In recent years, I have tried to get into the habit of fully imagining a situation, rather than just sympathizing with it. This tactic helped me in 2010, when I thought about all of the people living in tents after the earthquake in Port Au Prince, Haiti, that left so many people homeless and displaced. Rather than becoming de-sensitized to the massive tent cities that flowed through the capital city like ominous ocean waves, I would close my eyes each morning and imagine that I was waking up in the sweltering heat of a tent on the top of a barren hillside. The imagery I conjured, and the discomfort and dread it invoked, gave me the incentive to keep working as a part of the rebuilding efforts.
Nowadays, rather than imagining life in a tent, I attempt to visualize what it would feel like to have no economic security, whatsoever. What would my life look like if I had no guaranteed income? In an effort to empathize, I summon a panic that results from the idea that my ability to guarantee food for my family is left to chance, and that my daily income, quite simply, is a matter of luck. Most of the staff at deux mains designs can relate to this feeling authentically, as it is a lingering memory they carry with them from the days before they gained full-time employment.
Annette Marcelin has been working with deux mains designs for fourteen months. Before coming to work for the company, she sold goods in the market of Carrefour, and tells of the uncertainty involved in that routine, “If I was a still vendor, and got up today and went to market and didn’t sell anything, I would have to go home empty-handed, and would not be able to feed my kids,” she said. “Now that I have a job, I can borrow money if I need to, and know that I’ll can pay it back quickly. This provides me with great hope.”
Once of the greatest accolades that I have always acknowledged of Haitian people, one that has remained unchanged in my experience, is that they are extremely hard working and resilient. Laying in the dirt in despair with their arms outstretched to charity is not the image that should be conjured when the world tries to understand the level of poverty in Haiti, and how the population copes. Instead, imagine millions of people, pounding the pavement, hustling and bustling to make ends’ meet – with no guarantee of success on a daily basis. That kind of perseverance is humbling.
Andremene Jean, a craftswoman of four years, shares Annette’s sentiment, “Having a full time job, and relying on street commerce, are two completely different things,” she said. “When you have a job, you have an advantage. For example, I could ask a friend to lend me 250 gourdes, and I know I can pay it back. It’s as if your colors change when you have full time work.”
To be honest, as a foreigner who has lived in and out of Haiti for many years, this idea of full time work creating such a tremendous advantage for people, never fully registered in my mind until I began working with REBUILD globally and deux mains designs. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I was blinded to such a basic and seemingly obvious concept: that steady and reliable income is more meaningful and productive than unpredictable commerce.
In defense of my daftness, however, if you’ve ever been to Haiti, you know that life here can be complicated in the most daunting way. As the famous Haitian Proverb states, “dèyè mòn, gen mòn,” or “beyond mountains there are more mountains;” meaning that even when one successfully overcomes a challenge in life, there will always be more to face.
This sentiment couldn’t be more true in Haiti; a place where seemingly insurmountable problems swirl around us, and while proposed solutions are presented in rapid fire, the complexities run deep, like roots entwined beneath the soil. As a result, the simplest of solutions are often within reach, but go unnoticed. In the case of economic insecurity, the painfully obvious solution is that by providing a steady and reliable income to vulnerable people, they will inherently be able to solve their own economic struggles.
Jolina Desroches, the first woman employed by deux mains designs understood that a reliable and well-paid job was exactly what she needed to bring her family out of her post-earthquake tent, and into a thriving household, “When I met our Founder, Julie, in August of 2010, if she had given me rice and beans and oil, all of it would have been gone by now,” she said. “Because we created a business, however, and I received a job, I able to feed my family still today.”
Purchasing land, building houses, paying for children’s school tuition, providing food for families, administering healthcare…. what comes to mind when we hear these action points? If you’ve had an experience anything like mine, you think of a charity or NGO’s annual report from the developing world. What’s interesting, however, is that by receiving a steady income, these are the action points that Jolina and Annette and Andremene, along with the entire staff at deux mains designs have taken for their own families and communities. These are the success stories in the annual report of their own lives.
According to Jolina, “When you have full time work, every fifteen days you have hope because of the money you receive from your paycheck. Fifteen days has the power to change everything.”