Rosana was initially reluctant to have her picture taken during our most recent conversation. “Jodi a m two lèd.” She had rushed from her home to the last day of the three-day refresher training she was attending, and she felt that she hadn’t given herself a chance to look good enough for a picture. A couple of the other women, however, encouraged her, and she eventually agreed. She put her foot down, though, about looking towards the camera.
Otherwise, she was in a good mood. She’s happy in her new house. From the program’s perspective, it’s finished. She herself, however, sees a couple of additional things she’d like to do. She wants to install a door between its two rooms, and she wants to paint it. She’s already chosen the colors: blue and chocolate-brown. The two rooms may seem very small. She and her husband have eight children and a grandchild living in it with her. But they spread somewhat into the one-room extension that they added to their goat shed as a temporary residence while the new house was going up in the old one’s place, and they make do.
She’s already registered three of the school-age children for the coming school year. She’d like to do more, but some of the younger ones, she thinks, can wait. They’ll have to.
The size of her household also makes her success at small commerce surprising. She took out a four-month loan of 7500 gourds, or about $120, from her Village Savings and Loan Association to get started.
She chose the sort of business our team might have been least likely to suggest. She sells basic groceries – rice, sugar, oil, and the like – out of her home. Such businesses are always hard to sustain in rural Haiti, even under the best circumstances, because the women who run them are under so much pressure to sell to their neighbors on credit. The women need to find ways to make sure they get paid without alienating potential customers, who can expect or even need special consideration. For CLM members, things can be even tougher, because they start with little respect from their neighbors, who can also tend to look at anything they have as a gift that they don’t really deserve. And it is also that much harder with a husband and nine children to feed. A household of eleven, with nine of eleven growing fast, can probably never have enough food. The tendency will always be to reach into the merchandise any time the kids seem a little hungry. Rosana must show great discipline to keep enough merchandise in the business itself.
She seems to understand the issues she’s facing very well, and continues to believe she can make it work, even though her goal for the business is limited. “There’s no profit in this. The profit is the food we eat.” She even knows that the business couldn’t and doesn’t stand up on its own. Her husband contributes to it regularly from his income selling day-labor to help keep the capital from drying up. But it enables her to keep her children fed while she looks to other areas to begin to build up her family’s wealth.
Her livestock is doing well. We gave her three goats, and she now has six, each of the original ones having produced a litter of one. Only one of the young is a buck, so within months she could have five reproducing nanny-goats. And she has a plan to add a small sow as soon as she harvests her fall crop of beans.
The crop will be critical for her. She has consistently attributed the hardships that she and her family have faced since entering the program to bad harvests. Two consecutive years of millet lost to disease, combined with the loss of last year’s crop of beans to high winds and heavy rains, have made it hard to keep her children minimally fed, let alone to make any progress. But the success of her small commerce enabled her to set aside the money she needed to prepare the family’s farmland to plant about eleven cans of beans, and she’s been able to buy eight cans of beans as seeds already. Fall crops tend to be more reliable than spring ones – though last year’s didn’t work out – so she seems hopeful, maybe for the first time since I met her.