Sonya and Mimose

Sonya and Mimose are cousins and also neighbors in Flandé, a neighborhood just over the border in Lascahobas, on the road from Mirebalais towards the Dominican border. Sonya, who’s on the right in the photo, was a widow living mainly on her own. She supported herself selling biskwit, a bread common in rural Haiti. It’s baked in large, rectangular sheets that are scored so they can be separated easily into little squares, which are sold individually. She would buy a few sheets from a local baker, and then carry them around the neighborhood in a basket on her head.

One day a few years ago, she fell over very suddenly. As it turns out, she had suffered a minor stroke and lost much of the use of her right arm and leg. Her neighbors called her daughter, who was living in Port au Prince, and the younger woman agreed to return to Flandé to live with and take care of her mother. Everyone felt that Sonya could no longer live on her own. Her daughter was soon pregnant, but the younger woman’s boyfriend became sick even before their child was born. The boyfriend’s family took him away, and he died soon after that.

Not knowing how to access physical therapy, Sonya regained very little of her lost mobility. But she and her daughter had to figure out how to take care of themselves and a new baby even while Sonya herself needed help to do the simplest things. She could no longer sell biskwit. And her daughter was nursing the baby, so she wasn’t able to do much either. They lived mostly from their neighbors’ occasional charity.

Sonya wondered whether things might change for the better when she was selected to participate in the CLM program, but she also thought of her cousin Mimose. Mimose had been supporting herself and her husband since he had first become sick about four years earlier. She didn’t have much money, but she’d go to the market several times a week, buy merchandise on credit – salt or flour, for example – and sell it during the day, repaying her debt before she went home. But one day she was sitting in the market, selling some salt, when she felt something strange in her legs. Something was wrong. Her legs and feet seemed to lose strength, and she eventually lost the ability to get around without a walking stick. Even with her walking stick, she could only walk short distances. She could no longer go to the market. She was soon a widow, living in isolation in a hut hidden well off the main path. She would see Sonya whenever she had to go to the hospital. She’d have to pass right by Sonya’s house. But otherwise she just stayed home.

Sonya told the selection team about Mimose. Mimose was at the hospital when they visited the neighborhood. But the team went to the hospital to interviewing her, and that eventually led to her joining the program together with Sonya when it started last spring.

CLM members are asked to choose two enterprises to develop when they join the program, and Sonya chose a pig and small commerce. She would need her daughter’s help to take care of the pig, but she had an idea for small commerce that she’d be able to manage mostly on her own.

She lives along a long dirt road that leads into a mountainous area of northern Lascahobas. People walk down the path with loads of their own products on their head to bring them to market in Central Lascahobas. One of the most common products is charcoal for cooking, which peasants carry in large sacks. Sonya used the funds that CLM provided to start buying sacks of charcoal as people passed by with them. She would then separate into small bags and sell to her neighbors. The business works, and she makes a healthy profit. Her income soon allowed her to add other products to the business, too.

Mimose’s house seemed too far off the main route for her to think of small commerce because she felt too immobile to get products to anyplace where she could sell them. So she chose goats and poultry. Her slightly isolated, heavily wooded yard seemed a good place to raise them. And they have begun to prosper.

But she needed a more regular income. One day, she was especially frustrated. Each week, members of the CLM program for people with disabilities are encouraged to make a deposit into a lockbox that they keep at their home. Their case manager keeps the key with him. It is a way to facilitate savings for people who’d have a very hard and expensive time getting to the bank. Mimose had been struggling to deposit 100 gourds every week, about $2, even though the program’s expectation was only 25 gourds. But one week, the day for her deposit came and she didn’t have a gourd. She couldn’t do it. Not even 25 gourds. She knew she had to do something differently.

Mimose also knew that small commerce would be the best way to manage her expenses every day. She and Sonya would chat whenever she had to pass Sonya’s house on her way to follow-up appointments at the hospital, and they finally came up with an idea. She would take advantage of the same foot traffic that was making Sonya’s business possible. Sonya invited her to set up a business on a spot along the road, right next to her house, and she began selling fried snacks. “I chose fried snacks because it was what I could do.”

To get the business started, she and her case manager agreed that she would take the money she had saved out of her lockbox. It would be like a loan she’d make to herself. Once her business was off the ground, she would start making deposits again.

Her business is now flourishing, even though there are days she can’t make the short but difficult walk from her house to Sonya’s. And she’s making deposits into her lockbox, just as she promised herself she would.

And she and Mimose have managed to do more than just establish two businesses. They have established a friendship important to them both. “I love having Mimose here. I sit with her while she sells her snacks, and we chat all day. We’re not lonely anymore.”