Working with CLM members means more than just giving them assets. We visit them weekly to coach them as they struggle to turn those assets into livelihoods. And that coaching must include much more than business advice. Each visit addresses specific matters, like good nutrition, hygiene, and other key aspects of a healthy life. And the visits must address broader and more fundamental questions as well. Everything about the way a member lives can affect her ability to lift her family out of poverty.
Jean Manie, whom I recently wrote about, is only a particularly striking example. Because she was living in servitude, she had no way to care for her pig. So it died. Her goats managed to survive, but they’ve suffered from neglect as well. Now that she and her boy are living in their own new home, we hope and even expect that she’ll start moving forward towards graduation. It won’t be easy, but we believe she will succeed. (See: Jean Manie.)
But you don’t have to be living in servitude to find yourself in a social situation that will block your progress. Jean Manie’s fundamental social barrier to progress seems to have turned out to be removable. We have, however, come across much less dramatic barriers that we could not get past.
We regularly find women, for example, who qualify for CLM but who do not agree to join the program because the people who live around them — their neighbors, the members of their family — convince them that it would be a bad or dangerous thing. The women are understandably suspicious of a program that claims it will do as much for them as we will do. No one has ever done anything for them before. And the people around them, for any number of reasons, turn these suspicions into fears that we cannot always overcome. We work hard to face these issues, but we can’t always resolve them.
In addition, we come across some women who cannot join CLM because the men in their lives are unwilling to let them try. For convenience, I’ll call these men “husbands,” though the word may apply only loosely. These husbands might resist the program for a variety of of reasons. Some are moved by the same suspicions-turned-fears that motivate reluctant women. We had a young father in Nan Joumou, named Soiye, who initially discouraged his also-young wife, Perrona, because he was pressured by his older brothers to do so. Are far as I can tell, the brothers were simply jealous that they had not qualified for the program. Soiye and Perrona are teenagers, and they lacked the moral resources they would have needed to resist their elders’ views.
Soiye’s pressure and Perrona’s own nervousness combined to keep her out of the program for six months. Happily, hers was one of the rare cases where she could reject the program when we passed through her area and still join it later as we signed up new members in a neighboring zone. And because Perrona’s mother and Soiye’s older sister joined the program and are prospering, the couple received encouragement that countered the pressure they had first received. They are now making good progress, thanks to a case manager who cheerfully hikes a difficult hour each way, every week, to get to their home from the nearest other homes on his route.
Other husbands may worry that a program that helps their family by building up their wives could threaten their position in the home. The social reality here is that it’s hard for a woman to join if her husband won’t agree. We have one member in Mannwa, Sorène, who left her husband, in part because he was blocking her, and is now moving forward without him, but that’s not the usual way of things. And it isn’t always clear whether Sorène’s solution is worth even hoping for. She has three girls under six and is pregnant, she and her husband have nothing to do with each other, and in Haiti there is no way to insist that he help support his kids.
Even after women have joined the program, relations between them and their husbands sometimes get in their way. Husbands who collaborate closely with their wives can do a lot to help the family move forward, but husbands who do not can make things very hard. That’s why Martinière, a CLM case manager, and I spent Saturday morning with Oranie and her husband, Sentobè, trying to help them work through their differences.
They live in Gapi, a neighborhood along one side of a steep hill overlooking Viyèt, in northeast Boukankare. In some ways they’ve prospered since Oranie joined CLM. The three goats we gave her are now eight, and she and Sentobè now live in a nice new house. They got fourteen sheets of roofing material from us, and that would normally be the factor that determines their new home’s size. But through their own hard work, they bought ten additional sheets, so they were able to make their house much bigger than our members normally would.
But not everything is going well. Oranie has really struggled to establish her small commerce, and Sentobè is a big part of the problem.
Commerce was the enterprise she chose to go together with her goats. All CLM members choose two. This helps them manage the risk involved in any financial activity. Commerce is especially useful because it can provide a source of daily income. Though goats are the most popular and reliable enterprise among our members, they just can’t bring in money every day.
Oranie’s commerce started off well. She invested in beans. She would buy a sack in Opyèg, a rural market in the mountains north of Gapi, and carry it on her head to sell it at a significant profit in Difayi or Domon, more accessible markets down the hill. It meant hard work, but the business was starting to prosper.
Oranie’s problems started when she and Sentobè got into a fight. He beat her up, enough so that she couldn’t lift her beans to carry them to market for sale. By the time her case manager, Martinière, got to her, Sentobè had fled, abandoning her and their children. Oranie told Martinière that she did not think he would be back, and the two of them began to plan a new business.
They chose charcoal. She could buy trees and pay someone to turn them into charcoal for her. For better or worse, it’s Haiti’s principal cooking fuel, and so it sells very reliably. It also has a very long shelf life, so it would not be a problem if Oranie had to wait to fully recover before she could start moving it to market.
So she started filling sacks with charcoal and storing them for sale. She started slowly, but Sentobè returned and her production then grew. With him there, Oranie no longer had to hire someone to make the charcoal. Sentobè could do that part of the work. Before long, they had produced 21 sacks of the stuff.
