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.
Helping Haiti Work and Days for Girls International (DfGI) is preparing for a global celebration of girls and menstruation, coinciding with the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl on October 11, 2018. Over the course of just 28 days, DfGI is set to reach 100,000 women and girls in 24 countries and 5 continents with menstrual health solutions. As part of this initiative, Helping Haiti Work will be distributing 150 menstrual pad kits in impoverished areas of Cap Haitian.
At least 500 million women and girls around the world lack access to adequate resources for managing menstruation, often leaving them susceptible to forced school dropout rates, poverty, early childhood marriage, and sexual exploitation. This international celebration will work to bring the solutions needed to ensure the health, safety, and opportunity for all.
Days for Girls not only provides affordable, sustainable menstrual health solutions to women and girls worldwide, but also works to inspire communities to shatter the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation, empowering women to pursue educational, economic and leadership opportunities. We strive to contribute to the global solutions of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, health, and conservation. This global girls festival celebrates giving back more days to girls—more days to gain a better education and improved health while restoring hope and dignity.
We have recently trained Fritznel, our in-country coordinator of activities, in the Ambassador of Men’s Health curriculum. He was asked to provide this education to a group of middle school boys in Port au Prince at the Healing Haiti site. Using diagrams and models, he taught these boys about their own bodies and how best to care for themselves and also about women and their menstrual cycles. The education was well received by both the young men and their parents. In the future, this education will be offered in addition to our Ambassador of Women’s Health Program.
At one of our local Days for Girls sewing events, a volunteer started sorting the scrap fabric that is left after cutting the cotton shields on the dye cut machine. She took the material home, cut it into 4 inch squares and created a baby quilt. On a whim, we brought the quilt to Haiti and asked our seamstresses if they thought there would be a market for this product. They were very enthusiastic and asked for as many scraps of fabric as we could supply. Since then they have created 30 baby blankets that have been sold to Healing Haiti, a NGO located in Port au Prince. Because our orders for the menstrual pad kits is not steady, this is a product that the seamstresses are able to create and fill a need locally. We have been impressed with their artistic skills in matching and coordinating colors to create a beautiful product.
Elly Schreder, co-leader of the Helping Haiti Work sewing centers that construct the reusable menstrual kits, received a international Rotary grant for $168,127. This involved a two year grant application process and many hours of hard work. The funds will be used to purchase materials in large quantities, finish the construction of the CapHaitian sewing center, installation of solar panels, salary of a manager and shipping costs. We are hoping to make the center as sustainable as possible over the next 3-4 years. Elly is a member of the Brooklyn Center Rotary and made over 30 presentations to area Rotarys that agreed to support her grant application. Materials will be shipped this fall.
Our third Morpheus Benefit Concert was the best yet. New location at Medicine Lake Community Center held a record crowd of 130 movers and shakers. We had a dance floor that was well used as we enjoyed music from the 60’s and 70’s. Due to generous donors both before and during the event, we raised just over $9000 to fund more microloans for 2018 and continue to support our sewing center. A huge thank you to the members of Morpheus who have helped to support our cause for the past three years.
As I watched the powerful feminist speeches at the Academy Awards this week, I reflected on my experiences in Haiti that have made me an advocate and messenger for women not only in the developing world but also here in the US. Unlike women in Hollywood, Haitian women often don’t have a voice – either in their homes or their communities – but what happens outside their sphere of influence can make an immense difference in their daily lives.
Haitian women, similar to women in most developing world countries, perform all of the household and child-rearing chores with no help from their male spouses. These tasks are often accomplished without the benefit of running water or a steady supply of electricity. No refrigerator, washing machine, microwave, toilet. Monetary funds are controlled by their spouse and may be wasted on drink and games of chances, while the pantry is empty of food and the kids need new shoes. Physical and emotional abuse is overlooked by a society that places a lower value on females.
Washing clothes at the river
These same women have taught me what perseverance and a source of income can accomplish. Each year when I return to Haiti, I am able to meet with the newest microloan group and connect with some of our previous Helping Haiti Work loan recipients. I impress on the women who have been successful in loan repayment that they owe it to the new loan groups to give them advice and support. Numerous women have related their personal experiences of the benefits of the loans. Not only do the profits help with clothing and food, but the women are given a higher status in both their immediate family and in the community. Their husbands treat them better because they are bringing money into the family. The women have control over how the income is to be used. Their children see them as a more capable adult and that hard work has more than one dividend. Other women in the larger community ask their advice and apply for the microloan program.
We are also seeing some of these same changes in the women employed by our sewing program. They have brought us ideas as to what products they think will sell well in the market rather than only sewing the reusable menstrual pad kits and diapers. One of our seamstresses was proud to use some of her funds to pay for a needed surgery for herself. Each time we visit with them they are becoming more outspoken and empowered.
My journey to make all of this happen also requires perseverance and the commitment to empowering Haitians so that they are better able to help themselves and each other. I am often asked why I don’t focus my fundraising efforts on causes that would benefit women in the US rather than Haiti (that is another blog post in itself). Just as the Hollywood elite are using the #TimesUp movement to bring recognition to those women who may not have a voice, I hope that the monetary loans provided by Helping Haiti Work and the examples of female leadership by our participants will touch many more women than just the ones that we serve.
Come join us this weekend as we listen to great music from the 60’s and 70’s by the band Morpheus and help to raise money so that more women in Haiti can be empowered to make a difference in their lives. Visit the homepage for details and to purchase tickets.