Sewing machine has been retrofitted as a treadle machine so it doesn’t need power.

Sewing machine has been retrofitted as a treadle machine so it doesn’t need power.

I’d been thinking about Haiti even before the [2010] earthquake, looking for avenues to do something useful down there,” says Lebanon’s Janet Hall. “The earthquake just broke my heart.” Before long, she made her way to the island nation, to the village of Sous Savanne, near the epicenter of the quake. “People were living under blankets and tarps, because they were afraid that what was left would fall,” she recalls. Janet was inspired to organize the Regenesis Project, a non-profit whose “goal is to work alongside of hardworking individuals to help them develop a sustainable income.”

With the encouragement and participation of her Christian community in Lebanon, Janet, whose career has largely been in food service, is finding a market for crafts produced by a handful of Haitians. It’s a challenging task on many levels. “When you go down there and work, you have to take your western mindset and flush it down the toilet,” she explains, adding that schedules go on relaxed and flexible “Haitian time.” She accepts that “you have to work with them where they’re at.” She does not seek to force people into her vision of how they should be. She visits Haiti at least twice a year, bringing back handbags, paintings, and paper-bead jewelry for sale.

Janet is comfortable working on a small scale. “I’m not out to save the world,” she says, “but if I can help one or two people get from point A to point B….” Regenesis currently works with about a dozen people in the town of 400. Many Haitian women are single parents, prisoners of a cultural breakdown where husbands wander, returning home occasionally (and sometimes siring another child). “There are very few traditional married couples raising kids,” Janet notes, adding that in spite of the difficulty of obtaining birth control—a trip to the clinic is an all-day matter, and the Depo shots are not free—she’s seen some changes in birthrates since she started visiting.

In Sous Savanne Janet has collaborated with volunteers from Hope Force International, a Christian disaster relief group. HFI has focused on building reinforced homes to replace collapsed ones. “Houses are the size of a bedroom in the States,” says Janet. Most of life happens outdoors, except for sleeping and storage. In the rainy season storms tend to drop a lot of water quickly and then move on. Travel is hard, and heat and humidity levels surprise New Englanders.

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Dan Drye, also of Lebanon, serves on the board of Regenesis. He’s went down to Haiti last December, his first trip there, though he lived in Mexico for six months. “It’s a similar feel because of the abject poverty,” he says, “but it’s a very different culture.” He can see that Regenesis is making a difference, small though it may be. “The people we work with have a positive outlook on the business aspect,” he notes, “and they’ve been able to encourage others in the village. He and the rest of the Regenesis board are looking ahead for more projects. It would be easy, Dan says, to saturate the market for paper bead jewelry. What should be next? A Haitian chemical engineer has expressed interest in helping develop soaps and shampoos that villagers can manufacture. Disposable products could be the way to go.

To see Regenesis crafts, and pictures of participants, visit www.regenesisproject.org.

by Ruth Sylvester
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