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Moving Forward After Four Months in Laskawobas

Rosemène Elsaint lives in Gwayal, one of the small neighborhoods in Pouli, a broad area of southeastern Laskowobas. She has seven children, and about four years ago they returned to her mother’s house. Her husband had died, and she did not know what else to do.

Her family had been living in Delma, the populous residential town immediately north of Pòtoprens. Her husband worked construction, sometimes as a mason and sometimes as a supervisor. She managed a small grocery business, though she would also go to the countryside to purchase loads of produce at harvest and bring them to Pòtoprens for sale. The family was living reasonably well. Her commerce was reliable, but any time she needed extra cash, she could count on her husband to add to what she had.

After her husband passed away, her business had to bear the burden of all her household expenses, and it quickly evaporated. Back at her mother’s home, she joined a traditional Haitian savings club, called a “sòl.” Its members would make weekly contributions, and each week one member would receive the whole pot. Her friends saw her problems, and they helped her by letting her take the pot first each time through the cycle. Her sòl was thus an interest-free loan. She came to depend on the money to keep a small business afloat. She’s buy produce from farmers, and sell it in retail-sized lots. “I walk around the neighborhood selling, carrying my merchandise in a basket, and I’d sell in the market two days a week.” It helped her keep her seven children fed. By this time, her mother too was more of a dependent than a source of additional support.

She chose to invest the resources that CLM provided in goats and chickens, and her case manager bought her two goats. The chickens she purchased with the rest of the money died. The larger of the two goats is now pregnant.

The program also established a savings and loan association for her and other members, and she’s making good use of it. She no longer depends on the kindness of the fellow members of her sòl. She runs her business with money she borrows from the association. Her first loan was for 4500 gourds, a little less than $35 at the current exchange rate. She paid it back easily and took a second for 12,000. “When I have more money, I can buy more merchandise and make more money.”

She doesn’t feel as though she’s made real progress yet. Her business is more or less what it was when she used the sòl. “At least I have some goats now.”

But she has a plan. She wants to return to being a Madan Sara. That is what Haitians call the merchants who buy commodities wholesale in the countryside and ship them for sale to the cities. She thinks she’ll need about 30,000 gourds to start.

Jocelyne Michel lives in Montas. She lived in a house on her father’s land, but couldn’t get on with her sister-in-law. She chose to rent a plot for her home down the road. “I get along with my family, but it was much too hard when we lived right next to each other.” She’s been renting the same spot for six years for 5000 gourds a year. She and her children’s father separated long ago. “He wasn’t any help. He would waste any money I managed to save. He lives with another woman now.”

She would support her kids with a business that changed depending on the season. During harvest, she would buy produce from the farms along the mountainside just south of her neighborhood, and bring it to market for sale. When there was no produce to be found, she’d buy flour, oil, and seasonings, and make fried dough to sell by the side of the road.

But with all five children depending entirely on her, and school fees increasing over the years, her business was dwindling. By the time the CLM selection team came through her neighborhood, she had just enough capital left to buy a mamit or two of flour at a time — that’s a standard Haitian dry measure, about the size of a coffee-can — just enough to make a day or so or snacks. “I couldn’t save anything anymore, and it was hard to pay for school.” She was buying for 500 gourds at a time, so she only made about 200 gourds each time.

Like Rosemène, she’s made good use of her savings and loan association since she joined the program. She used a first loan of 5000 gourds to reestablish her snack business on better grounds. She was able to buy an entire sack of flour, which meant that she had less frequent need to travel downtown to buy. Travel costs are very high in Haiti right now, so saving multiple trips makes a big difference. She paid back that first loan and had enough left over to buy a small pig, even though the business was also funding household expenses.

She immediately took out a second loan, this one for 10,000 gourds. But she knew that she could not just keep growing her snack business, so she added a second business. She bought eight sacks of charcoal for cooking and sold them at considerable profit. “When I was with my husband, it was hard to lay my hands on just 100 gourds because he wasted it all. Now I’m getting ready to borrow 15,000.” She plans, for now, just to keep growing her charcoal business.

