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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’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 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 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.”
Dieumercie lives in Palmarik, a small neighborhood within Kay Epen, a minor population center in a remote corner of southern Tomond. She’s lived in the area all her life, and now shares a home with her partner and their five children.
When she joined the CLM program, she had nothing. She describes regular seizures she suffered over the course of years and how she spent all her money on doctors and traditional practitioners, looking for a solution. She supported her children with the little bit of farming she could manage. Her husband was never much help. “Msye a mòl.” That means that the guy is lazy. She even left him for a time, returning to her mother’s home in frustration. But they have five children, so it’s hard to stay away for good.
When she joined the program, she chose two goats and a pig. But further conversation with her case manager, Ricot, led her to change her decision. At the time, disease was killing of many of the pigs in her neighborhood, and she didn’t want to acquire one just to watch it die. So she asked Ricot to buy a third goat instead. They agreed that when the epidemic had passed she would sell one of the goats to buy a pig.
But once she has resources in her hands, Dieumercie is good at managing them. Using savings from her weekly stipend, she bought a small pig without having to sell a goat. Meanwhile, the goats gave her two kids.
She took good care of her pig, but even so it began to show signs of sickness. So she sold it and a goat and used the money to buy a cow still in its mother’s womb. This way of buying a cow entails some risk, but it is much less expensive than buying a calf would be. When a healthy bull was born shortly after her purchase, Dieumercie knew that the risk had been worth it.
And she managed to save up to buy the pig even while she was contributing to her savings club, or sòl, every week. When her turn came, it paid out 2100 gourds, which she used to buy trees to make charcoal. She began a cycle of buying wood and selling charcoal that quickly increased the value of her investment. Before long, she sold out the business and bought a second unborn calf. When its mother gave birth, she had a small heifer to go with her bull. “It used to be that I couldn’t have gotten even a small loan if I needed one. Now plenty of people are ready to lend me money. They see I can pay it back.”
Though her status in the community has changed, however, and she has begun to accumulate valuable assets, other parts of her life are still a struggle. Her very status can worry her. Her calves aren’t ready to be weaned yet, but when they are she’ll have to figure out how to take care of them. She’s afraid to keep them in her neighborhood. “There’s a lot of jealousy. People hate to see you get ahead.”
She still depends largely on her farming to feed her children. The obvious alternative would be to get into small commerce. Her experience with charcoal at least suggests that she’d be good at it. But she’s hesitant. “It’s hard to maintain small commerce because the children require so many little expenses.” And school expenses are increasing. Not only do the prices rise every year, but each new, higher class is more expensive than the previous one. Her costs would thus be increasing even without inflation. “I’ll just have to keep seeing how I can handle it.”
And she’s not sure she wants to stay with her husband, who still isn’t helping out. She used the resources CLM provided to repair her mother’s house. That’s where she was staying at the time the repairs we made. And she made sure to turn the two-room house into a three-room one, so she would always have a place there. Her oldest boy is 15, and he is starting to understand the situation between his parents well. “He says he’ll support me whatever I decide.”
Despite her struggles, Dieumercie is now confident. “I’ve learned that I can take care of my children as long as I can stay healthy.”
The CLM members from Lawa have now been in the program for nine months. Each has made some progress since she started, but all still have major problems to overcome.
Itala and her daughter Italène, who is also a CLM member, are working hard to build their new homes. They have completed installation of their latrine already, and they are very happy about it.
Itala’s roof and frame are up, and the builder is working on the walls, which will be woven out of sticks. She made it slightly larger than the program intended. “I have to have someplace to put visitors if people come to see me.” The program provide 22 sheets of roofing tin, and Itala bought six additional ones to cover the larger house.
The extra sheets cost her 2100 gourds, or about $23, and she explained where she got the money. “My son had a small goat he earned by taking care of a grown nanny-goat for a neighbor. I borrowed it from him.” She sold her son’s goat for 2250 gourds, which was just about enough to pay for the tin and transport it as close to her home as possible. She isn’t yet sure how she will repay her boy, but she very much thinks of the transaction as a loan from the boy to her. “The boy is my child. Everything I have is his.”
Her own goats are making progress. The two that the CLM program gave her are now five. The two mothers are healthy, and the three kids are, too. She knows what she’d like to do with them. If the kids survive, she plans to sell her two young males to buy a donkey. Such a purchase could change her life, since it would enable her to get the mangoes and avocados that grow on her land to the market for sale. “Right now they rot on the ground because I can’t get them to Gwomòn.”
