Combating Poverty in Haiti with a Unique Solution: Gem Faceting

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Haiti has had a spotlight targeting their national strife for decades. Most of the coverage has been focused on how torn and broken the country and people are after natural disasters, as well as how Haiti’s lack of funds is preventing clean-up.

According to The New York Times, Haiti has been devastated by extensive flooding, five hurricanes and an earthquake between 2004 and 2016. Due to a poorly performing agricultural sector damaged by natural disasters, the Haitian GDP slowed to 1.2 percent in 2017. According to surveys, 59 percent of Haitians are living below the poverty line of $2.41 per day. Additionally, 24 percent are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. Since it is well-known that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, many people and organizations have reached out to the country to offer aid. One college professor has found a unique and sustainable way to combat poverty in Haiti.

Dr. Bridge’s Focus on Haiti

Dr. Steven Bridge is a professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. He has been the leader and coordinator for the annual International Service Trips since their inception in 2003. Saint Joseph’s College collaborates with Partners in Development (PID), an organization that has staff on the ground in Haiti.

The Borgen Project was able to interview Dr. Bridge about service trips specifically in Haiti. Dr. Bridge stated, “SJC is celebrating our 15th year of International Service Trips to Haiti with PID… It’s a holistic approach that ensures that the most vulnerable of children have basic access to food, medical care, and education; their families have clean, healthy, and stable living environments; and their parents can tap financial resources for the growth and development of their small-businesses or job training.”

After attending these trips for several years, Dr. Bridge began exploring ways that he could further battle poverty in Haiti. “My initial plan was to see if I could get some of them to the US and help them obtain college degrees. But that proved too difficult for a number of reasons. So I realized that if I was going to try to tackle this problem, it would have to involve bringing the training and opportunities to them.”

The Solution: Gem Faceting

A plan began forming in Dr. Bridge’s mind: “About 10 years ago, I learned to facet gemstones using semi-precious rough (clear & smoky quartz, amethyst, aquamarine, and tourmaline)… While on a service trip in Guatemala, I found a discarded shard of beautiful cobalt-colored glass and decided to try faceting it. It turned out really well.”

Speaking with the Haitians, Dr. Bridge realized that their desire was for financial self-sufficiency, education and job opportunities. “I hit upon the idea of faceting gemstones from discarded glass. I realized that if I could donate a machine and train some workers, then we would have the makings of a small-business initiative.” PID provided Dr. Bridge with a small workplace, workers and the necessary power to run the equipment he needed. They then began faceting glass into beautiful jewelry and have been in business ever since.

The most brilliant part of this operation is its sustainability. While not for everyone, gem faceting is a skill that can be taught to many people, and as the business grows, more machines and employees can be plugged in. Most importantly, there will never be a shortage of glass waste as raw material. “We now have a Haitian worker who has become quite skilled and proficient at faceting. She has become the General Manager of this operation as a salaried employee… This project has changed her life dramatically, as she now has a dependable, regular income which enables her to support her family. We also have several other gem-cutters on the payroll who are able to earn good wages as they continue to hone their skills and fulfill orders.”

These “orders” that he refers to are from a website that PID helped set up to sell the Jewelry made by the Haitians and Dr. Bridge. It is an Etsy website that has been quite successful. The online store also features crafts from Guatemala and other nations where PID has had an impact.

Looking Forward

Lastly, Dr. Bridge spoke to the future of the operation. “I am now in the midst of a 3-year Faculty Development Grant funded by SJC that is designed to help take this small business initiative to the next level. For the 2017-18 school year, we fully funded the construction of a brand new Lapidary Arts Center in the PID compound in Haiti. This new Center, which officially opens in December, will provide much-needed space for the expansion of our program. In conjunction with its opening, PID is adding a second faceting machine to help increase production. For the 2018-19 school year, we’ll be focusing on increasing the profile of our product with a more robust marketing campaign. And in 2019-20, we hope to add a third machine to boost not only production, but also job training opportunities for the Haitians. If the consumer demand is there, we could conceivably provide full-time employment for up to 18 Haitians with those three machines in the new Lapidary Arts Center.”

This would equate to 18 Haitians no longer living below the poverty line while helping to clean up waste and create beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry. Combating world poverty comes in many forms, but few are as unique and sustainable as the Gem Faceting initiative by Dr. Bridge and PID.

– Zachary Farrin

Photo: Flickr

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