She likes her association. “It helps us save.” She’s not sure yet what she’ll do with her savings after the association’s year-long cycle is over, but she’ll have that money, and may have goats she can sell, so she’ll need a good investment plan.

Roseline Jean was born and raised in Gwayal. She and her husband had three children, but the man died in 2018, while she was pregnant with their third. After he died, she supported herself and her kids with small commerce. She counted on neighbors to lend her the couple of thousand gourds she’d need to buy produce, which she brought to market and sold in small piles. She made her purchases directly from farmers on Tuesdays and Fridays, and she brought her merchandise to market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

She was able to keep her children fed most of the time. She could even send them to school thanks to a school director who allowed her to pay their tuition a little at a time. Before her husband passed away, he helped out by farming. When he died, she lost that source of income and had to sell the couple’s land to pay for his funeral. Even then, she still had debt, which she paid by taking work as a maid.

She had to move in with a second partner just to get herself and her children out of the street, but this second man works in the Dominican Republic, so she doesn’t see him much and he doesn’t help very much either. “He took me with my children, but I don’t have a child with him yet, so he isn’t very motivated.”

She chose to receive goats from her case manager, and though one of them died, the other is now pregnant. She is taking care of herself and her kids with a business she established with money she borrowed from her savings and loan association. She borrowed 5000 gourds, and now sells fried snacks. She made the first repayment, but has two more to go.

She is struggling. Her baby caught typhoid, and it both cost her some money but also kept her from working for a few days.

She is not sure yet how she will grow her business if this first one continues to succeed. But she hopes to use her business and her livestock to eventually buy a cow because a cow is the first step towards buying a pice of land. She would like to have her own land again.

Approaching 15 Months

Mariane is a single mother of two boys who lives well off the main road that leads north from Gwomòn. Neither of the boys’ fathers help her with them. “I have to be everything,” she says.

When she joined the CLM program, she was supporting them with an interesting job. A wealthier neighbor had a severely handicapped teenager. The young man had been living in Pòtoprens, but his parents had trouble getting him the constant, comprehensive care he needed. He could not move on his own or even speak. So they moved him back to the countryside, and looked for a full-time caretaker. Mariane got the job. She would get to the young man’s home early every morning, get him up, bathe him, feed him, and care for him through the day. In the evening, she went back to her two little boys.

She had to give up her small commerce to take that job because it took up all her time. “I thought getting money every month would be better for me.” But the salary was small, just 4000 gourds per month. That’s less than $40. She struggled to pay her children’s school fees. And she had very little time to spend with them.

Things began to change when she joined the CLM program. She chose to receive capital for small commerce and goats, and has made progress with both. Her case manager bought two goats for her, and with the two kids they’ve had so far, that would have brought her to four. But she has come much farther than that. Profit from her business has enabled her to buy three more, some of which have also had young, so she now owns 11. She also purchased a small pig.

Her business is straightforward. The market in downtown Gwomòn is very active. There are three main market days each week. Mariane buys a large jug of cooking oil early in the morning on each of the days. She separates it into small soft-drink bottles, and walks around town, selling the small bottles of oil out of a tub that she carries on her head. The regular price for bottle of oil is 250 gourds, but she sells them for 225. She could sell for the higher price, but wouldn’t sell them as quickly. “I sell out at a single market, and make 500 gourds each day. At 250 gourds, it might take me two or even three markets to finish selling.”

She has clear plans. She expects to continue to manage her household with her commerce. Meanwhile, she’ll use her livestock to make other investments. She hopes to sell some goats soon to buy a cow. She hopes to raise the cow so that she’ll eventually be able to buy land. She is okay where she is right now. With the program’s help, she built a small new house for herself and her boys on her mother’s land. But she would like to buy land herself. “It is better when you have your own.”

Louirana lives in Zarat, close to the main road out of Gwomòn. She has two girls, and the girl’s father lives nearby, but they cannot count on him. “He found another woman.”

When the man was still with her, the family was making progress. Louirana had begun work on a house, buying materials with profit from her own business and her partner’s contributions. But by the time she joined CLM, work on her house hadn’t been progressing for a long time. She was struggling to support herself and her girls with a small commerce, selling used clothing, but had very little capital to work with, just a few hundred gourd she made now and again by selling one of the chickens she kept in her yard, all descendants of a hen a friend had given her.

