Eye of the Needle

Entrepreneurship in rural Haiti with needle and thread

Marthe Bernadel likes to sew. She is gifted with the needle and thread. Because of her nimble fingers and her affinity for stitch work, she is able to earn an income and provide for her family thanks to the efforts of the Haiti Projects Collective.

Haiti Projects Collective first opened in 1996 in the region of Fond des Blancs. The organization created the Artisanat Cooperative with the mission to bring the fine embroidery skills of local woman to global markets and to provide income opportunities to a region of Haiti that is in desperate need of an infusion of jobs.

In addition to providing employment opportunities to the 100 rural women who produce the delicate embroidery on nightgowns, linens and gift items, Haiti Projects provides them with a number of services that include a health clinic, a community library, and regional learning center that has access to technology. But there’s more that helps the women get on with their lives. There are loans from Caisse Aide, Haiti Projects’ micro-lending program, which allows women like Marthe to purchase land and begin work on a new house or build their own business.

“The great thing about Haiti Projects,” Martha says, “is that is has allowed me and the women in the village to advance on many fronts, professionally, economically, with housing, better food, schooling for our children, and the money to go to the hospital and buy the medicines they need when they are sick. The more we work the more we earn.” She adds, “And that is what makes it all wonderful.”

The need in rural Haiti for initiatives like Haiti Projects is great. Before Haiti Projects, only 17 percent of local women could afford their children’s tuition. Now, 100 percent of project participants can and do send their children to school. Not only does the work created by Haiti projects enable women to afford daily basic necessities, it also enables them to invest in their communities. Twenty-two percent of Haiti Projects workers have started their own business since working for Haiti Projects, and 11 percent have bought property. There are many women like Marthe, which Haiti Projects has empowered through training and employment in rural Haiti.

But even the most successful enterprises have some challenges. According to Renee Ryan, Haiti Projects’ director of sales, the biggest obstacle the organization faces is navigating shipping channels and customs to export products, but also to receive raw materials like the best quality of linen and cotton for the women to work with. In spite of the bureaucratic red tape, Haiti Projects’ artisan workshop is profitable. Currently, it is working with raw materials that are indigenous to Haiti, including goats for leather goods, and the organization is working with Haitian designers to develop a new line of finely embroidered handbags, wallets, and pillows.

Haiti Projects is also working to expand its partnerships with major American retailers and designers in an effort to increase production, all with the hope of hiring more women and creating a sustainable source of employment in rural Haiti. As part of their efforts to generate more awareness among retailers and designers, Haiti Projects will be in New York City August 19-21 to exhibit at the upcoming Artisan Resource™, a semi-annual event held alongside the New York International Gift Fair® at the Jacob Javits Center and at Pier 92.

Artisan Resource is a special section that centers on artisan enterprises worldwide as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for unique items, as well as partnerships to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage thriving. The section will also offer programming on such topics as the basics of importing and customs duties. Haiti Projects will be exhibiting a new collection of linens for the home and an expanded baby line that includes organic cotton sweaters, rompers and bloomers.

In addition, to attending the fair, Haiti Projects has bigger ambitions for its online presence. According to Ryan, their primary goal is to create a more user-friendly web store that will create an easy shopping experience for their customers, as well as stronger relationships with current and new contract/wholesale vendors.

For more information, please visit www.haitiprojects.org

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