She thinks that her ewe might be pregnant, but she isn’t sure. She was glad to get training on the care of sheep at the last refresher training. This initial training hadn’t included sheep because the program wasn’t then used to providing them. But the training helped her recognize when her ewe was in heat. She also learned, however, that it can be hard to tell whether a sheep is pregnant. So she’s just watching. At the very least, it seems healthy.
She has sent three children to school this year. They started in January, when the school opened after a couple of months of socio-political unrest. She hasn’t been able to pay their fees yet, however, so she’s counting for now on the principal’s patience. The school costs 250 per session per child, plus a 50-gourd registration fee and a 100-gourd entry fee. So, she owes 1200 gourds right now and will owe another 1500 by the end of the year. She’s not sure yet where that money will come from. Right now, all the household’s income still depends on the money her husband makes helping people mill their sugarcane. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, the work is irregular and both poorly and irregularly paid. Second, he has a second family to support, so Itana can’t count on even the little that he earns. What he brings in is just enough to allow her to make minimal weekly investments of 50 – 100 in her Village Savings and Loan Association.
She knows that the best solution for her is to establish her own business, and her focus on acquiring a donkey as a first larger investment shows that it is in her plans. But she is afraid to start right now. And that brings us back to her new house and a problem she’s facing.
The CLM program encourages members to recruit the builders who will work on their house. The program then is supposed to meet with the builder, negotiate a fee, sign a contract, and pay the builder. But Itana dealt with the builder by herself, and owes, as a result, 10,000 gourds, which is much more than she can think of paying right now. She and her case manager will need to figure this out. If she really has to pay all that money, especially if she has to pay it soon, it will make it hard for her to invest in other important areas of her life.
Jeanna and Nelso are also working hard on their new home. They have an advantage over Itana, because Nelso himself knew how to set up the frame and put on the roof, so the couple can receive the small stipend that the program provides to the home builders it works with. That will help because, like Itana, they decided to make their home larger than what the program foresees. Their house will eventually need 36 sheets, so they’ll have to buy 14 themselves. They’ve purchased 11 so far.
It is understandable for a couple with seven children that they’d like a little extra space, but it creates challenges. They are struggling to manage the housing-related expenses. They’ve paid 4000 gourds for the planks they need, 3850 for roofing tin with three sheets left to buy at 350 gourds each, and 3000 gourds for the support posts that hold up the roof. That’s 11,900 gourds, or about $128, which is a lot of money for them. And they’ll have additional expenses when the are ready to have the doors made and installed.
They’ve covered most of the expenses so far from two sources. They managed to sell ten coffee cans full of pwa kongo, or pigeon peas, from last year’s crop for 2000 gourds. They also got lucky. Nelso won 5000 gourds in a lottery. But that still leaves a pretty substantial balance.
For now, Nelso continues to be the source of all their income. Jeanna is an experienced business woman at a very small scale, but she still nursing their baby, and they want it to get bigger before she goes back to earning money outside the home. Making enough to feed them both and their seven children is a lot to ask, and they sent their two oldest children back to school in January, which is another big and important expense. But the couple is managing for the moment. They have some yams in their garden, and though they need to reserve some for the land’s owner, they’ve been depending on them a lot lately.
One of their goats had two kids, and though they lost one, the other seems to be doing well. The other goat lost its litter. “It was pregnant when I got it, but it was so small. It was all I could do to get it home. It miscarried after that.” It is, however, doing well now. Jeanna crossed her sheep with a male on December 8th. She remembers the day and is counting the roughly five months until the ewe should produce a lamb.
When Clotude joined the program, the supervisor in Gwomòn, Gissaint César, put her mentally on his “lis wouj,” his red list. That means that he thought of her as someone who might need extra attention to succeed. She seem to have so little, and as a widow she would not have anyone around to help her. Things are, however, turning out differently than he expected.
Part of her progress has to do with assets that we were not aware of when she joined the program. We knew that her main source of income — even of sustenance — was her own farming. But her garden had more to it than we were aware of. She is currently cutting a crop of sugarcane, a valuable cash crop. She doesn’t know how much it will bring it, but her last harvest, almost two years ago, was worth 10,000 gourds. She also harvested crops of mangoes and avocados, enough each time that it was worthwhile to a merchant to buy them from her and bring them to market. And each of those two sales was enough to allow her to buy a pig. She now owns two small ones, a male and a female. She used a harvest of pigeon peas to buy two goats to add to the ones CLM gave her, but both those goats died.