The program gave her two goats, and she now has three. One of the two had a healthy kid. The other had twins, but they did not survive. She is also keeping a goat for a neighbor. When it has kids, she’ll be entitled to one as payment. She does not, however, have big plans for her animals. She seems to think of them as savings. She can sell one if she has a sudden need for money or to send her girls to school.

Her main focus, however, is her commerce. If you ask many CLM members what their commerce is, they won’t be able to tell you. They’ll say that they go to the market with their capital looking for something that they think they can sell, and then they buy it. They don’t have a fixed business.

But like Mariane, Louirana is different. She has found a very specific niche. She buys used sheets and blankets from used clothing merchants and sells them individually. She says that if she’s careful she can buy them for 500 gourds each and sell them for as much as 1000. It depends on her eye for the product and her knowledge of the market. She says that her business would have grown already if not for the money she’s had to take out of it to complete work on her home.

She credits her older sister for teaching her how to run a business. “Our mother died when I was young. I moved in with my sister, and she would take me to the market with her when I wasn’t in school.” She did not get very far in school, but learned a lot about buying and selling. And she is passing on her sister’s gift to her. Whenever her older daughter Loudjina, who’s ten, is out of school, she gives her some money to buy cookies and crackers, which Loudjina sells to children in the neighborhood. Louirana smiles as she explains that Loudjina doesn’t like sitting around. When asked to explain why she likes commerce, the girl’s answer is simple. “I like to make money.”

After Four Months in Kaledan

Rose Martha is from Mache Kana, the area around what is, perhaps, Mibalè’s most important rural market. She and her mother were living with her grandmother. But the older woman died, and Rose Martha’s mother eventually hooked up with a man from the hills above Kaledan, in Savanèt commune. She moved there with Rose Martha, who lived on the side of the hill with her mother and stepfather until she found her partner, Examé, who was living in along the main road that traverses Savanèt east to west.

The couple’s life together started well. Examé was willing to work hard. Savanèt is on the Dominican border, and he’d cross over frequently, staying for weeks at a time, to earn what he could to support their family. Rose Marthe would buy produce in the hills above their home — plantains, sour oranges, or passion fruit — and sell it in Mibalè. She had 6,000 gourds or more in her business, back when that was more than enough for an activity like hers. They eventually had five children, and though they had to choose the least-expensive of the nearby schools, they were able to send them as they grew old enough to go. They had begun work on a four-room home.

Things changed when Examé grew sick. The couple spent what they had, seeking help from traditional practitioners, to save his life. He stopped going to the DR to earn, and Rose Martha burned through the money in her small commerce. By the time the CLM team passed through her neighborhood, it had been more than three years since she had had a business of her own. She, Examé, and the children were sharing a flimsy shack, getting by by raising their own crops and working their neighbors’ land. The foundation they had traced for a new home sat empty, with weeds growing in its wall-less, roof-less rooms.

Rose Martha chose goats and small commerce as the assets she’d receive from the CLM program. She hasn’t yet receive the goats, but her small commerce is off to a good start. She decided to go straight back into the business she knows well, buying produce for sale in Mibalè. She has already increased her capital from 5,000 gourds to 6,000, even though she has to spend some of her profits to manage her household and even though she’s been saving 250 gourds every week in her savings and loan association.

She is excited about membership in her association. It will help her save the money she needs to add to the livestock that the CLM program gives her even as it gives her access to small loans that will help her send her children to school in September and finish work on the home that she and Examé hope to build.

The support that the program provides to help her build a new home is especially important to her. “The five kids are stuck now in one small room.” But they are growing, and she wants them to have some space.

Rose Martha chats with her case manager, Islande

Lanise lives with her three children in one room of her parents’ house, just a few feet from Rose Martha’s home. Her younger sister lives in another room with her children, and a cousin lives in a third room. The parents themselves live in the fourth.

Her children’s father, Molière, is from the hill above Kaledan, but when the couple’s first child was born, he decided to move down the hill to be closer to Lanise. Since they do not yet have their own home, Molière lives with his sister, whose home is close by.