He also started selling the sacks. This might have been helpful, as she was just getting strong enough to start moving them around. But he wasn’t accountable to her about the income they were making. He would invest some in his farming, but she wouldn’t know how much. He’d give her some household money for expenses, but she had no idea where the rest of the money was going. Asking questions only led to further arguments, and since he had shown his willingness to speak with his fists, she was reluctant to make much noise. Martinière continued to visit them regularly and hear her complaints, but somehow, whenever he showed up, Sentobè would be elsewhere. Though he had spoken with Sentobè when Sentobè first returned to the house, enough so that he had been able to communicate quite forcefully that Sentobè’s abusiveness could not go on, they hadn’t seen each other since.
But Oranie kept telling Martinière how unhappy she was with Sentobè, so he sent Sentobè a message asking him to stay home on a Saturday morning to meet with me. Martinière and I wanted to go up together to see whether we could help them figure a way to work things out. Sentobè was willing to ignore a meeting with Martinière, but he wasn’t as comfortable avoiding me.
You would have a hard time finding two less likely, less qualified marriage counselors than Martinière and me, but others were not available, so we spent much of the morning talking with them. In our presence, Oranie was willing to tell her husband forcefully that he needed to stop treating her so badly. She said that he had been hitting her and threatening her for all of their eleven years together, but she spoke without any leverage except what Martinière and I could manufacture. Her family is dreadfully poor. If she were to leave him, it is hard to see where she would go. Her mother lived with them briefly, but Sentobè apparently accused her of sponging, and she left.
For his part, Sentobè professed a willingness to change. But the issues between them were hard to address clearly and in depth, especially since we felt obligated to begin and end the discussion with what amounted to a threat: If he hit Oranie again, there would be hell to pay. We told him that violence is not a CLM matter but a police matter, that our team has very good relations with local law enforcement, and that if we had to come again, we would not come alone. It’s hard to have a frank and serious conversation when threats are in the air.
But on a more constructive note, Martinière went minutely through Oranie’s finances with both of them. We wanted Sentobè to see the financial interest he has in peaceful collaboration with his wife. Not to be unsentimental, but a big part of their relationship is a simple economic partnership. We also wanted to establish where that partnership stood. Oranie said that Sentobè owed her — or at least owed the partnership — 3000 gourds (about $75) in income from the sale of the last seven sacks of charcoal.
Sentobè at first admitted having borrowed only 500 gourds from her. We asked him not to look at things quite that way. We wanted to avoid suggesting that he owed her money, because we wanted them to look at household finances as a common problem. We wanted him to see that the work that CLM is doing with her is good for them both.
What really seemed to get Sentobè to be serious was when Oranie complained that she had saved up enough to buy school uniforms for their three kids but that, because Sentobè had squandered their money, none of the kids was yet in school. He had to agree that, for a couple that had sold 21 sacks of charcoal in the last couple of months, the fact that their kids had uniforms but were not in school was both sad and strange. After much discussion, he agreed to put 2000 gourds back into the common pot. We told him that he, Oranie, and Martinière would sit together once he produced the money to figure out how they could use it to get their kids into school and her business back off the ground.
Martinière and I returned to Gapi on Wednesday near the end of a very long day and were surprised to hear from Oranie that Sentobè had left again. He had told us on Saturday that he would be going to Port au Prince for a couple of weeks to earn the 2000 gourds, but Oranie wasn’t sure he was coming back. She had offered him the hundred or so gourds he’d need to get there, but he refused — angrily, she said — to take “her” money, and instead sold a chicken.
What’s worse: One of his neighbors claims that Sentobè stole produce from his garden on his way down the hill. We don’t yet know what the evidence is. It could be merely that he left his home unusually early in the morning, around the time at which the malanga roots are thought to have been stolen, but it’s rumored that he was seen carrying them down the hill. The neighbor told others that he will have Sentobè arrested immediately if he returns to Gapi. He added that the only thing keeping him from burning down the new house is that he knows that Oranie is responsible for most of the work. For now, at least Oranie seems safe.
In some ways, this accusation, by threatening to keep Sentobè from returning home, might be a good solution for Oranie. But it’s hard to know for sure. She’s living in a home she built on her husband’s land. I worry that, without him there, her hold on the house might be fragile. Her own family is too poor to have anything that they can offer her.
In any case, Oranie is determined to move forward. As the end of December draws near, the price of goats should increase. She has arranged with Martinière that she will sell three of hers at the end of the month. She’ll use the proceeds from that sale, together with some of her savings, to buy a horse.
Having a pack animal could make all the difference for Oranie. It means that she won’t have to depend on her own strength to carry merchandise from the remote markets she buys in to the places where she sells. It instantly means she can make her business at least three times as large as it can be as long as she carries all her merchandise on her head. She’d like to be able to send the kids to school right away, but she knows that they’ll be better off if she can get her business on sound footing. Sentobè’s 2000 gourds would have helped her, but she’s ready to succeed on her own.