Celebrating Women's History Month with Stories from the Women of Haiti

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women Celebrating Womens History Month with Stories from the Women of Haiti

March remains a very special month for me regardless of what is on my calendar. It’s Women’s History Month, we celebrate International Women’s Day and, on a more personal note, I celebrate the day I gave birth to my daughter Gabby. It is no secret that I am enormously inspired by the many great women in my life and that I draw on this inspiration to fuel my business, my foundation and my passions. I believe in the power of community and the community of women I have come to know and love continues to be an incredible source of purpose-driven motivation.

The women I have met in Haiti are such beautiful examples of the kind of tenacious and resilient spirit of the some of the most effective and powerful women I know. As I have developed relationships with these women, I have been greatly impacted by their personal stories. It is because of this that I have asked a few of these women to share their stories with you. I invite you to read on to discover the beginning of a collection of voices of some of the most inspiring women I’ve met on my journey in Haiti.

 Celebrating Womens History Month with Stories from the Women of Haiti

 Celebrating Womens History Month with Stories from the Women of Haiti

by Loune Viaud

The afternoon of that Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, was a life-changing moment for so many of us in Haiti and to most of the world. So many people died in a few seconds. It made me realized how vulnerable we are as humans and that I should use my time on earth very efficiently. I should not take life for granted. I should fight for life. It is too precious. That one should fight for it and help others.

I decided that the rest of my life would be dedicated to others less fortunate. With a group, I started the Centre Zanmi Beni, on January 13th, a project of Zanmi Lasante (ZL) in partnership with Operation Blessing International. Zanmi Beni (ZB) is a nurturing home for children and adolescents most of them orphans from the earthquake. Sixty unaccompanied minors and vulnerable children are members of the family of Zanmi Beni, many of them have either physical or developmental disabilities, and all of whom are in desperate need of loving care, support, security and stability. Zanmi Beni has grown to comprise a large dormitory, a kitchen and cafeteria building, and a music and arts center, a bakery and a fish farm on the campus. A Centre for hope. I believe that our hope is within the children of Haiti. They are the ones – providing they receive proper education, training, love and inspiration – can save our planet. They have the potential to be a great inspiration to the world.

As a country, we have learned a great deal on how to overcome adversity and go on with our life. Even before the earthquake, life was not easy in Haiti. Someone once said that living in Haiti was a risk in that you could die from dog bites, malaria, infectious disease, hunger… The questions for us, was, “To live or not to live,” but hope was always there. Many of us have chosen to stay in the country or return from North America or Europe or Africa, to continue the fight and not give up.

I considered myself a foot soldier; a defender of human rights especially when it comes to health, housing and education. I am very passionate about children and their right to education. I am inspired daily by the courage, love, humility and passion of others, Haitians and non-Haitians.

We who are so fortunate should feel eager to share and give opportunity to children who are dying to live their lives.

Inspiration should come from within you as, “it is not how much we do but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give but how much love we put in the giving.” And you can do it person-to-person, day-by-day. It is possible. Do not hesitate to try something different, do something totally strange, just keep love as your guide. Don’t do it for money or fame. It will not last.

My great hope is that what we are doing at Zanmi Beni, that our efforts to make a difference in the lives of others by teaching tolerance, developing skills, creating the space for quality life will have a positive impact on some of the children. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, the kids will probably forget what we said and what we did for them, but they will never forget how we made them feel: love, respect, dignity and trust.

Photo Credit: Partners in Health

Shelly Celebrating Womens History Month with Stories from the Women of Haiti

by Shelley Clay

Being a leader, an entrepreneur and a woman in Haiti is a paradox in a land that has not yet had its own women’s liberation movement. Being the underdog since birth, women often buy into the limits set on them and develop their own self-imposed glass ceiling that is sometimes almost impossible to put a crack in.

Makilene, 28 years old, uneducated, illiterate, widow, mother of five is the exception to all that her culture has put on her. Makilene came to me hunched over a tiny newborn, covered in oozing scabies looking for an orphanage to put her baby and her four other small children into. I kindly told her that we weren’t an orphanage, and quite oppositely worked to give mothers a chance to be economically empowered to raise their children themselves. Makilene spent two days doing my laundry to pay for her taptap ride back to the countryside as she had come with nothing and I felt obligated to at least have her work enough to get back to where she came from. I could hear her baby crying beside her as she sang and did my laundry for those two days. At the end of the two days I couldn’t help but offer her a permanent job as an Apparent Project artisan.

In doing this, I broke several of my own personal rules for working in Haiti. One, I didn’t know this woman from Adam and there was nobody who could speak for her to say that she wasn’t trouble. Secondly, I had no idea if she had any sense of work ethic, or basic skills to be able to follow patterns, colors, or count- many things we take for granted in a world where everyone has gone to primary school. I went out on the limb for the sake of her five children and because there are just times in life when you know that you are supposed to do something that is a bit risky. In this case, I couldn’t have been more blessed to have taken that risk.
I gave her enough money to go out to the countryside and retrieve her children. Miraculously she came back after just a few days and we started looking for a place for herself and her children to live. At this point I was still very skeptical about whether or not I was just giving another handout or whether I might be doing something that might lead to a more sustainable outcome for this precious little family.

Two days after we found a suitable one-room house, the earthquake of 2010 hit. Amidst a pile of rubble, stood one solitary house untouched. Makilene and her five children were safe. Because of housing issues, rent prices going up, and the fear of sleeping under concrete, Makilene quickly found herself in a 5 x 5 foot makeshift tent for the next year. All five of her kids were still with her.

In the next year Makilene, seizing the opportunity laid before her in a way that I have never seen before, became our top grossing, hardest working artisan. She has consistently outsold all of our other artisans, and now has subcontracted seven other artisans to work for her while she makes time to take care of her kids. I had no idea that this woman who came to me so pitifully the year before had such hidden potential and fierce determination! The volume of jewelry she produces and her diligence in saving money enabled her at the end of a year in a tent to buy her very own piece of land with a two room house on it. Three of her five children are in school and she is saving now to continue to make improvements on her house.

She is a woman who has changed her destiny. She is freed from the bonds of rent forever and her children will not have to repeat the cycle of poverty that they were born into. She is my hero and the reason why, when things are hard in Haiti (and they are so often) I keep going. I am so so proud of Makilene!

While life in Haiti is laced with so much tragedy, it is also heavily doused with hope and determination. While many people may look at me and pat me on the back for what I may have accomplished in three years in Haiti, my heart is continuously humbled when I look around me at what has been accomplished by a group of undereducated, impoverished women who have not had even a small percent of the benefits that I grew up with. They are my icons, my leaders, and when I am discouraged and frustrated for the difficulties of being a woman leader in Haiti, I quickly become their disciple.