The irony of the moment hit me like a ton of bricks. I was standing in my old office, complete with a three piece solid wood desk and stacks of blueprints, just the way I’d left it the day I went into labor with my first child 7 years ago. But instead of sporting slacks, a collared shirt, and a hard hat, I was wearing lipstick, a dress, cute flats from South America, and carrying an armful of lookbooks to show off the accessories I sell.
That’s when I knew I was completely “off my rocker.”
What in the world is this former-engineer doing selling JEWELRY and writing for a fashion blog?? My old coworkers were really curious (I was there to have lunch with them). “Don’t you miss being an engineer?” They told me I could come back anytime.
But the thing is… I have something burning up inside of me now. Sometimes I feel like my hair is standing on end, and my heart is about to burst, and I have to unclinch my fists because I sense a calling and a purpose for my life and I can’t ignore it. Maybe I could go back to being an engineer. But the whole time I’d be thinking about artisans in far off countries…
I hear the statement from friends and family often: “Wow, you’re really passionate about this fair trade stuff!”
So I thought I might tell you a little bit of my “WHY.”
You might say it started when I jumped on board as an ambassador for Noonday Collection in the fall of 2012. Or when I witnessed life in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa shortly after. But really, the turning point for me was during a trip to Haiti, in August 2013.
A group of 9 of us showed up to volunteer at a creche (orphanage) that was founded by an amazing couple from Arizona. We didn’t know a lot about what we’d be doing that week; we just showed up with hands and hearts open to whatever was needed.
While digging a drainage trench for a new soccer field, cleaning out an old storage room, and painting the walls, we learned about the history of the creche and more about life in Haiti. The sad and undeniable truth is that when Americans (and others) swoop in and open up an orphanage with clean water, food, education, and clothing for the children inside, many children who show up on the doorstep are not orphans at all.
“The vast majority of Haiti’s “orphans” have not been orphaned by parental deaths, earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods, but are children of living parents who gave them up simply because they knew that an orphanage could feed their child.”
One day I will remember forever is the day that we saw a family at the creche that had given up their son about a year ago. They traveled a long way to attend a court appointment… just one step in a lengthy process to relinquish their parental rights to their child forever.
Can you even imagine? If you’re a parent, you are probably thinking “I would never do that!” The thought of turning my child over to someone else makes my stomach turn. And yet, it’s true that I would do anything for my children… to keep them safe, to feed them when they’re hungry, to keep them healthy and alive. We’ve never experienced hunger. We have no idea what that’s like. Who am I to judge.
I will never forget looking at that family and seeing them light up when their child walked in the room and seeing their smiles when they saw how happy (and well fed) he was. I remember thinking, “THEY BELONG TOGETHER!”
As wonderful as it is that this boy is being well cared for by this creche, and will soon be with parents in the United States that will love him forever, families should stay together.
I kept wondering, “what would it take for them to be able to care for this child?” We could have easily handed them a couple hundred dollars right then and there. But money runs out. Kids need to be fed and educated (school is not free in Haiti) and they need clothes and they need healthcare… for almost 18 years. What the parents need is not a donation here or there… they need a JOB. And jobs are what are seriously lacking in Haiti and in other developing countries.
The very next day, we witnessed just one of Chances for Children‘s solutions to this growing problem. A group of women gathered together to receive their monthly paycheck for participation in an artisan group. These women brought their children… and their smiles! I have to be honest, we didn’t see a lot of adults smiling on the streets of Haiti. Their faces seemed hardened and sad for the most part. But in that room, it was all joy! They had worked hard rolling little beads from paper and stringing them into necklaces, bracelets, and key chains to be sold in the US and at our guesthouse. To see them gather together with such happiness… it was more than my heart could take! We were all sobbing happy tears right along with them!
Imagine what this means to them: I have a job. I can feed my child. I can take him to the doctor when he’s sick. I can send him to school. Our family can stay together. They are beating the odds in Haiti.
This is why my heart feels like it’s on fire and I can’t sleep at night. I’m soaking it all in and pondering over it in my head and wondering what else can I do to improve the lives of those living in Haiti and elsewhere??
I will do everything I can to help keep kids out of orphanages and keep families together. I will stand up for artisans who are working so hard to make a living, because I know that these jobs are their only hope.
I can’t fix poverty with the money in my pockets. No one can, really. But as Americans, we spend a LOT of money and if we’re shelling it out, we might as well direct it where it can do GOOD.
My goal, and my mission, and my passion is to bring awareness. To connect you with artisan groups and fair trade companies who are empowering their community through employment. I’m so thankful to Brandi for letting me be a part of this blog and for giving me an outlet for the thoughts that keep me up at night.
Thank you so much for journeying with us and for changing one life at a time through your fair trade purchases!
In Style & Love,
postscript: The artisan group that works at C4C just opened up a boutique in Haiti, introduced a new brand name, received uniforms, and is about to launch a new website! I’ll have a follow-up post in a few weeks with info on their products and how to order!