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Doing Good in Haiti

This sweet young thing is all excited to be getting a pair of Giving Shoes.

This sweet young thing is all excited to be getting a pair of Giving Shoes.

Several weeks ago, I got a new Toms catalogue in the mail. Haiti was featured in the photo shoot of their new spring fashion collection. Needless to say, I was intrigued and paged through with more than casual interest.
Toms, you may know, is a fashion company with a penchant for philanthropy. They have a “One for One” program that began with shoes in 2006. For every pair of shoes purchased, Toms gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. I really liked the idea in the beginning, and supported it by buying quite a few pairs of shoes for myself and as gifts for my family. I liked it, that is, until I did some reading about the effects of charitable donations of clothing in underdeveloped countries. I learned to my horror that in the spirit of giving, countries of the First World have wreaked havoc on the clothing and textile industries of the Third World. There are so many tons of free clothing given out that home grown industry has been, in some cases, nearly wiped out. This includes shoes, and Toms was, unfortunately, implicated. I confess that my enthusiasm for the company and their products crashed and burned, though I never quite got around to withdrawing my name from their mailing list.
Saving trees notwithstanding, this turned out to be a good thing. In reading the new catalogue I discovered that Toms was not oblivious to the criticism being levied against it and in fact, set about to respond in a hugely positive way. Toms committed itself to producing 1/3 of all of their “Giving Shoes” locally by the end of 2015. In Haiti, this commitment has resulted in the opening of a factory outside Port-au-Prince that now employs 40 Haitians, nearly half of whom are women. To date, they have produced over 500,000 shoes for distribution throughout the island country.
And, to coin our own phrase, Toms is “Fighting Poverty with Art.” The Haiti Artist Collective employs 30 Haitians to create a line of hand-

Looking through photos of the children of our artists in Croix-des-Bouquets, I noticed that alot of them did have shoes.  Like to think that our fair trade practices have something to do with that.

Looking through photos of the children of our artists in Croix-des-Bouquets, I noticed that alot of them did have shoes. Like to think that our fair trade practices have something to do with that.

painted footwear, sold exclusively through Toms. Inspiration for the designs comes from the artist’s themselves, who offer up unique perspectives on Haitian life, of love and peace, and of music and culture. (Sounds a little like It’s Cactus artists too…)
I am happy to report that my enthusiasm for Toms has been revived – big time. Hat’s off! Hip-hip-hooray! What a wonderful things they are accomplishing. Marvelous! I would continue to wax superlative, but I gotta go. It’s time to order shoes.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Standing in Canada with Haiti on My Mind

Summertime is vacation time for many of us, and as my family lives in a place to which people escape winter’s wrath, it’s probably no surprise that we chose to migrate northward as the summer’s heat became too intense for general tolerance. We set off for Victoria, British Columbia but, of all things, by the second day there, I was reminded of Haiti.

Haiti? You would think that about all Victoria and Haiti have in common is that they are on islands and that the residents speak some French.  But on an early morning stroll among the float homes on the Inner Harbor, I spied a fish sculpture by Guy Duval and instantly, my mind wandered back to his workshop in Croix-des- Bouquets. Guy is a remarkably talented person that takes great pride in his work.  I thought how pleased he would be to see his art so perfectly set in this beautiful place. It tickled me later when I re-read the letter he wrote to Beyond Borders accompanying a sample of this very design.  He said, “I take this moment extraordinary to introduce to you my model of fish. I think you and your friends are going to like it very much.” He was so right! Haitian art is as perfectly at home at the beach on the Caribbean Sea as it is along the Straits of San Juan in the North Pacific.

After our quayside amble, we hopped on an excursion bus and headed north from Victoria to nearby Buchart Gardens, a glorious 55- acre spread of botanical extravagance that receives upwards of 1 million visitors annually.  The Gardens are the result of great vision on the part of Jennie Buchart, who, in 1904 sought to restore the site of an old quarry after it had been depleted of its limestone. Even on an afternoon when the coastal fog had been slow to dissipate, The Gardens were a photographic wonderland.  Everywhere I turned there were marvels of color and delicacy to behold.

And I thought again of Haitian sculptors, this time, Jimmy Prophet and Willie Juiene, whose artful eyes and exacting hands re-fashion Nature’s work so elegantly in steel. The monochrome of the metal they work focusses one’s attention to form and line, and emphasizes the refined precision of the artists’ touch. These men have never seen Buchart Gardens nor are they likely to, but flowers and trees that serve as their inspiration are miracles of design no matter where they bloom and flourish.  In Haiti, as in Canada, the miracle is the same.

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