Amanda and I were back in Haiti to work with HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International) in Mizak, Haiti. A special THANK YOU to Paul Prevost and his staff at Peace Inn for a warm welcome and comfortable stay.
A quirky and fun-loving sense of cooperation is the best way to describe how the women’s cooperative up in the mountains of Mizak work together. From the outside looking in, the working group sometimes has the appearance of mass confusion and maybe even a little agitation. That is, until laughter and a tender doting erupts within the fellowship of women. They have a system in place of weighing, scooping, pouring, and planning that is truly inspiring to watch. As a teacher, sometimes it is hard to completely let go and just let them work, but that is what we decided to do after a brief overview of some main provisions had been discussed. And what we witnessed became a very proud memory, as the members took turns, shared duties and were generally upbeat and positive during the workshops.
HAPI has a growing understanding of what a ‘product line’ is, and they are working towards that end with the four different soaps that were made repeatedly over the course of our time with them. Because of their access to markets and fields, HAPI is able to use ingredients that come from their region of the country for their 4 main product-line soaps. They harvest their own Aloe Vera, called “Lolwa”, and can do so all year long. In addition to the Lolwa soap, HAPI also incorporates “Anizet”, a large, heart-shaped leaf that is used in cooking and tea, and carries a spicy, green scent. They powder their own cinnamon bark, called “Kanel”, and pitch it into the lye solution before soaping. Some of the women harvest Anatto Seed, locally named “Woukou”, which they take out of the seed pods and incorporate into the soap for a warm orange color. Finally, the rich, dark coffee (“Kafe”) in Haiti tastes incredible, but of course can also be utilized in soap, which is exactly what the group does for their fourth and final bar in the line of soaps. These additives have become the namesake for each of the four soaps in the line:
1. Lowla avec Anizet (Aloe Vera with Anizet)
2. Kanel (Cinnamon)
3. Kafe (Coffee)
4. Woukou (Annatto Seed)
HAPI needs more supplies and materials. From having an extra knife for slicing Lolwa, to strainers, pots and pans, the group needs an array of provisions that we all have here at home and in developed countries take for granted. Of course, the biggest thing the group needs is raw materials. Yes, locally sourcing additives that go into the soap base is wonderful, but unfortunately right now, as is the case with OFEDA in Port au Prince, finding the big base oils like Coconut, Olive and Castor inside the borders of Haiti is incredibly hard and extremely expensive. In addition to the lack of main ingredients, the timing and often irregular shipments from the United States into Haiti makes systematizing and scheduling production emphatically tough for both groups. They are ready, and that readiness is palpable. Some of these women in HAPI walk for miles over mountainous terrain in the hot Haitian sun to get to the center to make soap. To say it is admirable is an injustice to their commitment to making this business work. It is up to us–all of us–to help them get started with their new career as soap makers.