Convoy of Hope reached out to us earlier this summer with a request for 25,000 menstrual kits for distribution in Haiti – 12,500 kits produced by the Haiti Days for Girls enterprise and an equal amount sewn by the Dominican Republic enterprise. That is four times the amount that we have produced thus far in our journey. And they wanted the order completed by July 2022! The Haitian seamstresses were eager to start, however, the limiting factor was a dependable supply chain of materials to construct the kits. Up to this point we have been sourcing our materials in the US and shipping them to Haiti. That is not practical for this size of an order.
Ellen Schreder, our tireless advocate for the sewing program, connected with the Days for Girls program in the Dominican Republic and was able to resource some of the materials that are needed just across the Haitian border. Our Haitian operations manager, Sendy, has made frequent trips to the markets in Cap Haitian and was able to find a reliable source of brightly colored cotton. The owner of the store couldn’t believe his good fortune when she bought all the fabric he had in stock and placed an order for future delivery.
This order will supply steady work for our Haitian seamstresses for almost a year with a livable wage. Due to sharp increases in gas and food prices in Haiti, a life that had already been a struggle has now become even more desperate. Our hope is that this large order will increase our visibility with other aide groups, leading to future work for the Helping Haiti Work seamstresses.
While our operations on the north side of the island, near Cap Haitian, were not affected by the recent earthquake on the Haitian peninsula or Tropical Storm Grace, many of our partners have contributed to the relief efforts while also benefitting area businesses by purchasing donated supplies in Cap Haitian. Second Mile Haiti is working with Mission Flight International to get needed supplies to the hardest hit areas. Helping Haiti Work made a donation of $1000 to Second Mile for the purchase of medical supplies. Following our donation we received a thank you from Jenn Schenk, the co-founder of Second Mild.
“Thank you for your donation. On Sunday, I bought tarps and tents for around $1000. I was a bit worried because we hadn’t raised those funds yet but then your donation came in! I couldn’t believe the timing. Thank you.”
If you choose to donate to the Haitian relief efforts, please find an agency that has been operating in Haiti for many years and will be resourcing as much as possible from Haitian businesses. Second Mile Haiti and Partners in Health are two organizations that we have worked with and fully support.
Due to the unstable political climate in Haiti over the past 2 years, we have had to put our microloan program on hold as it is very dangerous for our microloan recipients to carry cash when they repay their loans and even more dangerous for an organizer to carry large amounts of cash for a loan distribution. The Haitian people are still in desperate need of help so we have found another avenue to help them help themselves. Due to the generosity of Ellen Schroder and Gymps Sunel, land has been purchased and Haitians employed to build walls around the property as well as drill a well for irrigation. Seeds for vegetables are sitting in cold storage waiting for the next planting season this fall. Once the wall has been constructed, the land will be divided into plots and Haitians invited to apply for a site. We are working with a Haitian agronomist who will provide farming lessons to our participants. 80% of the farmers will be women, in keeping with our mission to empower and uplift the women of Haiti. We have created a separate fundraising page so that all proceeds raised for this effort will go directly to the farming initiative. Click on link below to see more pictures as well as donate.
This lush Haitian land will soon be turned into small farming plots so that Haitians are able to better feed their families and benefit from the sale of any extra produce. Due to the generous largesse of donors Ellen Schreder and Gymps Sunel, who purchased the land, and a grant from Rotary International (including local clubs), funds will be used to establish a well on the site that utilizes solar power to pump water and irrigate the fields. Bomgaars Seeds in Sioux City, Iowa has donated an ongoing supply of seeds as well as gardening tools. We are working with local Haitian agronomists to determine the best crops for the soil so that the Haitian farmers can be successful. In keeping with our mission to support women, Helping Haiti Work will require that 80% of these Haitian farmers be women.
A donation to Helping Haiti Work this holiday season will allow us to continue to support the microfinance program and sewing center as well as provide additional funds for shipping all of the above equipment to Haiti.
Last year, Ellen Schreder saw both a need and an opportunity. Her work in CapHaitian had come to a standstill due to political unrest in the country of Haiti. Communication with the staff at her guest house and HHW sewing center continued and she soon realized that food scarcity was becoming an enormous issue for the people of Haiti due to the border closing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Many of the vegetables and meat for the northern population of Haiti is transported across the border from the DR. Around the same time she saw a notice that the Ferry Morse seed company was looking for a donation site for their unsold seeds. Ellen soon had 20 large boxes of seeds taking up the extra crevices of a container on its’ way to Haiti. Because of the tropical climate, the seeds were planted soon after arrival and produced a bountiful harvest of vegetables for area families. That same tropical climate allows for 2-3 growing seasons, providing for a never ending supply of food.
