The Start of a Sewing Co-Op in Haiti.

How We Started a Sewing Cooperative in the Southern Part of Haiti to Train, Teach, and Foster Community.

In the summer of 2010, a journey to the quaint village of Fonds des Blancs (FDB) marked a significant chapter in my humanitarian efforts. Located about three hours west of Port au Prince, the village, once a thriving farming community, had fallen on hard times with the departure of its youth to urban centers like Port Au Prince. The devastating earthquake of January 2010 had left its mark, evident in the numerous tent cities dotting the landscape as we made our way to FDB.

Accompanied by Ferel Bruno, whose roots ran deep in the village, I was struck by the natural beauty that enveloped Fonds des Blancs. Lush trees, clean streams, and the warmth of its inhabitants painted a picturesque scene unlike any I had encountered before. Ferel introduced me to the locals, including a young man named Teike who offered insights into the community’s daily life. Simple houses, often consisting of one room with outdoor kitchens powered by charcoal stoves, were the norm. Water, a precious resource, was fetched daily from a nearby stream, a task often undertaken by children leading donkeys laden with plastic bottles.

Witnessing the challenges faced by the villagers, I resolved to make a tangible difference in their lives. Collaborating with Ferel’s family, we distributed much-needed supplies, including large bags of rice, a crucial lifeline for many families. The distribution process, ingeniously streamlined, involved painting thumbnails to prevent duplication of services, ensuring that aid reached those in need efficiently.

The visit left an indelible mark on my heart, prompting me to explore sustainable solutions to address the community’s needs. Recognizing the importance of education, we identified the lack of school uniforms as a barrier for children attending school. With the idea of empowering the community through skills training, we invested in treadle sewing machines, envisioning a sewing co-op that would not only provide livelihood opportunities but also produce uniforms for the village children.

In November 2011, armed with fabric, notions, and sewing machines, a dedicated team returned to Fonds des Blancs. Led by the indefatigable Cork (Kathleen) Terry, we embarked on sewing classes, teaching local women the art of sewing despite the challenges posed by defective machines. The resilience of the Haitian women was inspiring, their eagerness to learn undeterred by setbacks.

Subsequent visits in November 2012 saw the project expand, with the addition of Kristi Smith, a skilled seamstress, to our team. Despite the logistical challenges posed by Hurricane Sandy, we persevered, navigating back roads and river crossings to reach FDB. The success of our sewing classes underscored the importance of sustainable solutions in empowering communities.

Upon returning home, we continued our efforts, procuring new sewing machines and retrofitting them with the help of retired engineer Roger Oulde. The overwhelming support from our community, evidenced by donations of sewing notions and expertise, reinforced our commitment to the project.

As we look ahead to the future, our focus remains on the establishment of the sewing co-op in Fonds des Blancs. With plans to send a container filled with supplies and equipment, we are hopeful for a November launch, pending logistical arrangements. The journey thus far has been filled with challenges and triumphs, but with the continued support and prayers of our community, we are confident in our ability to effect lasting change in FDB.