- Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got connected with the Women’s Artesian Cooperative in Haiti:
After graduating college, I worked in Peru researching medicinal plants and although I knew I was helping in the long run, stuck in the lab each day, I longed for more human connections. When I met the founder of Global Family Philanthropy, Lori Goldberg, she showed me a video of what her children in Haiti had been through and I immediately fell in love with her project and wanted to be in Haiti with those children. I first traveled to Haiti over Christmas 2010 with Lori and her family, a month later went on a large volunteer trip and then decided to go for extended periods of time by myself. GFP has built a beautiful house full of love and hope for orphaned and abandoned children and I wanted to expand these opportunities to the rest of our community.
- When we approached you with the idea of creating the garland, what were your initial thoughts?
When I first had the idea to start the GFP Women’s Center, I had initially wanted to make bracelets or other crafts but had received little support or impetus to really get things going. Seeing the beautiful products at Children Inspire Design and hearing about the interest in helping to make the Women’s Center a reality, brought me happiness beyond any words. We had a project, our women would be getting paid and the work could start immediately!! This partnership was exactly what we needed and this garland seemed like the perfect introduction to making crafts and other products. I love the idea of recycling old Haitian papers into art and that it brings a little piece of Haiti's colorful history to wherever the garland ends up.
- What has it been like setting up a cooperative from scratch? What were the challenges for you? For the women?
At first, we did not even have a space to work and we were using the tiny children’s tables and chairs on the sunny front porch of the GFP House. Construction on the house was still being completed and so we were working over the constant buzzing of electric saws and sanders and the banging of hammers. While it did not seem ideal to me, I was amazed at how the women did not even seem to notice. They came and concentrated, laughed and chatted over all of the commotion. Initially, the task was quite difficult for the women, as most of them had never used scissors before nor had ever measured anything so precisely. Slowly, the garlands started looking more and more beautiful and the women grew more comfortable with the task and everything fell into harmony. Not only have these women learned incredible skills that can be used in other aspects of life, but they have been given the confidence in knowing that they can create beautiful art and they are compensated fairly for their work.
- What type of positive changes have you seen so far with the women and their social environment?
All of the women live in the area surrounding the GFP House, not more than a 10 minute walk down the street or up into the lush farmland. These women are living in huts made of organic matter or small single-room shacks with their families, in a land where little economic opportunity exists. Walking to the GFP house to work each afternoon brings them great pride, stepping out of their homes, out of the troubles and into opportunity and into a better future for their families. Most of the women that come to work at the cooperative have children and they use the money they receive from making the garlands to pay for their children’s school. In Haiti, it costs money to go to school, which tends to be a limiting factor in broad scale education, and providing novel income to the women enables more children to attend school in our community. All children wear school uniforms in Haiti (another expense) and children walk proudly in their pressed uniforms to and from school each day. The women have told me that they want uniforms for the cooperative, a Haitian expression of dignity and affiliation; they want everyone to know how proud they are to belong to something so special.
- What hopes do you have for the women's cooperative in the future?
I hope that I can leave the cooperative as a functioning, autonomous body where the women can work as much as they want and receive enough income to support their growing families. Providing continuous income to the women of our community means fewer days of hunger, more children attending school, more family members able to afford trips to the clinic when ill and families capable of acquiring the starting capital to develop businesses of their own. Beyond the material benefit to the families, these women are empowered and have a heightened sense of self worth and capacity. They are overcoming the prejudices of poverty, showing the world that they do not live in helplessness, misery or resentment, and are bursting through as capable, global citizens. More confident, determined and optimistic mothers will raise their children to grow up with such traits, ready to lead.