Unfortunately, the situation in Haiti is even more dire in 2020. Although the political unrest has diminished, the threat of Covid has again closed the border, not only with the DR but also the US. Ellen reached out to Ferry Morse again asking for seed donations and last week a semi delivered 45 boxes of assorted vegetable seeds that volunteers have spent the week sorting. Due to the large quantities received, we have been able to provide donations for urban gardens in Minneapolis to use in 2021. These urban gardens are working to diminish the food deserts that contribute to unhealthy eating habits while also teaching volunteers about where food comes from.
Since my last post a week ago, we have received orders for close to 5000 cloth masks and have employed two more sewers to help fill the orders. The sewers are trying as best as possible to observe social distancing and have set up the sewing machines in two different locations; on the ground floor where the fabric is stored and on the top floor veranda. With breezes and gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, I know which location I would choose.
The majority of these sewers live 1-3 hours distance from the sewing center and are trying to produce as many masks as possible during a time that they are needing to stay away from their families. In honor of the Haitians service, Ellen Schreder and Gymps Sunel are providing lodging in their guest house and New Roots has donated meat from their nearby educational farm and butcher shop to provide meals for the sewers.
Our yearly fundraiser set for May 3rd has been cancelled due to Covid 19 restrictions, the same reason we are seeing the requests for masks in Haiti. The upside is that we have the fabric that is needed to construct the masks. The downside is that we are rapidly diminishing the supply of fabric that is needed to construct the reusable menstrual pad kits. Donations to Helping Haiti Work will help us to resupply the fabric as well as pay for the food supplies needed to feed our staff. Donations can be made electronically thru the Donate button on our home page or via checks sent to: 13015 44th Ave North, Plymouth, MN 55442. All donations are tax deductible
In this pandemic, it is sometimes difficult to be aware of what is happening in the rest of the world. Haiti has had 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus thus far and estimates are that it could spread quickly in a country that already has a fragile healthcare system. Projections of the devastation that is possible in this impoverished country due to widespread dissemination of Covid far exceed the death toll of the 2010 earthquake. Haiti experienced a similar pandemic when cholera broke out 10 months following the earthquake and killed an estimated 10,000 people. Coronavirus could be even more significant as the remainder of the world is fighting the same virus within their own borders and not able to send medical ai/financial aide to Haiti.
Haiti lacks not only ventilators to treat its’ citizens once they have been infected but also has a limited supply of masks and other protective equipment for health care workers. While fabric masks are inferior to manufactured masks, they are better than no mask. When the first few Covid cases were reported, we started to receive requests at our sewing center for fabric masks. The Helping Haiti Work seamstresses that normally sew reusable menstrual pads were contacted and eager to learn a new skill. Due to the ingenuity of Ellen Schreder, co-leader of our Days for Girls Enterprise, she was able to gather our seamstresses together and via video connection, instruct them in the construction of fabric face masks using an interpreter and a live demonstration of mask construction on her sewing machine. Within days the seamstresses had sewn 250 masks and the masks were purchased by 2 local birthing centers and a hospital. We currently have orders for 250 additional masks. As part of the distribution of these masks, institutions are also providing education on handwashing and social distancing.
Fabric masks should only be a temporary solution until better protection is available for the healthcare workers of Haiti. We are hopeful that as the supply chain of commercially made masks increases, these same fabric masks can be used in the general population.
This year’s theme is Equal for Each, meaning an equal world is an enabled world. Helping Haiti Work is seeking to change the inbalance, one girl and woman at a time. By providing both reproductive and menstrual health education, we give girls the tools to better care for their bodies. Supplying them with a menstrual kit that lasts for three years gives them the opportunity to attend school without stigmatization and focus on their studies. Our seamstresses that make the kits, as well as our educators, are being provided with a living wage so that they can better support themselves and their families while also building their self-esteem and standing within the community. This is how we are taking action for equality.
Although the political and economic chaos continues in Haiti, we have been able to maintain financial support both of our seamstresses and microloan women because of our supporters generosity. During the recent MN Gives campaign, we received $3400 in donations. Pictured above is our first loan group in Port Margot, our third microloan site. They received their loans of $250 each in September and were all able to repay their first loan installment plus interest on time last week. Our seamstresses submitted an invoice (noted above) for the work that they have completed in the last few months. They were able to sew these items because we had the funds to install solar panels and bring in upgraded sewing machines and bolts of fabric. Our inventory of completed products has continued to grow as the number of mission groups visiting Haiti has sharply decreased due to travel warnings. We are hopeful that when mission groups return, they will continue to remember our organization and our support of the hardworking Haitian women.