Like Rose Martha’s partner, Molière would travel now and again to the DR for farm work, and like Rose Martha Lanise would manage household expenses with a small commerce. But she had much less to work with than Rose Martha. She depended on a nice neighbor, who’d lend her 1,000 gourds at a time so she could buy bread and peanuts to make peanut butter, which she would sell as a snack in front of the local school.

Both she and Molière have been willing to work hard. “The kids didn’t ask to be born. You have to feed them and send them to school.” But with very limited resources, it has been hard to get anywhere. She still owes 3,000 gourds of the 7,000 she’s being charged to send her two older kids to school.

Her biggest hope for the CLM program is to get herself and Molière into a new house, and the couple has been working hard. They have been using savings from their weekly stipend and anything they can take from the income they earn to begin assembling the construction materials they’ll need. The program’s contribution is limited. But Lanise is willing to set a conservative goal for the time being in order to make it easier to achieve. The couple plans just a single room, which Lanise thinks will require 15 support posts and planks cut from four palm trees for the walls. They’ve already purchased eleven of the posts and two of the palm trees. They are anxious to move into their own place. “When you’re in your own home, you can get up when you want.”

Lanise chose goats and a pig as her two types of assets, but she changed her mind when she saw that there weren’t a lot of good pigs on the market. It was getting near planting season, so she took the money and bought beans, which she and Molière planted on his family’s land. The rains have been enough to give her hope, and she expects a harvest in July. Income from the harvest should be more than enough to help the couple finish their new home and pay the balance of her children’s school fees.

Eltha Mervil: 13 Months

Eltha lives in Beke, a hillside neighborhood south of the main road that follows the Artibonit River through Verèt Commune, in central Haiti. She lives with her three children. The children’s father left her five years ago, though their youngest child is still just three. “I have to be mother and father to my kids.”

When Eltha first saw the CLM team walking around her neighborhood towards the end of 2020, she didn really give it a thought. “Other people have come through asking questions. They take your information, some even ask for your ID, but nothing ever comes of it. I went along with it anyway because they didn’t ask for my ID, so I had nothing to lose.”

She joined the program just over a year ago. At the time, she was really struggling. She and her kids lived in a room in her mother’s house. They had no place of their own. She supported her children by selling mabi, an herbal drink popular in Haiti. It was a good business for her in a sense, because it requires only a minimal investment — just a couple of dollars — which is all she had, and it earns small but reliable income. She could spend three days each week at the large markets in Ponsonde and Lestè, leaving the children with her mother and sister, and she managed to get by. “My children ate, but not the way they should have been eating.”

Joining the program, she took advantage of the flexibility it now offers members as to their choice of the businesses that want us to provide. She chose to receive only goats. In the past she would have been required to choose a mix of two different businesses. By choosing just goats, she was able to get three despite the increased price of them. Those three are now eight, even though she lost one to disease.

And she has plans for them. “If you take care of them, they can lead to bigger things, like a cow or even land. I built my new house on my mother’s land, but I’d like to have my own.

She and her case manager were comfortable with her taking only goats because she already had a plan for her small commerce. She was part of a sòl, a traditional Haitian savings club, with several of her fellow CLM members. When her turn came to receive the sòl‘s entire 1200-gourd pot, she invested it all in commerce.

But she saw that there was no point in putting all that money into mabi. It isn’t a business that can absorb much investment, at least not the way she knew how to manage it. So she took her money to the market to see what she could find. She decided to invest in over-the-counter medications. She would become a traveling pill merchant. She began with a small bucket, mostly containing generic pain killers, like ibuprofen and the like, and the business has steadily grown, from her small bucket to a washtub full of products that she carries around on her head. And she’s been able to make it grow it even while using it to support her family, to invest in building her new house and latrine, and buying a small pig as an additional investment.

She explains her success simply, and does so in a manner that shine a light on her further ambition. “If you are down in a hole and someone extend a pole to you, you need to use the pole to pull yourself out. CLM offered me the pole, so I have to pull myself out of the hole I was in. Someday I want to be able to offer a pole to someone else in that same hole.”

Dieula and Mathurin: Months After Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.