Haitian Sewing Program starting to produce results

The first large order for 150 diapers was successfully filled by our seamstresses in Limbe using materials that had been purchased and pre-cut in Minnesota. We are still trying to resource flannel from within Haiti, which would simplify the process. The women were very excited to receive reimbursement for their efforts. The diapers were purchased by Hands Up for Haiti, and they in turn will distribute them to families in their clinics. IMG_2798Construction of the reusable menstrual pads is on-going and currently being marketed by a midwife at Mama Baby Haiti. As part of our goal to increase education, the seamstresses in Limbe recently provided both written and oral information regarding menstruation and hygiene to a local group of 12 and 13 year old girls. Reusable menstrual pad kits were given to the girls and they will provide follow up in 6 months.


You can help us to purchase more fabric for this program as well as funding our traditional microfinance loans by attending our upcoming concert on March 12th, featuring the fabulous band Morpheus. Morpheus Benefit Concert buttonClick on the picture at right that is found on our homepage in order to purchase tickets.

We are reaching out!


Helping Haiti Work has expanded to include male volunteers!  As our sewing centers have seen more business in the past few months, men tailors have become interested in what we are trying to accomplish. Although the majority of household duties in Haiti are performed by women, the majority of tailors are men. You will often see them sewing on a treadle machine on their front porch as other men gather around playing cards. We are hopeful that this interest from men will translate to increased awareness about the need for feminine hygiene supplies for their wives, sisters and daughters.

Twenty-five of our kits were recently sent to the Philippines with a medical mission team from Milwaukee. Since this mission team worked in an urban setting, we were not sure what women would think of reusable products over disposable products that they can obtain locally. Our bigger worry should have been how to get the product to the intended recipients!  When the nurses were shown the kits, they wanted to keep them for themselves, rather than helping to distribute them to young girls.


Finally, we are reaching out to others who may not have heard of our work by hosting a concert on March 12th, featuring the band Morpheus, playing great rock and roll from the 60’s and 70’s. Join us for a great time and invite others. You can purchase tickets by clicking on the picture of Morpheus on the right side of this page..

Thank you for responding to our Call for Help


When I returned from Haiti in April, I asked for your help in cutting materials for diapers and menstrual pads that we could package into kits to ship to Haiti to be  sewn by the Haitian women. Four groups took up my call to action and have cut 9 bolts of fabric that we will be sending to Haiti next week. This amounts to 50 diaper kits and 25 menstrual pad kits for each Haitian sewer. These same 4 groups donated more than $500 to the cause, which will help to offset the cost of materials and shipping.  We hope to send more supplies at the end of the summer, so more volunteers are welcome.

The group above consisted of volunteers who are connected by their work in different roles of Labor and Delivery units thruout the metro area. They are acutely aware of the need for feminine hygiene both during adolescence and after childbearing. We had a wonderful evening comparing stories of childbirth “then and now”.

NPR is highlighting the work of organizations abroad who are addressing the problem of the lack of feminine hygiene products and the impact that it has on the ability of a girl to continue her education. This recent audio story from NPR is similar to my previous post about Menstruation – The last taboo.  Raising awareness is the first step. The second step is providing women in Haiti and elsewhere with a product that they can use. Please consider scheduling your own cutting party to help us raise funds and provide more diaper/menstrual pad kits.

HHW Needs Your Help!

Sewing Center

Read Leslee’s post below to find out how you can help women’s business in Haiti by organizing your own fabric cutting party! For a $20 donation per person, HHW will provide patterns and fabric, and send your completed kits to Haiti.

I’m Back from Haiti and Need Your Help!
by Leslee Jaeger

This trip to Haiti was much different in many ways from my previous travels. We stayed in CapHaitian rather than traveling to Limbe, we taught Haitian providers about cervical cancer screening rather than performing surgery, we rode local tap-taps for transportation, we “camped out” in a partially finished house and slept on mattresses on the roof because it was unseasonably hot (95 degrees) and we attempted to market reusable diapers and menstrual pads to start a business for our microfinance women at Helping Haiti Work.

Sewing Center
Sewing Center

We learned much about how business works in Haiti and the Haitian medical providers learned about the causes of cervical cancer, how to screen for the disease and methods of treatment. More about the cervical cancer program in another post. This is what I learned.

1. Haitian women work hard and maintain long hours at their market stalls in order to clear $3 – $4 a day.

2. Haitian women are skeptical about new products, especially when marketed by white women. A side-by-side comparison to the local product (diaper or menstrual pad) using water was much more effective than talking.

3. Haitian women are born to bargain when negotiating price.

4. Most Haitian women have not seen an electric sewing machine in action and all want to try to operate it, usually going way too fast.

5. Haitian women are quick to learn a new task because many of them are illiterate or only partially literate and learn by doing.

After multiple conversations with women, assessing the current market price of our product and estimating the cost of supplies to make a reusable diaper or menstrual pad kit, we have realized that the profit margin is too narrow to make this program fully sustainable. But that does not mean that we have given up. Put 5 white women together on a roof with a bottle of wine at 9 pm and much brainstorming happens.

We have created the concept of CUTTING PARTIES or PINOT AND PADS. For $20 a person, you collect a group of your friends together and for 2-3 hours cut out diapers and menstrual pad kits. We will supply you with patterns and fabric purchased thru the $20 donation. No sewing needed as the unfinished kits will be sent to Haiti and the women will purchase them for a small cost, construct the item and market it for a profit. This employs many of the ideas from my previous post When Helping Hurts. We are working to create a culture of self-sufficiency rather than a culture of dependency. We are also in the process of making a video that you can download from YouTube which gives a visual education in what we are trying to accomplish.

