We ate humble pie this year. I’m pretty sure all of Haiti did along with us.
The past ten years, since first sitting down with four women and a pile of discarded cereal boxes and building a fair trade social business that sustained over 300 families, Papillon has experienced growth and prosperity and the lap of abundance. We have been so blessed. And our blessings have had so many ripple effects. We have been able to train countless other artisan groups within Haiti, market their products along with ours, find new ways to do business in Haiti, explore new import and export possibilities, and share all of our findings with fellow artisan groups that we have been struggling with many of the same logistical issues as we have had over the years. Collaboration has been something that we have valued, knowing that our ultimate goal is for ALL Haitians to have opportunities- not just our particular artisans. We have always strived to pass on any blessing that has been given to us.
At the tail end of 2018 and hitting full force in February of 2019, a series of political events out of our control led to gross instability within the entire country, but hit Port Au Prince particularly hard. Gas shortages, countless attempts to overthrow the president of Haiti, daily political protests and the country being demoted to a threat Level 4 by the US Embassy- the worst a country can be labeled- cut the tourism and missionary team visits off at the knees. People just stopped coming to Haiti. Understandably, fear, danger, and lack of basic resources made people cancel their trips and with those cancellations and the lack of ability for normal Haitians in Haiti to do business, the country has been devastated economically. A hurricane that doesn’t make the news, an earthquake of an invisible nature rocked Haiti and the world for the most part hasn’t noticed.
Papillon has enjoyed and relied upon missional tourism since it’s inception. More than 35% of our sales have traditionally come from our boutique and cafe in Haiti where we still sit in the top five places to visit on Trip Advisor for Port Au Prince. With no missionary teams coming, and the devastating loss of income, we have barely been hanging on by a thread this entire year.
We have always operated our business like an accordion. Rather than hiring and laying people off, we simply give the artisans more or less days to work. This allows us to flex with the current situation as a business (and not go under) but on a personal level, it has devastated our artisans. Many people who were enjoying five days of work per week regularly, are now getting called in 3-4 days per month. We have tried to be fair. We have tried to rotate through the artisans and make sure that everyone is getting something. We offered severance pay to many of our artisans who weren’t getting enough work and wanted to try something else. The severance pay helped them start their own small businesses selling fruit, vegetables, or other wares.
By mid 2019, we realized the situation wasn’t going to resolve itself quickly, and we began to downsize in order to shrink our overheads. We closed one of our buildings that we had been renting, fundraised to keep another, ate more humble pie by asking for more financial help (and we were blessed by you so generously), and began to set our sights on the wholesale and retail business in North America as a way for growth and recovery.
The situation is still grim. But hope is on the horizon and the troubles of 2019 have given us clear vision and new direction for 2020. We are picking up the pieces. We have slimmed down as an organization and are determined to continue to grow in sales particularly in the fair trade and faith based markets of the United States and Canada. I personally sent out over 300 packages to potential new clients telling our story and showing them samples of our artisan’s handiwork and we saw a new surge of buyers who had no idea we existed as a fair trade company. This has given us great hope. I enrolled myself in an online Digital marketing course in order to better understand how to grow as a company in this digital age. I finished a second book which hopefully gives more clarity to why we do what we do as a company. We are beginning to network and sell for other artisan companies again after a freeze on spending last year, and the political situation has calmed down enough to where we can see signs of life returning to the tourism industry in Haiti again.
We continue to learn. We continue to try harder than we ever have before to be sustainable for the sake of our artisans. I still have a dream and a vision of Papillon paving the way for significant jobs in Haiti. Not just through the missional groups and tourism, but as an exporter of beautiful things made in Haiti.
I don’t like to ask for anything. I am a do-it-yourself- kind of girl. But we still need help. We have artisans that need end of year sponsorships and some significant annual expenses (including annual rent for our main artisan house and the boutique) coming up very soon and we just don’t have the resources to bear the burden alone. I am asking for you, my dear friend, to take a look at our non-profit page papillonempowerement.org and consider how you might make a tax deductible donation to help us keep working in support of economic blessing in Haiti. As much as we strive for sustainability through sales, we have to admit that right now, this year, we still need your support.
Hindsight is 20/20 and had I known about the political devastation that would wreck Haiti in 2019, I still don’t think I could have done much differently. But moving forward into a bright and hopeful “2020”- we have learned so much from the difficult season and believe in the blessing that is about to come. We want to see all of our artisans back to five days per week. We want to see new buyers and an increased awareness of what it means to give a hand up instead of just a hand out to people who are born into hard places. We have clear vision and are moving forward and will not be sidetracked from our calling to see mothers and fathers in Haiti raise their children with dignity. We believe in orphan prevention through job creation and with your help, we are staying the course. Thank you so much for your support!