As volunteers with Hands Up for Haiti, Lynn Perton and I have made three trips to Haiti on pediatric missions. On each trip we visit the local tourist market in Cap Haitien, looking for things to buy to support the local economy. But beyond a few trinkets, we don’t usually find much.
Then in January 2016 we spotted some beautiful, colorful, handcrafted items at gift shops in Cap Haitien. Our HUFH team members bought up these lovely potholders, aprons, tote bags, and jewelry pouches. Each product had a tag indicating that it was made by the Women of Milot (WOM) Entrepreneurial Network and featured a photo and short bio of the Haitian woman who made the item. We were so excited. Not only could we buy some really nice gifts to take home, but we could also support this organization that was helping Haitian women achieve a livelihood and financial independence.
Once we got back to New York we googled WOM, and Lynn succeeded in contacting Deborah Couri, its founder and executive director. Lynn and I met with her in April to talk about her organization.
Women of Milot was started at about the same time as HUFH, shortly after the earthquake in 2010. Deborah went to Haiti to see how she could help. She ended up volunteering at Sacre Coeur Hospital in the village of Milot, where many people were being sent from Port Au Prince. The local women in Milot went out of their way to help those who had been displaced, injured, and hospitalized far from home. Knowing that these women needed a way to earn money to support their families, Deborah noticed that a number of these women had some sewing skills. She bought sewing machines, fabric, and other supplies and developed patterns to make a few simple projects: pot holders, oven mitts, aprons, etc. She continues to supply these women with the training and materials they need and pays them a fair wage when they return the finished products. A number of women have been very successful and have taken on apprentices. In this way, the organization has grown exponentially, with some women earning enough money to send their children to school and even buy a house.
Lynn and I were inspired by the WOM story. We decided to organize a holiday gift sale, featuring products made by WOM. The sale would benefit both HUFH and WOM by highlighting the work of both organizations and raising money for them. Sandra Rhodes even found a source to buy Haitian coffee and chocolate, which we also sold at the events.
Several of our fellow HUFH team members joined the effort, and in November and early December we had four separate sales at different venues and towns in Westchester County and upstate New York. Lynn Perton and I at the Black Cow Coffee House in Croton on Hudson; Sandra Rhodes and Laura Shea at the Black Friday Fair Trade Market in Delmar;
Wendy Marx and Meg Sussman at the Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco;
Janet Krzemienski, Tracy Birkhahn, and Stephanie Korn at the PTSA Holiday Fair in Irvington.
We enlisted the help of friends and family who helped with sales, inventory, and accounting. Our good friend and fellow HUFH volunteer, Elise Lentz, organized a raffle for the Croton event with prizes that were generously donated by local artists and crafters. It was a terrific team effort.
The multiple fundraisers were very successful and raised money for both HUFH and the Women of Milot.
Will we make this an annual event? Stay tuned…
To bring this full circle: Deborah Couri informed us that some of the women in WOM are now making enough money to work their way out of poverty and to support themselves and their families. Our team, which includes many volunteers with expertise in nutrition, is returning to Haiti tomorrow and plans to meet many of the women and to hold an educational session for them and their children at the clinic and speak about the importance of good nutrition.