This trip to Haiti was much different in many ways from my previous travels. We stayed in CapHaitian rather than traveling to Limbe, we taught Haitian providers about cervical cancer screening rather than performing surgery, we rode local tap-taps for transportation, we “camped out” in a partially finished house and slept on mattresses on the roof because it was unseasonably hot (95 degrees) and we attempted to market reusable diapers and menstrual pads to start a business for our microfinance women at Helping Haiti Work.
We learned much about how business works in Haiti and the Haitian medical providers learned about the causes of cervical cancer, how to screen for the disease and methods of treatment. More about the cervical cancer program in another post. This is what I learned.
1. Haitian women work hard and maintain long hours at their market stalls in order to clear $3-4 a day.
2. Haitian women are skeptical about new products, especially when marketed by white women. A side-by-side comparison to the local product (diaper or menstrual pad) using water was much more effective than talking.
3. Haitian women are born to bargain when negotiating price.
4. Most Haitian women have not seen an electric sewing machine in action and all want to try to operate it, usually going way too fast.
5. Haitian women are quick to learn a new task because many of them are illiterate or only partially literate and learn by doing.
After multiple conversations with women, assessing the current market price of our product and estimating the cost of supplies to make a reusable diaper or menstrual pad kit, we have realized that the profit margin is too narrow to make this program fully sustainable. But that does not mean that we have given up. Put 5 white women together on a roof with a bottle of wine at 9 pm and much brainstorming happens.
We have created the concept of CUTTING PARTIES or PINOT AND PADS. For $20 a person, you collect a group of your friends together and for 2-3 hours cut out diapers and menstrual pad kits. We will supply you with patterns and fabric purchased thru the $20 donation. No sewing needed as the unfinished kits will be sent to Haiti and the women will purchase them for a small cost, construct the item and market it for a profit. This employs many of the ideas from my previous post When Helping Hurts. We are working to create a culture of self-sufficiency rather than a culture of dependency. We are also in the process of making a video that you can download from YouTube which gives a visual education in what we are trying to accomplish.
The next shipment of kits will be traveling to Haiti in mid June. The Haitian women are depending on us to help them help themselves. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested in hosting an event.