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Back to Business: Something Good to Come Out of Hurricane Matthew

Just weeks ago, Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Southwest of Haiti. Over the next 48 hours, the country was pummeled by the storm. At least 1,000 people were killed. Many more displaced. Crops were destroyed, meaning there will be major food insecurity this winter. New cholera cases have already been spiking and there will most certainly be a rise in communicable diseases throughout the country.

My teammates and I spent those 48 hours watching every weather and news outlet we could, while checking our phones manically for updates and preparing for the worst. We were lucky.

The damage incurred by our suppliers was material. Stuff can be fixed, people can’t. Luckily, while many homes were damaged, our people were not displaced or left with inhabitable living conditions. Ian was on a flight 2 days later to survey damage and help with repair and recovery.

In no way do I want to diminish the tragedy of this storm, especially in the Southwest of the country. You’ve seen the headlines, things are bad. I do want to share something positive in the storm’s aftermath. Haiti is in the news often enough as a tragedy – here are some stories of the incredible people whose resilience and optimism never cease to amaze me.

Thread works in a neighborhood called Molea. Molea is in Port-au-Prince, but it’s right near the water and borders the landfill. Many of the people who live in this neighborhood make a living by collecting recyclable material from the landfill. Thread’s involvement in Molea increased this year with a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment in partnership with HP, Timberland, and Team Tassy.

Sand was found, ordered and delivered.
Buckets were procured.

During the storm, this neighborhood experienced severe flooding and was evacuated. Luckily, everyone survived, though a lot of livestock and plastic inventory was lost. When the storm passed, the storm surge was trapped by the landfill – located between the community and the ocean. Several homes were trapped in standing garbage water.

I don’t need to go into gruesome details to get across the severity of this problem from a health standpoint. Thread, our suppliers, and the amazing staff and families of Team Tassy jumped into action. Sand was found, ordered and delivered. Buckets were procured. Work boots were locally sourced and distributed. Within days, the communities worked together to raise the ground of this neighborhood, getting homes back onto dry land and allowing families to come home safely.

Here’s the before:


… and here’s the after:

This effort was entirely Haitian-led, happening in a neighborhood that has never before received outside help or support. The leadership displayed by Thread and Team Tassy’s Haitian staff and the community support shown in this neighborhood was amazing.

Over the last few weeks, Thread and Team Tassy have ensured that our suppliers had soap, clean water, and mosquito nets. Cash assistance was given for roof repairs and to help with inventory loss. Now that we were out of the emergency, our most pressing challenge was to get people back to work. A week or more of not generating income has a major consequence on the collectors and suppliers working in our supply chain. These folks don’t have insurance and they don’t have a safety net. (We are looking into how we can help organize natural disaster insurance amongst our supplier community.)

In a weekly update, I received the following message from our Haiti Field Manager, Richardson: I have been in Molea in order to see how our suppliers and people in the community wake up after the rain because it rained a lot in the night. Fortunately, we intervened in good time. Because of the work that we did, there was not any flooding in the community where we helped out putting sand down. That’s something we can be proud of.

I’m proud indeed.

Two of our suppliers in Les Cayes faced more substantial damages and had to close their centers in the weeks following the storm. They were looking for other jobs to earn enough money to reopen their centers. Thread has granted them small business loans so that they can focus on their recycling business and get their centers open again.

Most of our suppliers have already been back to business as usual, making deliveries, purchasing plastic from their communities, generating income and helping their country rebuild. Haiti doesn’t need our pity, disaster tourism, or nouveau colonialism disguised as missionary work. Haiti needs to be treated like any other country. Haiti needs disaster relief led by skilled professionals and then it needs jobs. After a disaster, the need for aid is strong, but once recovery is on it’s way, people need work so they can help themselves. This most certainly won’t be Haiti’s last natural disaster. Jobs can make people more prepared for the next time around.

For Thread, and those we serve, it’s time to get back to work.

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