and grants always come with a number of families attached to them. We might receive funds to serve 50, 200, or even a thousand families at a time. But once we’ve selected the number we have funds for, we have to stop. Even if we are in the middle of a community. Tyera was the last community we entered during the prior cohort’s selection process, and we hit our limit before we completed work there. So Marie, her family, and other families as well were out of luck.

Neither Marie nor Honora are from the area. Marie is from Tomasik. She moved to Tyera with her mother when the older woman came to care for a grown daughter, Marie’s sister, who was sick. “My mother brought me along, and we just stayed.” Honora is from Senmichèl, a large town northwest of the Central Plateau. “He’s a field worker. He came to work in someone’s field, and he saw me.”

They have a house on a piece of land that they don’t own. “We stayed with various people for a while, but when you’re staying with people, now and again they make you feel ashamed. So someone said we could build our house on this piece of land.” The family doesn’t, however, live in the house any more. Its roof has deteriorated so badly that even the mildest rain gets through. So they took a single room in a nearby house. Its roof isn’t great either, but they are partly protected from at least the lighter rains.

Before they joined the CLM program, the couple really struggled to feed themselves and their kids. Honora earned all of their income. At first, he just did field work. Then he got a job substituting for the man who is supposed sweep the yard of the local school every day. That job would have paid very little, even in principle. But the school’s principal hasn’t been around for months, so Honora hasn’t been getting paid at all. He also takes care of someone’s cow, and the cow’s owner helps him occasionally. “When he sees we are going through a bad moment, he sometimes gives us something.”

The couple also takes care of three goats for their owners, who live in the Dominican Republic, and that should be a source of capital. Normally, the person caring for a female goat will be paid in offspring. But everything the couple has made through this arrangement has disappeared. “Some of the kids died, and some had to be sold to take care of our daughter.”

Their younger girl has a badly swollen foot, and it has been that way for years. Though they have taken her to see doctors, and spent a lot of money in the process, they’ve never found a solution.

Marie already sees possibilities in the program she’s entered. “I really liked the training. We learned a lot about keeping things clean. My daughters are still pretty lax, but I am keeping after them, and it’s starting to work.” She refused to spend the transportation stipend that the program provides during the initial training. Six days brought in 450 gourds — a little less than $5 — and she used the money to buy a pair of ducks. She thinks the female is ready to start laying eggs.

She chose goats and a pig as the enterprises for the program to transfer to her. She knows that small commerce could help her in ways that the livestock cannot. Only small commerce has a chance of providing steady income. But she doesn’t think that small commerce is possible right now. “There is no commerce these days.” She feels as though the local economy has slowed down so much in the last year or so that she’d have no way to make money.

Her ambition for her time in the program is straightforward. “I’d like to live differently.” But her explanation is unusual. Normally, new members talk of becoming wealthier, about acquiring things that they don’t have. Marie says nothing of the kind. “I want to apply what they said in the training and keep me and my daughters from being careless.”

Sophonie Duclaire — Almost Ready to Graduate

Sophonie Duclaire lives with her husband and three of their five children near the little market at the Palmis Tanpe intersection, where merchants sell seasonal fruit and charcoal to motorists passing along the national highway through Savanèt Kabral, in Tomond. Her two oldest kids were taken by members of her family when they reached secondary school and Sophonie could no longer afford school fees. The more advanced classes are more expensive, and Sophonie couldn’t hope to pay.

Sophonie had been sick, and she and her husband had sold everything to try to get her well again. When CLM staff members first met her, she was sitting in the yard in front of her shack, across from a pile of the filthy clothes and bedsheets that she had used during a short hospital stay. She couldn’t lay her hands on the ten gourds she needed to buy laundry soap to wash them. That’s less than 15 cents. And she had nothing to eat in the house. She couldn’t take her medications without food.

When she joined the program, she and her husband had nothing except a small garden on family land, but they supported the family as best they could. He would help out in neighbors’ fields whenever he could find the work. He’d get 100 gourds per day, just over a dollar right now. Sophonie did laundry for neighbors. They wouldn’t pay her, but they would give her food that she could take home to her family. “Back then, you wouldn’t have accepted a drink of water from me.” It is her way of saying that she was so downtrodden that nobody would have wanted to associate with her at all. “I was living in such a broken-down shack. I had to bend over to walk in, and everything we had was drenched by every rain. And we were, too.”

The couple continued to make an effort to keep the younger children in school, but just this year they were running out of ways to pay. Sophonie became part of a CLM savings club when she joined the program, but she had to receive her payout out of turn. The principal had already sent her children home because she hadn’t paid any of the tuition. She used her second turn at the savings-club pot to buy the lumber she needed for her home. “I’m not living under water anymore.”

She chose two goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she and her husband have been taking great care of them. The pig is growing and pregnant.

But the progress she’s made with her goats is remarkable. Her collection has gone from two to ten in just over a year. The original two both provided kids, so that brought her to four. But a couple of different neighbors offered her the chance to buy mature nanny-goats. That really showed how her life was changing. “Before, no one would have offered me the chance to buy a goat. They wouldn’t have thought of me.” Before long, each of those nannies had delivered a pair of kids.

She made the purchases by borrowing money from her Village Savings and Loan Association. She and her fellow members gather every week, and at each meeting every member buys from one to five shares. The association makes interest-bearing loans to its members out of the funds it collects, so the shares’ value grows.

Sophonie has quickly learned to use her association’s loans well. After paying back the money she used to buy the goats, she took another loan and used it to buy wood to make charcoal. She’s been selling 4-5 bags a week at the little market in nearby. At current prices, that’s almost 3000 gourds. She hasn’t yet been able to set enough aside to run her business without loans, but she’s made a lot of progress nonetheless.

She’s saving up as much of the profit as she can, though, because she has a plan. She’d like to use it along with money from the sale of a goat or two to buy a cow. “Things can happen — like a death in the family — that just a goat can’t help you with. When the CLM program leave us, I don’t want to be forced backward.”