When retired nurse Sarah Hackett first visited Haiti in 1992 as a volunteer with a Boston-based public health NGO, she quickly fell in love with the country and its people. Working in the hospital in Fond des Blancs, Sarah saw firsthand the effects of poverty on the health and well-being of the village, particularly on women.
In 1994, Sarah launched a family planning clinic in Fond des Blancs. When she saw that none of the women could afford even the most basic medical fees, Sarah founded the Haiti Projects Artisinat Cooperative to address the deeper issue of lack of employment and income in the rural community.
Since its founding in 1996, the Artisinat Cooperative is now the second largest employer in the region, providing live-saving income and supporting services like health care and a scholarship fund to women and girls throughout the area.
Since 2008, Grommet has been in the biz of small biz, elevating the big ideas and ingenious products of entrepreneurs, innovators, and artisans. Haiti Projects is one of our longest-running partnerships—their goods have been sold on Grommet since 2010—and their handcrafted nightgowns and fragrant sachets are consistent customer-pleasers. And with every piece sold, a woman in rural Haiti is getting fair wages and the ability to support her family.
We connected with Artisinat director Jean Rene Leseau and Artisinat supervisor Carolle Poulard to chat more about the work Haiti Projects is doing and their impact on the women of the community.
Grommet: Jean Rene and Carolle, can you tell us more about your roles and your day-to-day life at Haiti Projects?
Jean Rene: The first thing is design. I work on the designs for the products and assure when the artisans make them that the quality is good and design is correct. If we have not made a certain design in a while, I will make sure the design is modern and still interesting to the market. The second part is that, while we have orders and are in production, I make sure that the work is done on time and of great quality. I also supervise the managers in the artisanat.
Carolle: My work is to supervise the artisans directly, do inventory, and provide reports to make sure that we have all the materials that we need. For quality control, I will make sure that each product created is up to standards.
G: What initially drew you both to the organization? What keeps you excited about coming to work every day?
JR: I love my work. I am a designer and I have been doing this work for a long time. When I am working, I am in my element. I enjoy my work every day. There is nothing in it that I do not like.
C: I have been working for Haiti Projects for a longtime and I love this work. I encourage the women to work well so we can all work to advance the artisanat together.
G: Haiti is experiencing a severely difficult period of political upheaval, violence, and uncertainty. What kind of stability does Haiti Projects offer the women who work as artisans?
JR: We are in a very difficult moment in Haiti. There are lots of challenges and everyday products are very expensive. While we continue to need funds at Haiti Projects and there are difficulties, we are still open and we are grateful to have work for the women to do. There is a lot of support for our products and the artisans take a lot of pride in what they do. Even though we do not always have a lot of work, it is still something.
G: How do artisans come to work for Haiti Projects? Is there a training program?
JR: We don’t have a specific training program—we have now been doing this work for a very long time. If we have a lot of new work and can hire more artisans, then we train them. They work with other women who are more experienced so they can learn.
It is not hard to find artisans to work for Haiti Projects, because we always have women who come to ask for work. We have a list of women we can call and ask them to work when we have more work. There are lists for all the different types of work like embroidery, knitting, and ironing.
G: Carolle, you’ve held many roles at Haiti Projects throughout your career. How does that help you as the supervisor of the artisans?
C: I have a lot of experience with Haiti Projects, so sometimes when we have an emergency or order I can step in to help in any capacity. This helps me to make sure we have good quality control and make sure that everything works well. The women work well with me and we collaborate.
G: Jean Rene, what is the design process like? Do you have any new products or ideas for 2022?
JR: The design process is not very complicated for me since I love to do it. It is to think about what our clients would like. I love to generate new ideas. For example, when we go to a market fair, I talk to the clients and see what they like in the current projects and what they would like to see in the future. It is helpful to create new designs and products.
For 2022, I have a few ideas for new designs and we will see how we can introduce them into the market.
G: How have you both seen Haiti Projects grow since the time since you started your work with the organization?
JR: When I first started with Haiti Projects we had only a few administrative staff members, but now we have more, which is progress. We have not only the clinic and the artisanat, but also a library, soccer program, and bee[keeping] program as well.
C: I have been working for Haiti Projects for a very long time. When we first started women used to work at their houses and meet to bring the work together, but now we have a stable place to work. We also have an administration and everyone is making progress and the work is becoming more beautiful and of better quality. We have made a lot of progress and we will continue to grow.