How We Started a Sewing Cooperative in the Southern Part of Haiti to Train, Teach, and Foster Community.
In the summer of 2010 I visited a small village called Fonds des Blancs. It is about 3 hours west of Port au Prince. Tom had visited the village two years before and suggested I see it. Back in the day it was a fertile farming community, but the young people left to go to Port Au Prince and so the village has few families and no farming and no jobs. The earthquake had happened in January of 2010; on the way to FDB we passed many tent cities.
I went there with Ferel Bruno whose family still live there. It is in a beautiful part of Haiti that I had never seen before….lush trees, clean streams and friendly people. A young man named Teike showed me where some of the people lived. The people lived in simple houses, often one room with the kitchen outside. The kitchen has a charcoal stove and no running water. The water is carried each day from a clear stream. In the center of the village is the stream and often times during the day, you see a donkey laden with plastic bottles filled with water being led by the children to take home to their families. I noticed lots of fields and few cows and no crops growing.
Ferel brought about three huge bags of rice…maybe 100 pounds per bag. His family and I put the rice in smaller bags. The distribution process was creatively efficient! Each recipient had his/her thumbnail painted while he/she was in line for the rice. This was a way to prevent duplication of services!
Needless to say, Fonds Des Blancs has a special place in my heart. I thought about needs there and what we could do directly for the families. In order for children to go to school in Haiti, they must have uniforms…..how to get uniforms and where??? I was told many women make their children’s uniforms. We decided sewing machines could be a good thing. Help Haiti bought 4 Finger brand treadle sewing machines which were made in China….did I forget to tell you there is no electricity in FDB?
While I prepared for my return to FDB, a French speaking woman, Carol Forte who lives in a neighboring town helped me translate sewing machine parts. Many friends contributed fabric and sewing supplies. My friend Cork Terry. who lives in Denver and has many many friends was able to get all different kinds of vegetable and fruit seeds and wanted to join me.
November 2011, Cork (Kathleen) Terry and I came with suitcases filled with fabric, notions and seeds. We introduced the women to the workings of the treadle machines. We had about six women in our class each day. They would take turns on the four machines. There was a Haitian woman, Yvonne who knew about treadles and she was a great help to us and most patient with the machines when the thread would break….which was often. The women made aprons and shopping bags using patterns. We decided that the machines were defective and on our return to the US we returned 2 machines to the store where they were purchased in exchange for 2 others with the hope they would work. (They didn’t)
November 2012 Cork and I returned to FDB, this time with Kristi Smith, a Grand Junction hand therapist and seamstress extraordinaire. Kristi has been volunteering with NPH for several years and she wanted to join us. Hurricane Sandy had effects on the rivers and roads and as a result, we took the back roads led by Ferel’s brother on a motorcycle. We crossed 17 streams! Cork brought more seeds and kits for making/sewing pillowcase dresses. Kristi brought sewing kits for each woman and patterns. Each day the Haitian women would arrive at 8 AM and at 4 PM, we had to tell them it was time to go! The Haitian women were wonderful students and wanted to keep sewing despite the super DEFECTIVE treadle machines. We had tearful good byes after a celebration of Coca cola and Cheetos on our last day.
When we were at the airport in Port Au Prince leaving for home, we visited with some Mennonite volunteers. We told them about the terrible sewing machines and they gave us the name of new machines available for treadle bases. The name is Janome.
Upon returning home, we knew what we had to do….get some new machines. David Paradis, Tom’s brother found Sewing Machines Plus online. Tom spoke with the owner, Ron Martin who gave Tom lots of information about sewing machines PLUS a wonderful donation for Help Haiti. Ron informed us we could get Singer treadle bases and they would be compatible with the Janome machine. An article about our sewing project was in the local paper, Grand Junction Free Press and the Vail Daily. In the article we told of our need for Singer bases, sewing notions and an engineer to help us fit the Janome’s on the bases. The response was amazing! A man, named Roger Oulde called and said he thought he could help us with the retrofitting. Roger is a retired engineer and can do ANYTHING! We purchased twelve Janome machines and Roger retrofitted them to the bases we found all over western Colorado.
Some of the machine bases had wood tops that had split wood and the veneer was peeling. Kristi has a friend, Terry LaSalle whose husband, Al is a wood craftsman. Al is a retired educator and has taken on our tops as a project.
Help Haiti purchased a twenty foot container. It is in Florida and will be filled with the machines, fabric and farm items for FDB. The wish list for FDB includes wheelbarrows, flashlights, rubber boots, 2, 3 and 4 inch pipe in twenty foot lengths, shovels, picks empty 5 gallon buckets, a used diesel generator, solar panels and things that go with that.
I went to Haiti in April for a week to check on where our new sewing co-op will be located. What a wonderful surprise to see the garden! By hand the people had dug up and planted tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, okra, watermelon, beets and green bell peppers. They had dug a well for watering! The tomatoes were in their third time producing fruit. The tomatoes were staked with twigs….it was wonderful and amazing. The people didn’t know what to do with the green tomatoes….I did a little Martha class and we made fried green tomatoes!
The sewing co-op will be in the center of FDB and visual for the people walking by. It is near the stream where everyone comes for water. We are hoping to send the container this summer and set up our co-op in November if all goes well with shipping and customs. Prayers are appreciated! We are collecting more fabric and miscellany sewing items. We hope to keep you updated on our web.