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Notes from the Field: “Haiti is the Land of Plenty Opportunities”

By: Richardson Antoine (with introduction and very light translation/editing by Frank Macinsky)

Haiti is ripe for investment.

That’s the one thing Richardson Antoine, our very own Haiti Field Manager, wishes the world knew about his country.

“Haiti has beautiful beaches, good food and hospitable people,” he says. “Haiti is the land of plenty opportunities.”

On his 9-month anniversary of joining Thread, we asked Richardson (the inspiration behind the eponymous Richardson Tee) to share some of his insights on life in Haiti and what it’s like to work in the country’s growing recycling industry.

Enter Richardson:

Richardson, our Haiti field manager, and some Pittsburgh Threadheads working together to make an impact in Haiti.

How long have you been working in recycling in Haiti, and how did you get started?

I have been working in recycling in Haiti since 2011. I was working as foreman in the shelter program implemented by Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, a non-governmental organization based in North Carolina. They were looking for the most valuable employees. After that, I was selected to be part of the recycling team as Recycling Program Coordinator.

How big is the recycling industry in Haiti? Is it a popular activity? Is it new, growing, or old?
The metal recycling industry is old. The most well-known company, Haiti Recycling, has been recycling metals since 1989. It is popular activity.

Regarding plastic bottles, the recycling industry is growing. Everywhere you go over the country you will find a pile of plastic bottles laying somewhere waiting to be weighed, and then sold for money.

How has the industry changed since you started?
Since I started, the industry has really changed. The changes are the following:

  • Thousands of individuals are earning their lives through recycling.
  • There are more companies that are buying plastic bottles for recycling.
  • Collecting plastic was a taboo, but now people understand it’s normal to collect, because it is an income source and a good way to earn one’s a living with dignity.
  • The canals used to be clogged with plastic bottles, but now you may find other materials (editor’s note: styrofoam and organics are very prevalent), but not plastic bottles.

Five years ago, it would be difficult to convince a Haitian that they could make money with the plastic bottles. Now, it is more than a fact.

What challenges does the industry in Haiti face?
One big challenge is that we don’t have any support from the government. Others include:

  • Power problems – manufacturers use their own power plant system which costs a lot.
  • It’s difficult to replace parts of the machines when they are broken, because we have to order usually from Asia, which takes time to get to Haiti.
  • Low price of the oil on the international market which affects directly prices in the recycling industry.

Richardson works hard to create dignified jobs and address social problems in Haiti.

How about the challenges collectors and center owners face?
The collectors face two problems. First, the price of the plastic when it is low. When global prices are low, that prevents them to make enough profit when they have to pay their employees and transportation.

Also, there is the risk of getting sick when individuals are collecting, because they collect in the canals and dirty areas. They don’t have any equipment like boots and gloves to protect themselves.

The center owners face many problems, including the price of the plastic that is really low.

Others include:

Broken scales: The scale is one of the most important materials that a center owner needs to get his business operated. When the scale is broken, there is no way for the center owner to buy plastic in his site.

Transportation: Transportation is a means for the center owners to bring their goods to one of the processing companies in Port-au-prince. Transportation difficulties are the biggest problem the center owners face.

Lack of super sacks: Super sacks are one of the sensitive materials of the recycling business. The center owners use the super sacks to transport the bottles to the processing companies. When they don’t have enough super sacks, that prevents them to make a load even though they have enough plastic.

How is recycling benefiting collectors?
Recycling is benefiting the collectors in a very high level. The collectors are the first sector that benefits of recycling. They are the first that get paid for this dignified work.

Because of recycling, the collectors are self-employed. Because of recycling, the collectors don’t need to wait for somebody to give them something. It creates a picture like instead of giving them a fish, recycling just showed them how to fish. I remember talking with a collector. She was a 35-year-old widow.

She said: “Because of recycling, I feed and pay school for my children. I am proud of what I’m doing.”

Can you share a story about someone who has changed their life with recycling?
Nadine Philippe is 46-years-old woman that lost her husband in 2012. She is the mother of six children.

After losing her husband, she didn’t know what to do. She borrowed money from the people in her community that she couldn’t pay back; her children could no longer go to school. Before the recycling program, she was selling clothes, electronic devices, like radio and television.

She joined the Ramase Lajan recycling program founded by Executives Without Borders in 2013. Her center is located in Les Cayes, South department (like a state or province) of Haiti. At the beginning, it was hard for her to fit the business, since plastic business is different from the other businesses. Nine months later, from the profit that she has made through the recycling, her children was able to go back to school, she paid the money back she owed to people.

Two years later, Nadine reimbursed the startup loan that she was given to buy plastic bottles; she has a bank account. She diversified her business by buying different type of materials: plastic bottles, copper, aluminum, iron, carcass of vehicles.

Now, Nadine is one of the most productive center owners in the province that the recycling program has. Lately, by getting a scale through Thread’s micro-loan program, she said “I am so grateful to what recycling has done in my life. I am an entrepreneur, and a good one.”

Nadine is the owner of a recycling center in Haiti and works with Thread to make the most responsible fabric in the world. (Editor’s note: She’s also inspired a new Thread t-shirt – The Nadine Tee.)

How does recycling compare to other income opportunities in Haiti?
Recycling is the easiest way to generate income in this country. The opportunity is there, the collectors are ready, the materials are in the streets waiting for someone only to pick them up. No one is being pushed to do it, they just do it.

There isn’t any other income opportunities in Haiti that requires someone all he has to do is picking up a bottle from the ground, bring it to a recycling center, and then he’ll get paid. Very simple!!

Can others build careers in the industry as you have? What is necessary for them to get started and succeed?
Others can build careers in the industry as I have. They will have to get to know it, understand it, and love it. It is necessary that they learn to listen, to observe, to have the capacity to work with anyone. It will not be easy, but with determination and courage others can build more careers in the industry as I have.

What aspirations do you have for your career? And what are some of your hopes and dreams for the people you work with everyday?
I would like to attend some training in order to sharpen my knowledge on recycling. I would like to know how it works from the beginning to the end. That’s something I am excited about.

My hopes for the people I work with every day are to keep helping them with my advices, see them succeed, and show them how to grow and become real entrepreneurs in recycling.

You’re fond of inspirational quotes, do you have one to share with us?
The inspirational quote that I reflect every day is from John C. Maxwell: “Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn.”

As human being, we always expect to win, to succeed. But, I think there is always a valuable lesson learned from every mistake and every success we made.

Richardson is just one of the people (albeit an important one) who work hard to make Thread fabric possible. 

We recently started offering t-shirts on our online store. Each style is named after an entrepreneur, collector, or factory worker who inspires us each and every day. 

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