At the same time, she is not saving in her Savings and Loan Association because she says she doesn’t always have the 50 she needs each week to buy a share. So the state of her finances is a little bit mysterious. Her case manager will need to clarify things with her to make sure he is giving her all the help she could use.
Like both Jeanna and Itana, she is working hard on finishing her home. Hers, too, is larger than the 22 sheets of roofing that the program provides would permit. It needed 30 sheets. Its roof is up, and now it’s time to build up the walls. Unlike the other two women, she’s decided to have hers built with rocks and clay, rather than wood. “I don’t have anyone to help me buy the wood.” Rocks she can collect a few at a time from the ravine below her home. Still, she will have to figure out the building costs. “The frame and the roof cost 7500 gourds. I don’t know what the walls will cost.” Like Itana, she made an agreement with her builder by herself, and that will end up being expensive if her case manager can’t help her.
Ezione François lives in Bwa Kabrit, a small rural neighborhood just outside of downtown Laskawobas. When she joined the CLM program in 2016, things were really hard. “I didn’t even have a chicken. I had to depend on what my husband’s family occasionally sent to pay for the children’ school.”
It hadn’t always been that way for her. Early in her marriage, she and her husband were doing well. He’s a professional baker. He worked for a bakery owner six days a week. On Sundays, the owner allowed him to use the bakery to make his own bread, which Ezione would come sell. Roving bread merchants would take a supply fresh out of the oven early Sunday morning on credit, and they’d come back to pay for the bread in the afternoon. Ezione and her family were making progress.
Then her husband left her and their children to take up with another woman. He would occasionally send Ezione small sums to support the kids, but they didn’t amount to much. She depended on them entirely, however, and on sporadic gifts from others until she was hired to manage meals for her local branch of a network of community organizations. She had been a faithful member of her organization for years, and as its leadership saw her struggle, they decided to do what they could. She made 1000 gourds per month – about $20 at the time – and was allowed to take extra food home to her children.
The job enabled her to take care of her children until she had to give it up to take another. She had a dream in which she was confronted by a crowd of young children. When she told her pastor about it, he explained that he had been thinking of establish a community school in her neighborhood. She took the dream as a sign that she should be working for the school. So she started as a recruiter for the school before it opened, going around the neighborhood to get parents to sign their children up. Once the school opened, she became a teacher’s aide in the preschool. That became a long-term commitment, and she was working in the school when the CLM program selected families in her area. The problem was that the school couldn’t pay because parents didn’t pay fees. Ezione continued to work because she felt committed to the children, but it only made it harder to make ends meet.
By that time, her husband had returned to her. But he and his other woman had, Ezione says, “wasted everything they had.” Her husband had gone back to making bread, but he could no longer get a regular job at a bakery, much less his own day to work the equipment. Ezione began selling bread when she could, paying the bakery at the end of the day as her customers had paid her.
When she joined, she chose two goats and a pig as her enterprises, and she was able to make some progress with each. Her pig eventually had two litters. The first she sold to buy a cow, and though she lost most of the second litter to disease, she used proceeds from the sale of the two survivors to pay her children’s school expenses. Her goats never took off, but she has been able to sell one now and again for school expenses.
She used savings from her cash stipend, however, to add to her small commerce. She began to sell sugar together with the bread. It doesn’t bring in much, but it enables her to buy shares in her Village Savings and Loan Associations every week.
The VSLA that CLM established is into its fourth year, and she liked the activity so much that she established a second one at her church. “I like the way the VSLA brings us together every week. If neighbors have problems with one another, we can help them work them out. We pool what we have, and we work together.” The VSLAs like her, too. She was just elected as its new president.
Ezione has plans for the future. She used proceeds from the sale of her cow to send her husband to Chile. He hasn’t been sending back much so far, but she says it’s because he only recently got working papers. She’s ready to take a loan from her VSLA to start a small business selling coffee and hot chocolate in addition to her bread and sugar. And she already knows how she wants to spend her money the next time the VSLA’s cycle ends. She’s planning to invest in a pig.
When you ask her what she values about her experience in CLM, her response is quick and clear. “I liked all the training. You learn so much you didn’t know.”