The Running Free Re-Use Shoe Program in action
By Nick Capra - February 22, 2014
Since my last trip to Haiti, the Re-Use Shoe Program took a new turn. I was excited to meet some of the recipients of the shoes that had been donated. The idea of the "new and improved" Re-Use Shoe Program was born 4 years ago on a hot evening in Haiti during a conversation I had with my good friend Ebed Pauls. Ebed is an incredible Haitian man of whom I feel so lucky to have met. With a Masters in Economic Development, Ebed can find good paying work anywhere in the world, but has chosen to stay in Haiti where he can help his people. We stayed up late into the morning hours brainstorming and envisioning ways we could help the people of Haiti that would be sustainable and empowering without creating dependence.
Earlier that day we drove around the country visiting different projects started by good-willing NGOs from all over the world. The consistent theme was that of dependence; ongoing dependence for the people of Haiti. We recognize that building schools and medical clinics are needed, but these projects required continuous support of which many did not receive. This left schools with leaky roofs, unpaid teachers for months, doctors without pharmaceuticals to dispense and so on. It was that night that the new and improved Haitian run Re-Use Shoe Program was born. Rather than give out free shoes to people, we decided we would bundle shoes in cases of 20 and distribute them to as many Haitians as possible in the form of a micro credit loan. These shoes would serve as a means for individuals to earn money and sustain a family's needs. Individuals would receive this "shoe loan," and sell them in their community. They would keep the profits, but were expected to pay back the loan (approximately $2.25 per pair of shoes), which would cover the costs of shipping, duties and administering the program in Haiti. Our job in Canada remained the same: collect, process and ship. This is how the program worked on paper and to my delight it was how the program actually played out. After several small trials where shoes were shipped in hockey bags by Canadian visitors to Haiti, we were ready to ship a 20 foot container and expand the program's reach. There are always lessons to be learned and learn we did once again. Costs were slightly higher to ship than we anticipated and following up with loan recipients was more difficult than expected. However, many people benefited greatly. The micro credit Re-use Shoe program empowered people to work, earn money, feel proud of their accomplishments and dream about their future. In November of 2013, the container of footwear from Canada arrived in Haiti. To date, over 35 additional Haitians have received re-used shoes in the form of micro credit loans. Here are a couple of the loan recipients' stories.
Meet Fritz Paul, a 43 year old man from a remote village in the north on Haiti called Balan. Fritz has been sustaining his family by planting and harvesting taro and cassava, 2 commonly consumed root vegetables in Haiti. Many years of hard manual farming had caught up to him. Fritz reported that his back no longer allowed him to be efficient enough to support his family. When the opportunity to do something different arose, he gladly welcomed it. Fritz received his first micro credit loan of 20 pairs of re-used shoes and to his delight, sold all of them within a month. He earned $55 US and that was enough to pay for an entire year of school for his children. It would also pay for a doctor's visit by his daughter Fritzca, who was suffering from unknown facial swelling. Fritz plans to continue selling footwear and expressed gratitude for the loan saying there was no other way he would have been able to start his own business.
Meet Marie Joceline Pierre, a single mom of 4 living in Plain Du Nord, a village just outside Cap Haitian, the 2nd largest city in Haiti. Things have been very difficult for Marie. With limited education and raising 4 young children on her own, Marie often struggles to feed her family. In fact, there are days when food is scarce or there is nothing to eat at all. At 51 years of age, Marie's energy level is not what it once was. She was very eager to get started with the re-use shoe program when she found out she was to be included as a recipient of a shoe loan. It took only 2 weeks for her to sell her 20 pair allotment! She netted $45US and was able to purchase food, pay for transit and pay off debts. "It's better for me to do something than to do nothing," Marie expressed. "I want to keep this going; this gives me hope and some security."
While following up with the Re-use Shoe Program was an important part of this trip, I was also in Haiti to assist in the 5th annual "Course De La Solidarite" road race. Included in this year's event was the country's first ever wheelchair division race. With four spirited competitors, it was a glorious start to what we hope will continue the tradition of inclusion and solidarity by this wonderful community event. This year's race also marked the very first year that the event was totally funded internally by Haitian businesses and organizations - no Canadian funding was provided. This kind of thing just doesn't happen often in Haiti. Again, we applaud the work of the Haitian Race committee.A total of fifteen Canadians came on this trip. We all arrived in Haiti as tourists. We toured many cultural sights learning about the Haitian people, the land and their history. These tours of which we have coordinated for the last 2 years, mark the beginning of a new movement that we are calling "social tourism." Experienced Haitian guides are able to share firsthand their accounts of what it's like living in Haiti. Their passion and culture provide a beautiful combination for an unmatched experience that is not easily attained. No one leaves Haiti the same. We have all gained tremendously from our experiences in the proud, yet humble country of Haiti. Most leave saying they have received the greatest gift a human can receive.
If you are interested in sharing in this powerful life experience by joining us on our next adventure in Haiti, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.