Kerline joined the CLM program 16 months ago. At the time, she and her husband were living with their two young children in the barest of shacks on their land in Tyera. That shack, or ajoupaas such constructions are called in Creole, was really no more than a rough tent. Two poles in the back and two more in the front crossed at the top to hold up the pole in the middle, which supported the roofing material. A few posts stood on the other side of their yard, where construction had begun on a new home, but the couple had been able to make no progress.
They survived as day laborers, earning 50 to 100 gourds per day working in their neighbors’ fields. At least when work was available. Kerline’s ability to earn is limited. Her right arm has been misshapen since birth, and she can do very little with it. “We had no home, we didn’t have anything. We were much worse off. We couldn’t make progress. We just sold days of work.”
They chose goats and a pig as their two enterprises. Her boar is healthy and growing, and she wants to keep it until it is large enough that she can exchange it for a small cow. Her two goats are now five. They haven’t yet been reproducing. She’s only had one healthy kid so far. She was able, however, to buy two additional goats: one with savings from her weekly stipend, and the other with money from her savings and loan association.
Kerline would like to eventually start a small commerce. She knows that it’s the best way to ensure a steady income. But she has reservations. “I’ve tried commerce before, but people buy on credit and then they’re slow to pay. The women who succeed at commerce are the ones willing to raise hell to get paid.”
She’s thinking of the kind of business that some rural women run out of their homes. The CLM program has lots of experience of women who struggle to make such businesses work. The sort of women who enter the program are especially vulnerable because they lack the social standing that makes customers feel compelled to pay. The fact that they are thought to have received their businesses as a gift from CLM can make collecting what they are owed even harder.
Kerline knows that the simple solution is to run her business at local markets, rather than out of her home. Customers at the market do not generally expect credit, and it would be easy for Kerline to avoid giving it. But the challenge before her now is accumulating the 1000 to 1500 gourds she feels she’ll need to get started. (One thousand gourds is currently worth about $11.) She says she has no money.
She could easily sell one of her goats. Prices for goats – really for all livestock – have been very high, and even a small goat would sell for more than she needs. But she doesn’t want to do that. “I wouldn’t want to sell one and then lose the money.”
She wants to keep her goats so that she can sell one when necessary to cover the expenses of sending her younger child to school. Her older child now lives a little way down the road, with Kerline’s sister. “She’s sending her to school for me. I have to make sure I can take care of the younger one.” So, she’s willing to wait until her husband can earn the money she’ll need to start a business at the local markets.
Guisman and Guilbo are twins. They have lived all their lives together, first in their parents’ home in Tyera, then each in his own home with his own family on opposite ends of the yard they grew up in. They were once prosperous farmers, as Guisman explains, “We planted sweet potatoes, corn, and manioc. We could live from the harvest, and buy livestock with what was left over from what we sold.”
Guilbo was the first to run into trouble. He went blind, and lost his ability to farm. He sold the livestock and, then, even his land in efforts to save his vision, but nothing worked. He and his wife were left with children to support but without the means to support them. “Once you sell something off, it is hard to replace it.” The family lived mostly off of gifts from members of their church and their older children, who by then were married.
Guisman fell back into poverty shortly after his brother. He sold off most of what he had in a struggle to save his sick oldest child. Fortunately, the struggle was eventually successful. But then, like Guilbo, he went blind. He, too, began to depend largely on occasional gifts from members of his church.
The brothers qualified for CLM because of their poverty and their disabilities. Though about 95% of program members are women with dependent children, the rest qualify, whether men or women with or without dependents, as individuals with disabilities. This was an important change in the program that started with a pilot sponsored by Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, using an award he received from Texas Christian University.
Both brothers have made modest progress in their 16 months. Guisman chose goats and small commerce. The return on the goats has been minimal so far. One of the three that the program gave him had a healthy kid, but another one died. The program was able to help him replace it, and now two of the goats are pregnant.
His wife used the capital the family received for small commerce to establish a business selling inexpensive footwear of various sorts. Proof that the commerce is succeeding is the pig that they have purchased out of its profits.
Guilbo has had a harder time. He chose goats and a pig, but both his goats died, and though the program replaced one of them, the replacement died as well. His sow has been healthy, and it is due to produce its first litter this month. If even only a few of the piglets survive, it will be a windfall. He’s hoping to use them to buy a cow.
In the meantime, his family is living, like Guisman’s, on his wife’s small commerce. They already used its profits to buy a goat. Unlike her sister-in-law, however, Guilbo’s wife did not start her commerce with CLM assets. Instead, she used a small gift from the family’s church.
But Guisman points out how important the CLM program has been toward both families’ success. “The training we’ve gotten has made our wives’ businesses work. We learned how to manage a commerce well and how to use the income.”