Written by Maggie Morgan
On February 19, 2022, at the Don Bosco School in Haiti’s La Saline, the first graduating class completed Tzu Chi Haiti’s Tailoring Vocational Training Program. The ceremony celebrated fifteen women who received their certificates after training for eight months in the sewing trade program.
In the summer of 2021, Tzu Chi Haiti launched a work-for-relief initiative for impoverished women: the Tailoring Vocational Training Program. The initiative was spearheaded by Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, Executive Director of Oeuvre des Petites Écoles de Père Bohnen, a Salesians of Don Bosco in Haiti school, and three volunteers in hopes of giving women the opportunity for social and economic advancement.
The reality Haitian women live in is one that comprises countless obstacles; though the population makes up approximately 48% of the working class, many women struggle to make ends meet as they don’t have as many resources to learn trades or acquire new skill sets as men. One in three women experience gender-based violence, they are 20% more likely to be unemployed because of gender-based discrimination, 21% of women aged 15-24 said their first sexual encounter was against their will, 1 in 7 girls become pregnant between the ages of 15-19, and only 22% of women are married. Single mothers and unmarried women are viewed as social pariahs and stand to have even less of a chance for societal mobility.
These overwhelming statistical figures, coupled with first-hand experience in connecting with Haitians within their communities, motivated volunteers to begin putting together new programs to better their quality of life. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has had a strong presence in Haiti for over a decade, and our teams are acutely aware of the myriad of struggles the country’s population faces.
Stitching Together A Better Future: Teachers Train New Seamstresses
Tzu Chi volunteers have worked in Haiti to protect the wellbeing of children, combat food scarcity, and offer emergency aid after natural disasters. Volunteers knew it was time to pursue other endeavors and focus on gender equality by empowering women. With this in mind, the team began to get to work on the Tailoring Vocational Training Program. The program, free of charge, would provide students with a living allowance to further incentivize potential students.
To get the initiative underway, volunteers enlisted the help of Veronique Supplice, Molila Pierre, and Adcline Domercant; these teachers are meticulous, expert seamstresses who did not take their new roles lightly. Each of them knew what these new skill sets would give to Haitian women and their families, so they adopted to-the-point, disciplined training styles that would deliver results. Adcline Domercant said she wanted women and girls in Haiti to stop waiting for good things to happen. Manila Pierre remarked that she was honored to teach students of all ages and had confidence in their abilities. Veronique, without masking her intentions with pleasantries, wished for the women to be-goal-oriented and successful.
“Decide on a goal, invest willingly and joyfully, and you will grow,” was the message Veronique Supplice wanted to convey to her tailoring students. “If you don’t like sewing, then it’s useless. It’s just a waste of time. You can never make clothes well. But if you are interested, you will make beautiful clothes within a month or two,” she said, sharing her tips for learning to be a tailor and succeeding in the field.”
Girls and women in the program focus on learning about the functions of their sewing machines, a juxtaposition of simple projects and challenging tasks, and tailoring skills that will allow them to make everything from small products like masks to larger garments of clothing. In addition to technical skills, students are taught about Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorisms. The curriculum creates opportunities for spiritual prosperity, personal development, and financial stability; the training offers a well-balanced set of life skills for women to continue growing long after they graduate.
Students of the first graduating class were motivated and excited to begin learning. Many of them had a bigger picture in mind when they set out to complete their training. One woman, Esperance Aliancent, was pregnant at the time classes began and was expecting her baby soon. The mother-to-be was being proactive with her goals, working not only to better herself but her family. On participating in the program while expecting a child, Esperance stated, “Even when I’m pregnant now, I can’t stop learning. I can’t wait until my child is born. Otherwise, someone will take my place. Even if I feel uncomfortable, I’m still studying happily.”
A Day To Remember: Honoring New Graduates
Parents, teachers, and friends gathered for the February 19 graduation ceremony to honor the newly-certified class. Johnson Chang, a Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer, and the Ambassador of Taiwan to Haiti, Wen-jiann (Richard) Ku, were in attendance, and the event was a source of inspiration and hope for all who had the opportunity to attend.
“A lot of pride overflows in our hearts, the pride of knowing that on this day there are 15 Haitian women who can now live on their own thanks to the solid training they have received during these eight months,” said Madame Augustin, one of the school’s teachers.
Costumes for women and children, fashion designs, and illustrations beautifully flooded the exhibition hall, exemplifying the hard work and dedication of the students during their studies. The ceremony welcomed all its attendees to relive the passion felt by these women during their training, bringing to life the fashionable fruits of their labor.
The brand new seamstresses were visibly emotional as they were recognized for their accomplishments. Joy and a sense of pride came in the form of smiles on the faces of the students being honored. Father Zucchi thanked all the partners, particularly Master Cheng Yen, Brother James, and the Taiwanese people who contributed to the success of this training. Thread by thread, volunteers, teachers, and students sewed together a blanket of hope to protect women from the cold realities they encounter daily. The first graduating class of the Tailoring Vocational Training Program will inspire other women to be brave and autonomous, to take control of their future one step at a time.