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OUR WEEK IN HAITI

As part of building Conscious Magazine, some of our lifelong goals are to serve alongside the amazing people we feature and join them in their mission work. ​This is what made our trip to Haiti so special. For the start of the New Year, we decided to take a deeper look into the orphan cycle. We discovered that 80% of orphaned children have a mother or father alive somewhere, but the parents are just unable to provide for their children.

This led us to i'm ME, a nonprofit focused on job creation, education, and family preservation in Haiti, which truly is a unique perspective on the evident orphan crisis (with over 160 million orphans worldwide). Instead of just addressing the obvious symptom, i’m ME is focused on addressing the root of problem – ending the orphan cycle through family.

When we originally mentioned how we were going to Haiti, the first thought in everyone’s minds gravitated towards the sensitive political situation. For those who do not know, the presidential election is being delayed, which is causing protests due to the demand for a democratic process and new leadership. However, we were focused on all the amazing things we had heard about what i’m ME was doing there for the community and wanted to see it firsthand. Initially, we were not quite sure what we were getting into before we left, but we loved every second of it because we got to see a very special side of Haiti.

We spent the week with the i’m ME crew, who are some of the most inspiring people we’ve ever met. We not only served alongside them, but we hung out and joined them in their day-to-day activities – it felt like we were part of the team. It’s always so fascinating to think about any parallels between our lives in New York City to others who are living in Haiti. For us, it’s about catching the subway to the office or hailing a taxi zooming by, walking through the crowds, jumping into Starbucks for a coffee and then heading to the office to dive into work, emails, planning, etc. For the i’m ME crew, it was such a different day-to-day. For them, it’s walking down dirt roads alongside dogs, goats and bulls, passing by the markets lined up against the wall, heading to the community center or i’m ME’s community home to hang out with the kids. Additionally, their job is extremely important, as they are taking care of kids who have nothing, kids that only had days to hours to live when they rescued them. They’re also creating impact within the community by getting to know and empowering the locals by making collaboration an important part of their work.

THE HAITI LANDSCAPE

In 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, which killed more than 300,000 people and an estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Today, there are approximately 10 million people in Haiti and only less than 2 million have jobs. Haiti is currently the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere due to continued political instability, and 80% of the population are not properly educated. More than 90% of the country doesn’t have electricity, and minimum wage is only approximately $5. There are more than 600,000 orphans that are not being taken care of within Haiti, but do not let these statistics sway you—there is a change happening in Haiti, and these people are known for their resiliency in the face of disaster.

Right after the earthquake, it was thought that psychologists, social workers and others would have to come to help rebuild the psyche of Haiti but just a month after the earthquake, the nation was still planning for the Haitian Carnival, which is a celebration held over several weeks each year leading up to Mardi Gras. Despite all the hardship, suicide rates remain lower in Haiti compared to other countries because Haitians have a real happiness with what they have even thought most of the people in the country live on less than $2 per day. So, they are not constantly worried about money, and they are thankful to be alive and take life as it is.

The name of Haiti derives from a local language, which is translated “land of high mountains.” There were incredible mountains throughout the country, and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Haiti is hot and humid during most months of the year, but when on the mountainside, it quickly became a much cooler climate. There were also many farms on these mountainsides, which uniquely carved the landscape into magnificent designs.

A big difference in Haiti is that families are not like families in America. A sad reality is that children can be traumatized by witnessing fights between their parents due to financial issues. The children also crave any kind of human affection because in many cases there is none of this given by their parents at home. However, this is where i’m ME’s mission has become so vital for this country, as they are working to sustain and empower the structure of family to the orphans of the world through care, prevention, and stewardship.

i'm ME.

With over 160 million orphans worldwide, it’s evident there is an orphan crisis. What has been ignored is the fact that over 80% of these children, have a mother or father alive somewhere. Instead of addressing the symptom, i’m ME is focused on addressing the root of problem – ending the orphan cycle through family.

Parents want to keep and raise their kids, but often face the difficult choice of keeping them or being able to feed themselves. i'm Me exists to be that alternative, and be a vessel of hope, opportunity and value for families everywhere.

They recognize that families provide more than just basic, everyday necessities like food and water. Families provide love and moral guidance. They are pillars in the community, and connect children to the whole. By providing a family structure, all of an orphan’s needs are fulfilled.

Instead of mothers and fathers placing their children in institutions, they seek to provide jobs so these parents are able to keep their kids. They focus on a long-term investment by partnering with locals on the ground. All of i’m ME’s programs and efforts are run indigenously, with the mindset of empowerment and sustainability.

Education is a powerful weapon to combat poverty and oppression, and they are committed to implementing enriching and creative environments on the ground. They believe in the power of family, and they are devoted to strengthening, re-unifying, and developing the family structure.

Families provide comfort and steadfast love, and homes provide the foundation on which to build them. i’m ME’s Children’s Home houses orphans in family units to provide the stability and structure they otherwise lack. Currently, there are 12 children within their family unit in Haiti, and you can learn more about each of them here.

Throughout the week, it was evident in every aspect of their operations that job creation, education, and family preservation are the cornerstones of i’m ME’s mission. (Source: imme.org)

COMMUNITY CENTER

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One of the many unforgettable things about Haiti was the children. Each one of these children just loved to be hugged, cuddled with, held… they just loved to be loved. When we visited a community center in the neighborhood during a particular program, a little girl instantly came up to Rachael (Conscious editor-in-chief) with her arms outstretched to be picked up and held. This program was a collaborative effort between i’m ME, Child Hope International and Outside The Bowl, and it gave the children a chance to play, sing, learn more about faith, and receive a hot meal.

