*All stories have been shared with the employee’s written permission and understanding that the parameters in which their story has been shared and their jobs are not dependent on their consent for telling their story.*
I have been challenged to share the "why that made me cry" or the reason I'm so passionate about Zel Haiti. This program is so far from being about me but I also think it's important to share what broke my heart and continues to propel me to push hard and advocate for these women and this program.
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Alison Aurisme (Honn) and I am the program manager for Zel Haiti. My story begins before the birth of Zel Haiti in 2015. My first trip to Haiti was in 2013. I was 19 and naive to the world outside of myself. During my week in Haiti, we served with the local church and spent many hours at Chances for Children’s orphanage. I clearly remember towards the end of that trip, showing up at the orphanage after a long day at the church and discovering that one of the babies had returned to her mom after some months at the orphanage.
Selfishly, I was devastated.
I had spent the previous few days playing with this little one. Thankfully there are many wiser and much more experienced than I am and they explained that the mom had been given some assistance and decided she was able to care for her little one. This was something to celebrate!
Fast forward two years, to August 2015, and I was once again on a team, returning to Haiti to teach 3 women from the Kenscoff community how to sew. Again, I (naively) thought this was an opportunity to share some skills with these women and return to my life in the US - I had a hard time imagining the long term impact of our efforts.
Little did I know, the plan was much bigger.
When I met Adeline, one of our original seamstresses - I was inspired. I didn't know her story. I didn't know her struggles. I didn't know what she had been through to survive, but I knew that she showed up every day with a smile on her face and ready to soak in every moment of teaching that we gave her. At that point, she was a single mom with five children (only three of which actually resided with her). She was living in a dark and damp, cement block nearby and doing anything she could to care for her children.
If you asked her today what life was like 5 years ago, she would likely tell you about the nights she went to sleep without eating so that her children could share a single portion of food between the three of them. She would tell you of the days and months she had to send her children to live with relatives because caring for them was too much. She would likely tell you she thought she was at rock bottom when she came for that sewing training in August 2015 - but that she was refusing to give up hope on being a mom who could adequately care for her babies. None of these things were told to us each day that she showed up for sewing training. She arrived, likely hungry, worrying about her kids and unsure of how she was going to provide for them one more day - but she showed up with a smile on her face and ready to try her hardest to learn these skills while holding onto hope that they would one day lead to life beyond survival for herself and her children.
Over the past 5 years since Adeline started working for Zel Haiti, her life has not been miraculously struggle free. She has continued to have days, weeks and months when she didn’t have a place to call her own or food on the table. She continues to rely on a monthly feeding program to supplement meals for her children. About a year ago, she approached me and confided in me that she was considering sending her young daughter out to the countryside to live with her grandmother. We talked about it for a while and she eventually decided to keep her daughter at home with her until she was able to pay for the school fees, even if it meant her school attendance would be delayed. Being employed through Zel Haiti hasn’t magically made Adeline’s life 100% better BUT it has given her the confidence and support she’s needed in order to continue the fight on behalf of her children and their needs.
Adeline is driven to provide more for her kids and family.
Each moment I get to work with Adeline and watch her fighting spirit shine through - I am reminded that THIS is my why.
This is why we show up.
This is why we fight daily for this program.
This is why we spend hours on product development.
This is why we hold fundraisers and share sales.
This is why we have family sponsors.
These women aren’t giving up on their children and families and so we will not give up on them either.
Alison Aurisme (Honn)