On Christmas Day 2023, we graduated our fourth class of women from our sewing school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Each woman received a treadle sewing machine along with her diploma. They celebrated with a meal and time of fellowship together. Crime and anarchy continue in Port-au-Prince, but our students faithfully attend classes and are grateful for the skills they learn and the hope the Bible study brings.
We are looking forward to some changes as our program develops:
- Fritsie Bellande, who has been serving as our Bible teacher, will now serve as assistant sewing teacher.
- Bible study will be taught by Moise Bellande, her husband who is the pastor that oversees our ministry in Haiti.
- We will be sending funds to Haiti for them to purchase the fabric that the women need to make the clothing projects that the school will be focusing on teaching and we will no longer send donated sewing machines and fabric.
- We are working toward accreditation so that our students may take the national sewing exam. When we do that, we will add an additional day to the teaching schedule.
- Since Haiti has been under a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for several years and we have been unable to visit, we have begun regular Zoom calls with our teaching team in Haiti, and will begin Zooming with our students to encourage them.
When we established the school six years ago, we made the decision not to pursue a program that would allow the students to take the national sewing exam. Since our school is not sanctioned by the government, the diploma our students earn does not allow them to enroll in a more advanced school and it does not serve as credentials for getting a job in the industry. While we have had no trouble filling our classes with women eager to learn to sew free of charge and to receive a sewing machine, we have had some graduates tell us of the value of a government issued diploma.
In the summer of 2023, the leadership in Haiti began looking into what it would take to make our sewing program official. We learned that we would need a teacher with an advanced diploma. Since we have been very happy with our current teacher, we made the decision to send her and our Bible teacher, who graduated from the 2023 class, to an advanced sewing school. Each of them took a test that included a sewing skills test in which they had to make themselves a suit, and both passed and were able to enter the program in its second year.
Marie Lourdes and Fritsie will be attending the school on Saturdays so that they can continue to teach on Mondays and Tuesdays. The class of 2025 will begin in February 2024 and finish in 2025. It will be the last class before we become a government sanctioned school. We will then have a two-year probationary period in which we can allow our students to take the national exam when they graduate. If 60% of the women enrolled pass the test, we can then become eligible for a five year license.
Another change is that we have found that it is more efficient to purchase fabric in Haiti than to ship donated fabric. The students are learning to make clothing, and most of the fabric we get donated is in the form of scraps that are too small for them to use. Increases in shipping costs and customs charges have made it too expensive to ship items we are not sure they can use. We are also no longer accepting donations of sewing machines, as we now have a good supply of spare machines that can be put into service if one of the machines breaks down in use, and repairs in Haiti are very low in cost compared to the U.S. The only use we have for electric machines is in the sewing school where we have a generator for when there is no electricity. The graduates still receive treadle machines which we purchase in Haiti.
There are many ways that people can help with our ministry. Currently about 44% of our funding comes from the sale of fabric items that are made by our team in the U.S. and sold at craft sales and the South Chatham Community Church Benefit Shop and 56% comes from individual donors, several of whom give a monthly donation through our website. Monetary donations are always welcome in any amount. We also welcome purchases of the items we make, either through the website or directly through our crafters. Our annual holiday sale will be held on November 16th this year and we would love to have you come out to learn more about our ministry. We could also use more volunteers for set up and during the event.
We also welcome anyone who wants to sew with us most Wednesdays from 10am-2pm at my home in Stuart. Some volunteers have sewing skills and some cut, press, and prepare materials for those who sew.
Although we will be buying our fabric for the school in Haiti, we are still accepting some donations of fabric and other supplies for use by our sewing team in the U.S. to make items for sale to support our program. Right now we are looking for cotton fabrics that have dogs (small print), russet potatoes, lighthouses or other beach motifs, jalapenos, candy, fruit, vegetables, or Christmas themes. We are also looking for empty Cape Cod potato chip bags (any size) and ¼ inch satin or grosgrain ribbon.
We look forward to welcoming you to serve in this ministry with us.