Black skin and deep brown eyes. The 7.0 earthquake in Haiti forced her into a tent. The tent is constructed of tarps, sheets and whatever she can find. Each tent pressed up against the next. A rug on the floor and two single beds side by side, a walking space between. Jeanette lives with her cousin, Mariana. Two women, thin, but not unhealthy, smiling. As I talk with Jeanette, Marianna prepares to bathe herself. She takes her clothes off, but I see nothing but a shin, a thigh, and the strength of her forearms. She shields herself with a clean yellow towel. How soft and bright the yellow is against her black skin. She holds a bucket with clean water and a bar of soap. She steps just outside the tent. She washes, still wrapped in yellow -- water splashing, calming, cleansing. Three men sit just outside of the tent. They turn their backs to Marianna out of respect? This is her moment of solitude, but not quite, because I am watching. As she’s washing, her beauty is luminous next to the earth, the mud on the ground just outside her tent. A woman tries to maintain her dignity and command respect.
Four years later, I am in the south of Haiti running Haiti Projects as its CEO. I gather with our staff of 85 women and we discuss work, their work. They tell me what they need -- new sewing machines, a generator, a raise. I listen. I feel that sense of dignity that Marianna held, but there is a difference. These women are not grasping for dignity, they have it. They are in control of their lives, they speak their minds and speak of the future, and they help me understand what is needed in order for us to work together for the success of the artisanat, Fond des Blancs and Haiti. At the end of our meeting, they ask to pray for Haiti Projects. We bow our heads and they sing in unison in French “How Great Thou Art.” I am humbled, proud, and in awe of the impact of the artisanat, this work and these women. Who is helping whom learn the meaning of dignity?
The art of embroidery has been passed down through generations in Haiti; girls learn from their mothers. This summer Haiti Projects is keeping the tradition alive by offering an embroidery course to young women in Fond des Blancs. Enite, Carolle, and Jeannine, three of Haiti Projects most experienced embroiderers, are teaching the 35 young women to embroider. The young women gather three days a week to learn no less than 15 different stitches. Once they have mastered each stitch, they use the stitches to embroider a fruit basket and then more complicated designs. The class is bonding young women with experienced embroiderers and talents are developing. Someday, when the young women are done with school, we hope that some will select sewing and embroidery as a profession and offer their skills to Haiti Projects.
Haiti Projects’ artisana is committed to producing high quality handmade products, products that can compete with high end items from around the world and products that the women can be proud to create. A number of quality control procedures and trainings ensure that every item the artisans create is beautiful.. More importantly, the women, all 90, are continually trained to hone their embroideray and sewing skills as part of a professional development program. Other training programs Haiti Projects runs include financial literacy traning, health and hygine program and literacy programs.
Quality control starts with the purchase of only the highest quality materials from the US, France, Ireland, and Haiti. The fabrics and threads are measured by one of our top supervisors and then cut and then distributed to the artisan embroiderers. Once the embroidery is complete, each item must make it through a quality assurance team of 3 women. Items that make it through the team are then sent to be washed and ironed and then returned for a final look by the quality assurance team.
After years of examining workmanship the women know what to look for- loose threads, incorrect measurements, and little marks. Ella, who leads the team, says that quality control is important to ensure that the work will be respected.