Each table had a leader, which was one of the older children (about 17 years old). These leaders also served food to the other kids first, and they helped to clean up afterwards. It was incredible to see how all of the children seemed eager to help one another and welcomed us into their group without any hesitation.

During our visit, we learned that this weekly feeding program might be the only meal some of these children received for the entire week. Also, while it was all smiles inside the walls of the community center, outside the children were forced to become adults and become cold for the purpose of survival. Even with this survival instinct, the friendships formed between the children during this feeding program would carry outside the walls of the community center, as children would sometimes look out for each other.

BENNA COFFEE

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Being based out of New York City, we drink a lot of coffee throughout our day. However, the local Haitian coffee was the best coffee we’ve ever had! The nation of Haiti has grown coffee for the last 300 years, and the chocolate and rose flavors were truly unique.

Benna Coffee is a family grown coffee bean from the highlands of Haiti that is too good to keep a secret. That is why i’m ME has chosen to help share this coffee with the rest of the world through their marketplace. Because great coffee is always in demand, this was seen as an opportunity to help reward the sustainable practice of growing, processing, and exporting Haitian coffee.

We had the pleasure of meeting this incredible family. As they saw us coming down the mountainside, we were welcomed by their children, who came running to meet us with smiles on their faces. They quickly grabbed our hands and took us to their home, where we met Anita, the owner of Benna Coffee. She welcomed us with a friendly smile, laughter, and hugs all around. The joy of this meeting was undeniable, then she hand brewed us an absolutely amazing cup of coffee. If you have never tasted Haitian coffee, this is a great place to start.

PAPILLION ENTERPRISE

With a mission to provide jobs to those who don’t want to have to abandon their children to an orphanage because they can’t feed them, the Papillon Enterprise employs over 300 people. Everything is handmade, and all employees are taught skills instead of just given relief. By doing this, Papillon Enterprise is creating a sustainable income for families and providing skills essential to maintaining a career for a lifetime. Through a partnership with The Apparent Project, they are able to provide language and literacy development, computer and software training, and free onsite daycare for all employees. They are empowering the locals to train each other, as they are working to counter the extremely high unemployment rate in Haiti.

In October 2015, they were able to open a Haiti Fulfillment Center to everyone around the world. This enables local artists to sell their products online and be shipped globally. All of their products are made from various materials, such as cereal boxes, aluminum soup or milk cans, haitian clay, and wine or mineral bottles. In Haiti, a box of cereal can cost about $15, so these boxes are imported through a partnership with Rays of Hope. The aluminum soup or milk cans are hand stamped with a hammer and chisel to inscribe words. The Haitian clay is made of a brittle rock mixed with water. After that, the clay is kneaded, hand rolled, shaped into beads, and glazed. The clay is also used for handmade pottery, such as mugs and housewares. The wine or mineral bottles are used to make beads for jewelry. The Papillon Enterprise has also just started screen printing on shirts, which they locally source from Haiti. They also have local seamstresses that produce twelve different dolls that are paired with a story of growing up in twelve different Haitian cities. These dolls help adopted kids connect to their Haitian culture.

During our tour, we could not help but notice how it seemed that the tour kept going and going (which was a great thing). There were so many different aspects to the operations of the Papillon Enterprise, which all worked together to help create jobs.

OLYMPIC SPORT FOR HOPE CENTRE
Haiti_Website-20This facility was funded by International Olympic Committee and built on land donated by the Haitian government. After the earthquake in 2010, the Olympic Movement desired to help rebuild Haiti’s sporting infrastructure in conjunction with the nation’s reconstruction process. The entire complex has two large indoor buildings, an indoor competition building with the capacity for up to 2,500 spectators, and several outdoor courts and fields. Various Olympic sports are practiced here, such as athletics, football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, tennis, judo, taekwondo, boxing, badminton, table tennis, and more. The belief behind the creation of this facility was that through sport, we can make tomorrow’s future brighter for everyone, everywhere across the world.

Not only does this facility act as a training ground for future Olympic athletes, but it is also a resource to the local community. Nearby, there are tents where about 100,000 people live. Everyday, about 1,000 children from those tents come to receive a meal while getting the opportunity to learn various Olympic sports. Rachael even got the opportunity to play badminton with one of the young girls training there. One day, she could be an Olympic star.

HAITI IS FULL OF FRIENDSHIP
Haiti_Website-6Everyone that we met was so friendly. Young and old welcomed us with open arms, and they were very eager to show us their culture. The value of face-to-face communication was evident throughout our trip, as people loved to have conversations about anything. Because they knew it was our first visit to Haiti, everyone also wanted to make sure it was a good first impression, which it most definitely was.

We were extremely thankful to i’m ME for hosting us and providing us with so many unique experiences that we will cherish forever. The genuine love and care of each staff member was evident in their commitment to serving not just the orphans, but also the entire population of Haiti. We hope that this was the first of many visits to this incredible country!

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FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, we feature powerful stories about global initiatives, innovation, community development, social impact and more. You can read more stories like this and connect with a growing community of global leaders when you join. 

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