On January 12, 2010 a massive earthquake 7.1 shook Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere causing an estimated $7.8 billion in infrastructure damages and losses, destroyed 105,000 homes and damaged 208,000.* Called an “unprecedented natural disaster” by the U.S. State Department, the world responded with $13.34 billions of dollars in aid** and assistance poured in from around the globe to help Haitians rebuild their lives.
But money only goes so far.
Five years later, some of the organizations that initially responded are long gone. Those who remain are non-governmental and charitable organizations with a long history of being in Haiti before the earthquake and others who are truly committed to sustainable efforts designed to teach, rather than provide a band-aid approach.
Money only goes so far when it comes to providing aid to a country in need but we all know that if you “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to celebrate an important milestone in Haiti with Macy’s as they celebrated five years of handmade goods created by Haitian artists through the Heart of Haiti collection. It’s an exemplary example of teaching a man to fish to feed them for a lifetime.
During a private event held at flagship Herald Square location that included Haitian artists and dignitaries, Macy’s executives, and key media, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren mentioned that despite the earthquake, people were still creating beautiful art that showcases “extraordinary talent with their beautiful merchandise” through a trade not aid program that creates opportunities.
Since the Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection started, the number of artists involved in making products has grown. Lundgren estimates that over 500 artisans are employed in making metalwork, horn and bone, paper mache, soapstone, tobacco leaf, and embroidered home décor and entertaining pieces. Income generated through these handmade goods affects over 5000 individuals and the artists often tell me how life changing this opportunity has been.
Yvette Celestin, a tobacco leaf artist from the coastal town of Jacmel, came to Manhattan for the first time last week to speak at the Macy’s Herald Square celebration.
Yvette talked about having adopted the little girl I met this past May when visiting her home because she had lost her mother and father after the earthquake. Yvette told us that because of products ordered by Macy’s, she’s able to send her adopted daughter to school, care for her newborn baby, and employ others to help her fulfill orders for items in the collection.
Rony Jacques lives in Croix des Bouquets, a town on the other side of the airport from Port au Prince that is well known for its metalwork.
Rony was one of the first artists to create pieces for the Heart of Haiti collection and since then, he has been a leader in the community, training other artists under his atelier who also have pieces that are part of the line.
Rony and Yvette are incredible artists but there are many other artisans all over Haiti that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know through my trips. They’ve shown me that money only goes so far when provided through band-aid approach but the teach-a-man-to-fish model of self sufficiency and sustainability provided by Macy’s and their continued commitment to the Heart of Haiti collection. Their success is a direct result of being knowledgeable about fair trade products and seeking them out to purchase with a purpose.
While money may only go so far, it can also speak volumes.
Using our purchasing power to buy products from the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line sends a clear message that sustainable economic development efforts in countries with a history of poverty are important. Job creation programs that bring handmade goods that consumers here in the United States can buy helps lift individuals out of poverty by providing them with income that expands their options and helps them realize their dreams.
It was an honor to be invited by Everywhere to celebrate the success of the Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection who covered my travel expenses to attend. All opinions are my own.
*Statistics were reported by the Government of Haiti and published in a report from the U.S. Department of State.
**Response in dollars from CNN Haiti Earthquake Fast Facts