We’ve all been moved by the terrible tragedy in Haiti. Relief appeals have received swift and unmitigated support. People around the world know that, at times like this, the best thing we can all do is delve in our pockets and give.
But what about the longer term? When the dust finally settles? What can we do then? And what should we do?
There will always be a need for those who are more well off to support those who are less well off, but we can give more than money, particularly as Make and Menders.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming. But Haiti also exports clothing (this accounts for two-thirds of Haitian exports and nearly one-tenth of the countries Gross Domestic Product). Before the earthquake, clothing exports were predicted to keep on growing well into 2018.
Using what Haiti exports
In 2008, the latest figures we could find, the value of Haiti’s exports was $490 million. To put that into some sort of context, the Hope for Haiti telethon last week raised $58 million dollars (and probably still rising). The telethon was a wonderful achievement but a drop in the ocean compared to the year-on-year export orders that have been and will be lost due to the devastation. Much of Haiti’s industry is small scale and family run. Even if your factory was, by some miracle, still standing, would you have the emotional fortitude to go back to work? I don’t think I would. Much of the fabric used to make clothes for export is actually imported from elsewhere (including the US). And much of the fabric that might have gone to export clothing is being appropriated to make temporary shelters, apparently.
A lot of Haiti’s exports go the US, so if you live there you’re more likely to find Haitian goods to buy. That doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook – it just means we have to put more effort in. As well as clothing, you may also find Haitian textiles, including cottons. ‘Haitian cotton’ is an upholstery fabric made from 100-percent cotton fibres which still contains seeds and other bits of plant material so it has a lot of texture. But it may be grown in Haiti or India so it’s worth asking about country of origin when you’re looking for fabric. Ask about it. Request it. Place an advanced order.
If you’re a gardener, look out for sisal string from Haiti to tie your plants up with. A longstanding local manufacturer, which also makes sisal bath brushes, is SAFICO. Cooks can prepare dishes with Haitian fruit (you may still find dried and tinned fruit produced before the earthquake).
Support companies with a stake in Haiti. For example, JMB S.A. is one of the largest Haitian exporters of fresh mango and other tropical fruits and vegetables to North America. You may also find their produce in the frozen section of your supermarket. And also look out for Haitian coffee. The scale of production has reduced over the years but there are some speciality beans which make wonderful coffee, such as Haitian Bleu. Acquire a taste for it.
The costing of rebuilding – make a difference
The large North American companies with manufacturing and assembly plants in Haiti are still counting the cost of rebuilding and balancing that against the advantages of being located where there is a cheaper labour pool.
The initial reaction of, for example, the global garment industry, has been one of overwhelming support, but rebuilding factories and getting production lines up and running again requires huge commitment, lots of money, and long term economic confidence. You can help with that.
If you’re going to buy ready-made garments then why not support companies that operate in Haiti? Grupo M is the largest private sector employer in the Dominican Republic and the largest apparel producer in the Caribbean/Central American region supplying brands such as Liz Claiborne, Polo, Levis and Tommy Hilfiger. The group has been investing heavily in Haiti. You may have concerns about what the local labour is being paid but I don’t think right now is the time to worry about that. I’d carry on buying those brands unless I heard Grupo M were pulling out of Haiti because the cost of rebuilding would be too high. If that happened – and there is nothing so far to say it will – I’d vote with my feet. If they do rebuild then you can start lobbying for higher local wages once some semblance of economic stability has returned.
Arts and crafts
Another Haitian export area is arts and crafts, including beautifully and brightly decorated metalwork and ceramics. So if you’re looking to make over a room in your home, consider some Haitianna (that’s what they call it in the US). If you search for Haitian arts and crafts online you may find a lot of the links aren’t working at the moment. Keep on trying. As soon as they’re up and running again they’re going to need your custom.
Of course, the question you may well be asking is: does any of this help? If I sit in a chair covered with Haitian fabric, looking at my neatly tied plants (while drinking some Haitian coffee), does it really make a difference? Well, I have a question for you – what would you rather do?
Haiti earthquake appeals
Can you think of other ways that Make it and Menders can help? Leave a comment below.