The next shipment of kits will be traveling to Haiti in mid June. The Haitian women are depending on us to help them help themselves. Please contact me at leslee@helpinghaitiwork.org if you are interested in hosting an event.


Give a HHW Greeting Card!

Honor loved ones on Mother’s Day, a birthday, or any occasion with a Helping Haiti Work greeting card! A card with your donation of $5 or more can be mailed to you or directly to your honoree– Please make your donation and email Karen using the Contact form. Include your name and mailing address and we will mail you an unsigned card and envelope. If you prefer it sent directly to the recipient, email Karen your honoree’s name and mailing address, along with your inscription. Either way, you will receive an email confirmation that your card has been sent.

HHW Greeting Card
The photos on this greeting card were taken in Haiti by Dr. Leslee Jaeger. Inscription reads, “In Celebration of You… A donation in your honor has been given to Helping Haiti Work. Thank you for being an inspiration for giving and encouragement.”

Donations – How Best to Give

DSC03894When arriving in Haiti for our medical mission trips, this pictures depicts what greets us in the operating room on the first day.  We spend the day sorting, organizing and trying to throw away unneeded supplies. The first two tasks are much easier than the last.  Understand that there is no garbage truck, landfill or recycling options.   Whatever we decide is trash gets carried away and burned, whether it be metal, plastic or paper.  Haitians are reluctant to throw away any item that may come in useful in the future – from my experience they don’t throw away anything!  This trip we had extra time to organize due to heavy rain on the first day.  We found suture that had expired in 1995, staple guns that were covered in dust, bottles of unknown medicines, and many items that were so old we had forgotten their original use. Unfortunately, there are larger items that are not so easy to dispose of; an ultrasound machine, rusty hospital beds, an infant warmer that doesn’t warm.

Donations from America can be both a blessing and a curse.  Suture is expensive and needed for surgery.  However, suture that is so tiny that it can only be used with a microscope is only going to sit on a shelf and take up space.  An ultrasound machine that is being replaced because it doesn’t work properly will not work any better in a country with high humidity, no temperature controlled room and no biomed department to troubleshoot problems. Donations of personal leftover meds, although well-intentioned, do not contribute to a stocked pharmacy.  Fortunately, there is a donation that can be used where it is needed most, has a long shelf life and never expires:  MONEY.  This may seem impersonal and not as “giving of self”, but is much more appreciated by organizations that are working abroad.  They have supply chains and can buy in bulk the products they need at a cheaper cost than an individual in the States.  Money can be used to subsidize the payroll in times of decreased cash flow. In order to stay in business, they generator needs a steady supply of fuel to power the lights and electricity.

As you are looking at your end of year donations, consider a monetary donation the best gift you can give an organization, whether it be a local food shelf or a third world project.  This contribution will go much farther to improve the bottom line and you do not need to leave your home to shop – especially important in Minnesota this week!

Give to the Max Day Fundraiser

The final total is $11,000!!! This will fund 60 loans over the next year and fulfill many of the promises that we made to Haitian women during our recent trip. We are already planning for next year with a sewing program addition.

Claire of the Sea Light

I recently had the good fortune to hear author Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian living in Miami, who writes both about the history of Haiti and present day circumstances. Her newest book, “Claire of the Sea Light”, has received wonderful reviews and concerns a modern day problem that many Haitian families face. Clare’s mother died in childbirth and she is being raised by her father. He decides to give her to the local seamstress so that Claire can have a better life.

This is the exact scenario that Helping Haiti Work is trying to prevent. By improving the everyday lives of the women in the program, they are better able to meet the needs of their families, both financial and emotional.

Summer Update

P1000551 (2)
Although we have not updated for a few months, there have been two noteworthy events that have occured in the microloan program. Loans were awarded to 7 women in Ranquite, a very rural village 3 hours distant from CapHaitian. A local priest is collecting the money each month as there is no nearby bank for the women to deposit their payments. This is the first time that any of the villagers have heard of the microfinance concept and so the initial teaching session had to be much more detailed. Check back this fall when we will hear more about the small business opportunites that these women have started.

Group 2 in Limbe (7 women) paid 100% of their initial loan back in 10 months and were awarded a second loan of $225 each. Thus far, we continue to have 100% payback on our loans.

To this point, we have allowed the women to find their own small business ventures and have not been involved with the planning or implementing of the business. We hope to change this slightly starting in the late fall when we teach some of the women how to use solar powered cell phone chargers that they can use to cell charges to their neighbors and friends. More info will be posted on this opportunity in the next few weeks.

Girl Rising Movie

Thank you to all the 219 people who ventured forth on a cold, windy May evening to see the Girl Rising movie. If you were inspired by the movie, please visit the girlrising website for more info and spread the word to others.
Many of the women I have met in Haiti are similiar to the girls in the movie – motivated to make a difference in their lives, but needing someone to help them along the way. They are willing to work hard to improve the lives of themselves and their children, even though barely literate themselves. Microfinance loans allow them the ability to do just that, while also giving them empowerment and prestige in their local community. We would like to start a new group of 10 women this summer, so please consider donating to make a difference in the life of a Haitian woman.