Inside the Colorado Haiti Project: Jackie Martin’s Full Interview

DSC_1315What drew you to CHP?

For many years I have felt an incredibly strong call to work with an organization whose mission is to help the most financially impoverished citizens of our world as they lift themselves out of extreme poverty.  I had very particular search criteria for the type of organization with which I wished to work; when I finally found the CHP, it not only met my expectations, it exceeded them.  For 25 years this wonderful group has worked passionately and patiently to build meaningful relationships with the people in the Nippes region of Haiti and beyond.  This history and admirable approach has demonstrated the group’s desire to understand well and as clearly as possible the needs, desires and customs of rural Haitians.  It has fostered an invaluable sense of trust and confidence that the Colorado Haiti Project is committed to listening carefully, returning again and again with new possibilities for partnerships and resources in hopes that they might help the Haitians realize their own dreams.

How long have you been involved with the organization?

I have been working with the Colorado Haiti Project since the fall of 2013

What specific projects do you work on with CHP?

I work on the Vocational Development Committee.  The CHP’s Vocational Development Program encompasses four main areas: Sewing, Professional Scholarship, Entrepreneurial Studies and Agricultural Training.  I have been particularly involved with the sewing program and intrigued by the Haitian textile industry.  The apparel sector presently makes up about 90% of exports from Haiti, one-twentieth of the country’s GDP; however, domestic demand for textiles to be produced in Haiti is extremely low due to the abundance of donated clothing imports.  Haitians fondly refer to the secondhand clothing imports as pepe, which means peace in Kreyol.  There is a large, well-functioning pepe market in Haiti that reaches nearly all rural markets in the country.  Since most Haitians can afford to buy pepe and enjoy wearing it, graduates of the sewing program at St Paul’s in Petit Trou are faced with few haute couture employment opportunities in their region.  There is still demand for rural tailors to make school uniforms, religious vestments, and to perform general garment repairs, however, this is not an abundant supply of work.  In light of this, we decided to see how the sewing students would feel about amending the sewing curriculum to include repurposing pepe into new products.  In April a group of us traveled to Petit Trou to introduce the idea of turning secondhand t-shirts into yarn, which could then be crocheted and sewn into rugs and other products.  We had a wonderful turnout for these seminars and the students made quick work of the lessons.  Due to the favorable response from the students, we have continued to explore other products made from repurposing pepe.

As part of this exploration, we started working with a children’s clothing design team in Portland, Oregon to create a line of baby and children’s items made from up-cycled t-shirts to be produced and perfected at St. Paul’s, then potentially sold in a clothing boutique in Portland.  The first patterns from this collaboration were introduced to the students last month and very well received.

To further assist the students in rising to meet the challenges of the Haitian textile market we are working to expand their network of in-country partners.  We are identifying and scheduling visits with successful, rural textile producing groups across Haiti, as well as trade groups and boutiques in Port au Prince.  Last month Teresa Henry took three artisan entrepreneurs from Petit Trou to meet with the Artisan Business Network in Port au Prince.  During this meeting the artisans signed on to become members of the network, which will assist them with product development, quality control, product distribution, and many other aspects of doing business in Haiti.   This is an exciting new alliance for the artisan entrepreneurs of Petit Trou de Nippes.

How has working with this organization impacted you personally?

Working with the Colorado Haiti Project fills me with joy.  I truly enjoy each moment I spend thinking about and working on these projects, and I particularly enjoy each moment I spend with the individuals who make up the organization, both here and in Petit Trou.  The people of the Colorado Haiti Project feel like family to me.

For those who are on the fence about getting involved, what would you say to inspire them to become involved with CHP?

One of my favorite things about the Colorado Haiti Project is its appreciation of the fact that wealth and poverty do not reference monetary resources exclusively.   The organization reveres and celebrates the abundant wealth of the Haitian people.  The gifts that we Americans receive from our Haitian partners are not overlooked or taken for granted.