The first eights days of January 2014, I was in Haiti working with one of our aid partners, Wings of Refuge. Wings of Refuge (WOR) runs an amazing children’s home outside of Port Au Prince. WOR never refers to themselves as an orphanage because any child who walks through their doors becomes family. Out of all of the places I’ve ever been to, theirs is finest. The children are fed three times a day, educated, taught proper hygiene, and most importantly, loved. The moment I walked into the home, I saw the care and affection each of these children are given by the staff and supporters of this amazing organization.
Wings of Refuge was started by an amazing Haitian leader, Pastor Wilson (or “Pas” short for pastor) as well as Alexa DeMiglio and Holly Aman, two Americans Christians with large hearts. Pas is the minister to 5 different congregations throughout Haiti and set up a temporary home after the earthquake to provide for the children of families that either were lost or couldn’t afford to provide for their little ones after the earthquake. They started on May 21st, 2011 with just nine children, but it has grown significantly since. With 34 little ones currently under their love and care, as well as a nearly finished Home built from the ground up— Wings of Refuge is thriving and has big plans for the future. Nearly all the funding comes from the efforts of Holly and Alexa. What they have built alongside Pas & Manmi Pas is nothing short of a miracle and I would encourage you to look into their efforts and consider if you want to help them through supporting their mission or sponsoring a child (http://wingsofrefugehaiti.com/).
I stayed in Pas’ and Mama Pas’ (Pastor Wilson’s wife) house with the American team during the duration of my time in Haiti. Every morning, Bob Aman (Holly’s father) and I would awake to the sounds of roosters, the whirling of our AC unit (Thank God), and the traffic sounds of Port-au-Prince. We ate what Mama Pas would make from her delicious cooking kitchen outside the house (in Haiti, no matter how affluent, most kitchens stoves are still outside the house due to frequent power outages). You’ve never truly tried plantains until you’ve had some from Mama Pas. After getting ready, we’d head either to WOR and/or other aid organizations around the country.
On the nearly every street of Port-au-Prince (the nation’s capital and where a majority of the 10M+ population live), there’s hundreds of street vendors trying to make a living of selling or re-selling anything. With a country with over 80% official unemployment, most Haitians make a living by working for themselves. Their entrepreneurial spirit determination, and grit are remarkable. Haitians are some of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met.
At Wings of Refuge, this grit was evident by the Haitian staff they employ. What they’re able to do for so many children is truly remarkable. SoapBox provides soap on a frequent basis and we’re proud to announce that now all our soap will be purchased locally through the Haitian supermarkets. We do this so that we don’t flood donated product and disrupt the local economy (although the relative small amount of donated soap the home uses wouldn’t disrupt the marketplace anyways, we are implementing this principal when we can for our international partners).
From my experience in Haiti and through previous limited dev work, I feel like it is important to note a couple things. We in the developed world are constantly bombarded with statistics about how the developing world lives in extreme poverty. While the statistics are often true, a visitor in the developing world needs to refrain from projecting their cultural values and prejudices on to those in country. They live lives like individuals in the developed world; going to work everyday, preparing meals for their kids, and trying to make a better life. Even while writing this, I’m winching because I feel like I’m selling the “safari”. Various times while in Haiti, I was reminded that we have conditions just as worse in America with our own homeless shelters, and how Haitians had figured out things we still are working on.
To take this a step further, SoapBox was not started to provide cultural voyeurism for others, but instead to be a partner for initiatives that truly stand a chance at empowering individuals to better their health and solve problems by themselves. The end goal for each of SoapBox’s aid commitments is to make our involvement unnecessary.
SoapBox’s aid mission is to empower our customers with the ability to make a difference, although small, with every purchase of one of our products. Through diverting funds from each purchase to provide vitamin supplements through Vitamin Angels, water development through RainCatcher, or donating a bar of soap for each one purchased, we’re able to fund the soap Wings (and many other organizations like it) use for everyday use as well as teaching the importance of hygiene to prevent various diseases.
I will never forget my time in Haiti. Our partnership with Wings of Refugee will only continue to grow as they take on more children who are truly in need. I will also never forget the customers who make all this possible. As we grow as a company, our mission and its reach will only continue to grow.
For all those customers who make our commitment to organizations like Wings possible, thank you! Pastor Wilson, Bob, Holly, & Alexa are doing amazing work and it is their efforts that continue to inspire our team through the day-to-day challenges of building a mission-driven company from scratch.