Last week myself, John (Country Director) and Farrah (Community Development Manager) from the Port-au-Prince field office made the long trip to Gonaïves to visit one of Haven’s livelihoods programmes.
The 4 hour journey was an eye opener for me. It was my first time traveling north of the capital and the differences between the north and south of the country are phenomenal. The heat is a lot more intense in the north, and there are vast areas of bare desert-like terrain. I was excited to go to Gonaïves and see the community there, having heard so much about it from some of the veteran volunteers on this year’s Volunteer Programme.
Haven has been an instrumental factor in the development of the Morne Blanc community in Gonaïves. In 2011, Haven built two villages, Jerusalem and Canaan, in Morne Blanc. Within these villages, Haven built two community centres with solar panels and latrines, and 224 houses all with their own individual latrines and rainwater harvesting equipment. Haven also facilitated the building of the new school in the community.
One of the livelihoods programmes that has gone from strength to strength over the past number of months is the sewing group in Gonaïves. The purpose of last week’s visit was to conduct further sewing training with the women in the Morne Blanc communities. In late 2013, Haven teamed up with Deborah Couri and the Women of Milot Entrepreneurial Network. Founded in 2009, the Women of Milot Entrepreneurial Network partners with women in Haiti to create sustainable business opportunities and to provide a sustainable means of income for women who may not have previously had any form of income.
Today, the Women of Milot Entrepreneurial Network is made up of a core group of 20 women who, with the right training, support and materials necessary, have been able to build their own businesses, which enables them to earn a living wage to provide for herself, her children and extended family, as well as employ other women from her community as her business grows. It is hoped that the women is Morne Blanc will soon reach this level and will become a provider for their own families.
The women earn anything from $17 to $30 per day, depending on the quality of their products. Considering that the Haitian minimum wage is 250 gourde per day (roughly $5), this programme changes the lives of the women who undertake and commit to it. At present, the products that are made by the women are sold at the Artisanal Marketplace at Labadee in the North of the country, which is where Royal Caribbean Cruise lines and Celebrity Cruises have their Haitian resort.
During the two and a half hour session Deborah taught the women the basics of how to make high quality jewellery pouches. She also gave them a series of tasks to complete over the coming weeks that will improve their standard of sewing. Deborah will return in June for a further 10 day intensive training course, that will see her conduct a progress evaluation from her last visit and further training with the women. Some of the products that the Women of Milot have created include artisanal jewellery, aprons, oven mitts and tote bags.
Previous to the training provided by Deborah, 60 women attended intensive sewing training classes that were run by the Haitian Ministry of Education, held in November 2011. At the end of the training the women received a Ministry-accredited certificate. For many of the women who participated in the training, this certificate was the only form of formal training that they had ever received. Haven provided the women with sewing machines and materials for the classes.
One of the things I’ve noticed since moving to Haiti is how creative the Haitians are. On most streets, there’s at least one person displaying their art that’s for sale. The paintings are absolutely fascinating. The artists use a variety of bright colours and a lot of Haitian art is centred on the strong religious cultures and its influence on everyday life, with elements of African and European cultures mixed in. Haitian art is considered to be one of the most important representations of history and culture in the country.