Have you ever visited Haiti? I did. I traveled there back in 2003. I was aboard the new mega cruise ship, Navigator of the Seas, that was part of Royal Caribbean’s fleet. Our final port of call was Labadee, Haiti. I had no idea why anyone would want to go to Haiti until we docked and could see a view similar to this:
We took a tender over to the island where we relaxed in hammocks under an open air roof to shield us from the hot-as-Africa sun. A Caribbean lunch buffet was set up just for us on the beach. A full indoor and outdoor market sold various crafts and carvings and typical tourist junk for extremely negotiable prices.
I bought a wood carving of a cat and a soapstone carving of a frog, but not before I bargained so low that I almost felt guilty. It was the thrill of the bargain and I won. And besides, I was sure a dollar of my money was like ten dollars to them.
Yes, I know exactly what I sound like.
We often joke on Facebook and Twitter about “first world problems” but that’s really what most of us suffer from. Food and clean water isn’t an issue. Most of us have more than adequate shelter, most likely climate-controlled. We have shoes and clothes and, more importantly, a government that comes in and rescues us if necessary.
Haiti hasn’t been as fortunate. Not only are they the poorest country in the Americas, but they’ve also been in a nearly constant state of political turmoil over the past decade or so. What you probably know best about Haiti is the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the island in 2010 and killed over 200,000 residents.
The miracle of it all is that Haitians are resilient people. While many lost their homes, they haven’t lost their heart.
The Heart of Haiti project is a partnership with Fairwinds Trading and Macy’s to bring Haitian artisan work to the mainstream. I had to opportunity to chat with Willa Shalit last week and was so encouraged by the work that she is doing to empower people all over the world.
Essentially, Haitian artisans create beautiful products and Macy’s sell them. It helps the artists. It helps the community. It helps Haiti. It’s not a handout. It’s a stream of trading that should have been open to them years ago. Now, when they need it most, their ability to work with the raw materials available to them only in Haiti provides unique handcrafted items in a world full of mass market merchandise.
Everywhere Society gave me the opportunity to review one such product. Out of several of the Heart of Haiti products, I chose the Cow Horn and Bone bracelet because I love jewelry. Especially funky, ethnic-looking jewelry (ask me about my Tagua nut necklace).
But after I requested the item for review, I started thinking about the cow horn. Thinking how I would feel about it. If it would bother me.
First off, it’s absolutely beautiful and probably better quality than I could have imagined. Second, what Willa talked about on the call last week is how these bracelets are no different than leather shoes. The bone and horns are by-products of animals raised for meat. The artists simply use every resource available at their fingertips.
What I appreciated the most, though, was the sentiment that came with the bracelet. It made me feel a connection to what I was wearing.
While my only goal was to simply review the product, I would love to encourage you to consider Heart of Haiti products this year as you gear up for holiday shopping. I love buying gifts that have a story and a meaning and all of these fit the bill.
And in case you’re wondering, Labadee is considered a “resort” that has been leased to Royal Caribbean International. It is fenced and guarded by private security.