Cenecia grew up in an extremely poor family in Dubuisson, an area of northeastern Saut d’Eau. Her parents had ten children, but though the family often had to go without, her mother and father kept the family together. “Back in those days, people didn’t send their children away. There weren’t so many orphanages.”
When she first joined the CLM program in 2010, she was living alone in a straw shack with her four youngest children. Her three older kids were living with their father – who is not the younger children’s father – in Port au Prince. She and her kids were struggling. “Things were really bad. We were barely getting by. I’d make some charcoal now and then or go to work for a neighbor.” The father of her younger children was in the Dominican Republic. He had gone looking for work, but he hadn’t been able to send anything back to Cinecia. The children attended school on and off, but Cenecia never knew whether or when she’d be able to pay their tuition. There were days when she didn’t even know what she would give them to eat. She owned no livestock, not even a chicken.
She joined the CLM program, and she got to work. She chose goats and poultry as her enterprises. Her case manager gave her two young female goats and a variety of birds: hens, a rooster, and a couple of turkeys, too. And though most of her poultry died, her goats had offspring.
But her real progress came through small commerce. “I saved up some of the money from my weekly stipend, and my case manager Josiane taught me how I could use it to start a business.” She sold groceries – staples like rice, oil, and the like – from her own home and at the local markets. The commerce worked well, and as she moved through the program, her profits increased steadily.
And she needed the profits, because she had a lot she wanted to accomplish. The shack she was living in had a roof made of tach, the thick, fibrous seedpods that grow on palm trees. It offered no protection from the rain. And the walls were much too shaky to repair. She wouldn’t be able to cover it with a tin roof. She’d have to build something new. That meant finding the support posts and cross beams. CLM doesn’t provide the lumber that home repair requires. And she’d have to do it by herself, without a husband’s help.
When her husband returned from the Dominican Republic, he was surprised to find Cenecia and the children living in a new house with a good tin roof. The CLM program had offered Cenecia fourteen sheets of tin, but that wasn’t enough for the house that she wanted. She used profits from her business to buy 16 additional sheets so that her house could have two rooms. Now she’s glad she went to the extra expense. “My girl sleeps in one room, and my boys in the other. They’re getting older so I don’t want them sleeping in the same room.”
When she was ready to graduate, Cenecia felt as though she was facing a problem. She wanted to add to her business by joining Fonkoze’s credit program, but she was afraid to do so with the business she had. “People were always buying on credit, and they wouldn’t want to pay.” In rural Haiti, sales made in the marketplace are usually made with cash, but the neighbors who come to buy groceries at someone’s home often expect to be able to buy on credit. If Cenecia couldn’t count on collecting what neighbors owed her, it would always be hard to repay her loans. Right before graduation, Josiane had organized a meeting, and she asked whether any of the graduating CLM members owed money to other members of the program. She wanted to settle the debts before she left. The experience marked Cenecia. “When I told her about the women who owed me, they got mad. Even to this day, there’s one who won’t speak to me.”
Cenecia would be joining Fonkoze’s Ti Kredi program, a special credit program featuring very small loans and extra support from specially trained credit agents. She would start with only 1000 gourds, which was worth about $25 at the time and only about a third as much as Fonkoze’s standard first loan. But she didn’t want to risk it with a business in which customers might not pay. So she gave up her grocery business, and moved into the charcoal business instead. At first, she would buy the charcoal by the sack, and then split it into smaller portions that customers would buy for household use. Sometimes she would buy tree branches, and her husband would turn them into charcoal. Instead of selling out of her home, she sold at local markets, where all sales were for cash.
The business took off. She took larger and larger loans as her business grew. Soon she was buying and selling charcoal by the sack. She’d sell several sacks at a time in a single trip to Port au Prince. And she started selling lumber, too. She’d buy trees that she’d have cut into planks for furniture makers or home construction, or she’d buy planks that had already been cut.
As her income grew, her life changed. The two-room house she built while part of the CLM program began to feel too small. So she and her husband added a second building, with three rooms, next door to it. It has the family’s kitchen, a storage room, and a bedroom for the two of them. The children can be noisy. She also rented a room in Port au Prince so she could send her three older boys to trade school there. One’s studying ceramic tiling, another is learning plumbing. Her children were eating better, and there was no problem paying for school any more.
Her last loan was for 50,000 gourds, worth about $1000. She used it to make the first payment on a plot of land that had been planted with sugarcane, the second cane field that she’s purchased with Fonkoze credit. The land will eventually cost 105,000 gourds. She managed the first three repayments on her loan with money from her commerce and other of her own and her husband’s earnings. She’ll make the last two payments with sales of syrup milled from the land’s cane. But she plans to take a much smaller loan when she’s repaid this one. “I don’t yet have a plan for 50,000 gourds. I’ll take 25,000 instead.”
But she also has an ambition that goes beyond taking care of her family. She wants to start speaking to new CLM members when they first enter the program. “When I tell them where I was and where I am now, that will help them have hope for themselves.”