Nolita at Graduation

Nolita Sevil lives along the main road that leads north out of Gwomòn towards Pòdpè. She and her three teenagers share a home that sits on her mother’s land.

She was together with the children’s father for years. He had a job, and she managed a small commerce, and together they took care of their kids. But the man lost his job, and they decided he should go to Pòtoprens to look for work. He was always able to find things to do, but his visits gradually became less frequent and the support he was providing for the couple’s children decreased, too. 

Nolita struggled to provide for the three children on her own, but she became ill. She couldn’t manage her small commerce, and she needed medical care. When she contacted the kids’ father to help her see a doctor, he just told her family that they should take care of her. She was theirs. “That’s when I decided to leave him.”

She eventually got together with another man. He’s a baker, and because the couple had their own oven, they were able to do fairly well. The man was happy to help her send her children to school, and together they were able to keep the family fed. But when the earthquake that hit Gwomòn and much of northwestern Haiti in the fall of 2018 destroyed the oven, they were left to struggle. The capital they had available to buy flour and rent ovens from others started to dwindle. Nolita had already sold her last goat to pay for her kids’ school. The family was often going hungry.

Even so, Nolita almost lost her chance to join CLM when Fonkoze’s team passed through her neighborhood. She told her interviewer that she and her partner had a bread oven, so the interviewer assumed they were too wealthy to qualify. Fortunately for her, neighbors who heard that the team was not considering her for the program asked why. When they heard that it was because of the oven, they informed the team that the oven was unusable. Further follow-up led the team to invite her to join the program, and she did.

She chose goats and a pig as the assets for Fonkoze to give her, and though her pig has still not reproduced, her goats are flourishing. She started with just two, and she now has eight. She has a large yard around her house, and she’s decided to leave it unplanted, letting grasses and weeds grow so that her goats have plenty to eat. She is hoping soon to be able to buy a cow, too, and she could already buy one easily if she was willing to sell several of the goats, but she hasn’t been able to make up her mind to do so just yet. She thinks of them as the key to sending her kids to school.

More important than the livestock, however, is the way that she’s been able to get herself back in business. She started by using the small travel stipend that CLM provides to members when they attend training workshops. That stipend was originally supposed to pay members’ transportation, but few have ever used it that way. Most buy food for their family for the days they are in training, but some, like Nolita, find a way to invest it.

Nolita gave the money to her nephew, who went off to Gonayiv to buy a single gallon of gas. He brought it back to Nolita in Gwomòn. At the time, socio-political upheaval in the country had made the supply of gas irregular. Gas stations would open for a few days, then close for a few. While they were closed, merchants would sell gas out of barrels, gallon-jugs, or even small soft-drink bottles by the side of the road at highly inflated prices. Nolita made enough on her first sale of a gallon to buy two-and-a-half gallons the next time, and the business quickly grew. Soon an original investment of about 200 gourds was worth 4000.

But she didn’t want to stay in the gas business. It depended too much of the ups and downs of the political situation. So, she used the money to set up a small hotdog stand. There’s a club just down the road that is open on the weekends, and the owner is happy to have street merchants outside it catering to his customers. She sells grilled hotdogs with ketchup or mayonnaise for 25 gourds, or about a quarter. She can go through three-four cases on a good night, and can make 300 gourds on a case. It has enabled her to join a sòl, a Haitian savings club, where she deposits 500 gourds per week.

It has also helped her and her partner to get back into baking. She has used earnings from it to pay weekly contributions to a Village Savings and Loan Association, and she’s used credit from the association to invest in flour and the other things that bread-making requires. They still have to rent oven space, but now they can now work with enough flour to make the rental worthwhile.

By the time she had graduated May 20th, she was also on her way to her first loan from SFF, the Fonkoze Foundation’s commercial sister organization. That loan is for 10,000 gourds, and it is enabling her to expand her business even more. Her plan is to take out larger and larger loans. Eventually SFF can provide much larger ones than she could ever get from her association.

And she’ll be able to make good use of the money because repairs to the couple’s oven are almost complete. Baking bread in their own oven will allow them to grow their wealth even more quickly. Eventually, she wants to start travelling back-and-forth to Wanament, in far northeastern Haiti, along the Dominican border. She’ll buy flour wholesale there, for herself and to sell to other bakers, and she’ll also look for other merchandise she can purchase.

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