As I sat in the single room of the schoolhouse listening to the women of OFEDA (Organisation des Femmes Devouees en Action that translates to Organization of Women for Action) share their stories as the rain started to fall on the tin roof overhead, I thought about what it must have been like for them to live in a ravine that flooded each time it rained after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. Even though they no longer live in the ravine, these independent and determined women still live in tents but their living situation doesn’t weaken their strong resolve to improve their lives through job opportunities.
OFEDA’s 200 members range in age from 18 to 82 years old. Before the earthquake OFEDA women were business owners. They were merchants who sold items at the local markets and were skilled in handcrafts such as embroidery and crochet. When the earthquake struck, they needed to take care of their family needs first and their work fell by the wayside. They first met under a tree in the government owned tent camp to provide support and encouragement for one another.
OFEDA continues to provide support and encouragement to each other through their new business ventures like a line of embroidered greeting cards, paper bead jewelry, soap making business, and crochet garments. Today’s visit to OFEDA symbolized more progress as I perused their products and recalled how far they had come since meeting them last January. Last year we visited to share donations of personal hygiene supplies, purses, whistles, and flashlights and watched as they were shown the embroidery supplies, blank cards, and needles for the greeting card line. I watched as Willa Shalit showed the women some sample cards that had been created in New York but then gave them the artistic freedom to create their own designs. I never could have imagined that our first meeting might have resulted in such beautiful creations that I purchased today.
It was so powerful to go back to OFEDA over a year later and witness their determination but also surprise them with a return visit. So many groups have come to Haiti to provide aid and have left without creating sustainability. OFEDA women are proud. They aren’t looking for handouts and while our purchases help, they talked about needing more business opportunities through purchases.
Of the 200 women, 30 have consistent work. Visiting and purchasing items from OFEDA and other Haitian artisans directly impacts their livelihood and their ability to provide to their families. In addition to OFEDA earning income for their families, they also hope to save $4000-5000 to be able to rent an office space for a year and another $5000 to invest in the purchase dry goods such as beans, flour, rice, and sugar that would allow them to sell commodities regularly for a profit.
OFEDA has well defined goals and the determination to improve their futures thanks to determination and hard work. I am forever impressed with this group of businesswomen and as exciting as it was to witness their success today, I hope to return to celebrate continued success in the future.
Tomorrow we’ll meet with artisans from 10 different groups to conduct technology training that will include a photography session designed to assist with taking product photos for their websites. We’ll also conduct our social media training and share the generous donation by of Windows laptops, Office Home and Business 2010, and laptop sleeves from Microsoft.
I received grant money from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) and a scholarship from Everywhere to help defray the cost of this trip however, all additional expenses are personally paid for. All opinions are based on my experiences.