Our new industrial grade sewing machines arrived via container this winter and were installed in the recently renovated space in Limbe. Unfortunately, the machines could not be adequately powered by the generator and the rising cost as well as sparse supply of gasoline necessitated a new plan. A trip to the Dominican Republic was made to purchase solar panels and a Haitian electrician installed them on the third story roof of the building. Once the machines were functioning, a lesson was given to all the seamstresses in how to operate the new machines. New projects for construction include mens/boys boxers and surgical caps.
Menstruation is not a woman’s issue. It is a human rights issue.
This article exemplifies how women in Haiti share the same struggles with other women in resource poor countries. HHW is trying to change menstrual hygiene practices thru education and making cloth menstrual pad kits available for young women.
After a month long delay, due to the riots and political unrest in Haiti, our container made it out of port and the supplies were unloaded and organized in the newly finished sewing center in Cap Haitian. Ellen Schroeder and Kris Dirks assisted the Haitians in putting up shelves and then loading the shelves with enough material to construct 3000 menstrual pad kits. The dye-cut machine that is used to cut the material was used as soon as it was put together as all the Haitians wanted to see how it worked. New orders are starting to increase again as Haiti is making a tentative return to normal.
Lyndy Zabel, Director of Community Development for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recently included this topic in his monthly newsletter.
Most people I know want to help those who are less fortunate. But with so many options, the question becomes “how?” Most organizations claim to be good causes. But it is good to think about what, where, why, and to whom we give. More specifically, how do we give to people without actually hurting them or ourselves? Here’s three things to consider:
- First, we can never go wrong giving urgent and temporary emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from natural or human-made crisis, such as survivors of floods, hurricanes, etc. Likewise with the truly vulnerable, such as the severely disabled, young orphans, the starving, sick, and the mentally ill homeless population.
- Secondly, after giving emergency aid, we should seek to support causes that help people help themselves. The receivers all have resources, knowledge, skills, time, and abilities just like us. Do our gifts acknowledge and compliment them? Do they help others build up from the assets they already possess? An example of this kind of gift would be giving a student scholarship to a girl in an impoverished country.
- Thirdly, material poverty alleviation usually involves empowering people to EARN sufficient material things through their own labor. Examples of this kind of gift are vocational training or micro-loans.
These are the teaching points that Helping Haiti Work attempts to follow. We provide the materials for Haitian seamstresses to construct a needed product (reusable menstrual pad kits), utilize the cultural knowledge of our seamstresses to educate young women about reproductive health and provide women with small business loans so that they can grow their business and better support their families.
Menstrual Health Equality is becoming a buzzword in world health. If you want a better idea of what this means, view the Oscar winning film “Period. End of Sentence” The full length 30 minute film is on Netflix. This is what HHW is trying to accomplish with our sewing program that pays Haitian women to construct reusable menstrual pad kits that are distributed to the areas in which they live and work.
2019 is year 5 of our organization and brings changes to both our microfinance loans as well as to our sewing program.
Ellen Schreder, a partner in our sewing centers, has worked diligently over the past few years to acquire a Rotary loan to upgrade the spaces where our seamstresses work. Each space, both in Ranquitte and Limbe, are being outfitted with solar panels to power the sewing machines, new tables and chairs and industrial grade sewing machines that will require less maintenance. We are also establishing a space in Cap Haitian that can serve as a distribution and teaching center.
Inflation has become an ever increasing problem in Haiti with devaluation of the goude in comparison to the American dollar. Many stores that sell foodstuffs are closing as they are unable to afford inventory. As most of our microfinance loan recipients buy items in bulk and then resell them in the local market, this has affected them dramatically. We have seen a marked reduction in the repayment rate and have had to write off many loans. We are planning on initiating new loans in a new community and are researching what amount of money is the equivalent of our initial $200 loans. Although this will decrease the total number of loans that we are able to fund, we are optimistic that the recipients will be more successful in their businesses.
We were recently contacted by a local relief group that is working in Venezuela to help bring financial relief to mothers and children by providing hospitalized children with nutritious food and mothers with diapers. They purchased 200 reusable diapers that our Haitian seamstresses had constructed, providing not only an income for Haitians, but also a needed product for Venezuelan moms. The route that these diapers took signifies the interconnectedness that we all share as women in the world.
Flannel material woven in China in factories staffed by mostly women
Material purchased in the US and cut into diaper pieces by women volunteers
Material shipped to Haiti in suitcases carried as extra baggage by mission volunteers
Diapers sewn by Haitian seamstresses who are paid a living wage
Completed diapers return to US via mission volunteer suitcases
Diapers are delivered to Venezuelan contact in US
Diapers finally make their way to moms in Venezuela
As word of our Days for Girls reusable menstrual pad program has spread, we have received more and more requests for our seamstresses to supply both education and menstrual pad kits to young girls. Our program is located in CapHaitian but many of the requests come from farther afield. The logistics of arranging transportation for the seamstress and the kits can be daunting, especially in Haiti when vehicles break down regularly or protests block traffic for hours. Despite these barriers, one of our seamstresses made it to Port au Prince in September and distributed kits to 25 girls at the Center for the Arts, a program that empowers adolescent girls in the arts. The girls were asked to give an honest critique of the presentation so that we are able to improve. Following are some of their comments:
“I was so happy to learn about menstrual cycle how to control that so you don’t get pregnant”
“I had a great moment because I learned from the questions that the other girls asked and also hope that the team Days for Girls will come back so we can learn more. I will take what I learned and share with my classmates.”
“I learn the technique to use the fabric pads and the importance of using it. I am so happy to have one so I will show to friends and see what they think about that idea of saving money”
Reading these comments made us realize how valuable education can be and that the difficulty encountered in transportation is minimal compared to the benefits that is passed on not only to the girls in attendance, but also to their friends.
Thursday, November 15th is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota. A contribution to Helping Haiti Work will provide a menstrual kit to a young woman and education about her body as well as a living wage to our seamstresses.
Days for Girls, the organization that has provided us with the concept of the reusable menstrual pad kits as well as organizational help, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. As part of the celebration, they have committed to distributing 100,000 kits worldwide during the month of October. Our seamstresses at Helping Haiti Work have added the construction of an additional 150 kits to their daily workload so that we can participate in the celebration. The first 50 kits were distributed last week by the midwives of Mama Baby Haiti. Another 100 kits will be distributed next week when the midwives travel to maternity clinics in the surrounding communities. We have been amazed at the outpouring of support that we are receiving – both from our volunteers here in the US pre-cutting the kits and the mission teams that commit to fundraising in order to purchase and distribute the kits in Haiti. Working together we are able to achieve much more than separately.