Heading to Haiti: Destruction and Creation

Heading to Haiti: Destruction and Creation

img_4219I grew up with several Haitian bark paintings and pieces of metalwork decorating our home. One was a concave bark painting that depicted a turtle fighting a fish. As a child I asked my father the meaning of that piece. I only wish I could remember his answer. Funny how the image of that fish and turtle remain crisp in my mind while details of conversations with my father, who died when I was thirteen, have mostly faded away. Maybe I’ll find my answer next week when I peek into the Haitian art world, still it strikes me that this is the power of art, of images that stay in our minds long after words fade away.

As I embark on my first ever visit to Haiti other pictures of the country are being etched into our minds. Last week areas of Haiti faced yet another crippling natural disaster, and although we are bringing what we can to help, we are not going there to view the destruction. We are going to witness creation. What I do know about Haiti beyond what we see in the news is this; Haiti is a nation of Artisans with a rich cultural history of art and craftsmanship, and that is the reason for this visit. Though we are not going with the purpose of disaster relief (nor do I have qualifications to go for that reason) Macy’s Heart of Haiti program was initially founded in response to a natural disaster. Our Macy’s Heart of Haiti tour, in partnership with the Artisan Business Network ,was planned before Hurricane Matthew struck. The artists asked that we still come, and we have ensured that our plans will not hinder any critical relief efforts underway. The partnership with Haitian artisans was launched back in 2010 after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country. It has been working to help provide an outlet for the rich tradition of the arts in Haitian culture and sustainable income opportunities since.

After the earthquake in 2010 the Clinton Foundation had called on private firms to help resurrect the Haitian artisan economy. Macy’s responded by teaming up with Fairwinds Trading, BrandAid, and Haitian artisans to create home goods to be sold at Macy’s stores. The products are made almost entirely from recycled and sustainable materials. The “trade not aid” model of Heart of Haiti has employed 780 artisans since then providing them with an outlet for their work and in turn an opportunity to make a living , feed their families, and send their children to school. The success of the Macy’s program has opened up new opportunities for artists with other vendors as well. A Haitian American named Nathalie Tancrede partnered with Fairwinds Trading, and HAND/EYE Fund to found the Artisans Business Network that works to empower Haiti’s artisan culture to improve community wellbeing.

The Republic of Haiti is named from the indigenous Taíno name for the island, Ayiti, meaning Land of High Mountains.  Haiti occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.  It was the first independent nation in Latin America, and the first black-led republic in the world after gaining independence in the slave revolution of 1804.  According to the World Bank it is also the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. More than half of the population lives on less than $2.50 a day. Geographically prone to natural disasters, including the 7.0 in 2010, and after two decades of political turmoil and foreign interference, Haitians are working hard to rebuild and move forward. The World Bank reports progress:

“Six years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, Haiti has moved from recovery to longer term development as it continues to improve infrastructure and strengthen institutions, work toward increasing access to and quality of education, health and other services, and stimulate investment.” – worldbank.org

In the book The Big Truck That Went By author Jonathan Katz  describes the frustration of developmental aid workers as they “confronted seemingly straightforward issues , only to find that dozens of interrelated problems made solving them alone impossible .” One thing that does work to improve quality of life, individual by individual, is employment, sustainable, long-term dignified jobs that provide fair wages.  One by one the individual lives of the talented artisans creating the products sold through Heart of Haiti have improved, and in turn, the lives of their families.

My appreciation for craft is deep and reverent. Growing up our home was filled with art from different cultures, and creating was part of our lives. My mother was a PhD. and my father a Doctor, but they both loved to create. In his basement workshop my father created stained glass and enamel pieces along with his constant woodworking projects. My mother was a painter and ceramic artist who had a second Bachelors degree from Mass Art.  Over the years I’ve enjoyed painting, making pottery, photography, and paper making, and it’s no surprise that my daughter chose the path of art major at her high school. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the artisans in Haiti in their work spaces, to learn more about their country and culture, and to get to see the creative processes that produce the beautiful Heart of Haiti pieces carried at Macy’s.

The impact of Hurricane Matthew has of course added a new aspect to our trip. Many of the artists within the Artisan Business Network have been impacted by the Hurricane, some with devastating losses.  Our group will be bringing items requested by ABN to do the little bit each of us can to help them get back on their feet.  I will be collecting the below items to bring, so any donations by local friends are greatly appreciated!

  • SHEETS
  • FLASHLIGHTS
  • BATTERIES FOR FLASHLIGHTS
  • SMALL PORTABLE RADIOS
  • BATTERIES FOR SMALL PORTABLE RADIOS
  • DIAPERS
  • WIPES
  • FEMININE SUPPLIES: PADS ONLY
  • PERSONAL HYGIENE PRODUCTS
  • ANTIBIOTIC OINTMENTS, IBUPROFEN, ADVIL,
  • UNDERWEAR (MEN, WOMEN, KIDS – ALL SIZES)
  • SOCKS (MEN, WOMEN, KIDS – ALL SIZES)
  • CRAYONS, PENCILS, PENS, DRAWING PADS
  • PHONE CHARGERS
  • POWER STRIPS (2 & 3 HEADS)
  • CLOTHES AND SHOES (IN GOOD SHAPE OR NEW) FOR MEN, WOMEN, KIDS OF ALL AGES/SIZES
    NO WINTER CLOTHES – SHORTS, SKIRTS, T-SHIRTS, DRESSES, PANTS, SHIRTS, TANK TOPS
    FLIP FLOPS, HATS, BABY ONESIES, ESPADRILLE LIKE SHOES

Donations can also be made online directly to the ABN through HAND/EYE MAGAZINE or an Amazon wish list where items will be directly shipped to our trip leader Leticia. For more ways to help see Leticia’s blog post listing other trust worthy places to donate.  Edesia in Rhode Island is also accepting donations to help treat and prevent child malnutrition in the most hard hit areas of Haiti.

We will be sharing stories and photos along the way during our trip and you can follow us on Social Media on Twitter Facebook and at #giftsthatgivehope, #Bloggers4Haiti to see the beautiful creation that happens in Haiti and the meet the artists at work. You can also follow the Artisan Business Network  on Facebook and Instagram . Meanwhile, along with stories, I will be looking for some new pieces of Haitian art to display in our home for my own children to grow up with.

I received a scholarship from Everywhere to help cover some of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line.

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