This is not your average therapy session...
HOW PSYCHOTHERAPIST MAUREEN MATTHEWS MCCLINTOCK
USED QUILTING TO HELP WOMEN IN HAITI RECOVER
FROM THE 2010 EARTHQUAKE
During this challenging time of coping with the Corona virus pandemic, I have been recalling my experiences during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It was a terrible time for the women we partnered with, but there are powerful lessons for all of us in their courage and resilience.
Late afternoon on January 12, I was sitting in a bar at Boston's Logan Airport with Jeanne Staples, PeaceQuilts Founder and Director. We were enjoying our last taste of American food (and a glass of wine!) before flying to Port-au-Prince. As a volunteer and in my role as PeaceQuilts' Quilting Coordinator, we had traveled to Haiti together several times over the previous three years, and it was starting to feel pretty routine. But thirty minutes before boarding, that all changed.
Our cellphones started ringing. Simultaneously, the television overhead began showing images and headlines announcing a devastating earthquake had struck Haiti. Our flight had not yet been cancelled, but the television showed Port-au-Prince was pummeled.
We had seen Haiti battered before. In 2008, hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike tore through the country, but we were not prepared for the scale of devastation left by the earthquake. Amidst the din and chaos typical for the airport, my mind seemed very quiet as I saw the pictures of Haiti on the television, and my thoughts were focused on our friends and partners who were in the middle of that catastrophe. Although our flights were soon cancelled, our trip was not.
We spent the next few days watching the news and trying to get through to our friends in Lilavois. For a while it was almost impossible. Was everyone safe? What could we do to meet their needs? How soon could we get back to Haiti?
We started to put a plan together to get immediate aid to our partners, and later, to travel there to deliver whatever help we could put together. We knew our goals had to be broader than simply getting the cooperatives up and running again.
photo credit: David Barreda
Three days after the earthquake
We were finally able to communicate with Nadége Florian in Cité Soleil. Nadège is one of the original members of the first sewing cooperative PeaceQuilts helped establish, Artisanat Patchwork du Paix. Nadège set out on a motorcycle taxi to check on all of the women. She gave us a preliminary assessment of how they and their families were doing, and what they needed. I suggested to Nadège that the women would benefit from meeting and sewing together as soon as they were able. Working as a group would give them a way to support each other and provide a sense of normalcy and hope.
In short order, donations from generous friends and supporters started pouring in to PeaceQuilts, which eventually totaled nearly $30,000. Before the first week was over, we were able to get money to our Haitian partners to help meet their immediate financial needs. We wanted to use the rest of those funds in a way that provided the women and their families with the greatest relief and assistance. We also began gathering supplies to take with us on our trip to Haiti. Shipping goods and materials to Haiti is never easy, nor certain. Whatever infrastructure Haiti had prior to the earthquake was now completely destroyed.
photo credit: David Barreda
Photo credit: Reuters
Like a bomb had gone off...
On March 24, 2010, our bags bursting with essential supplies, we flew to Port-au-Prince. As our plane descended low on the approach, we could see tent cities, rubble and flattened buildings everywhere. Upon landing, we discovered the airport terminal had been destroyed. All the luggage was heaped on a hangar floor where everyone was scrambling to pull the pile apart as they searched for their bags.
Once we arrived at our home base in Lilavois, we learned that parents were not sending their children to school for fear the building would collapse. Everyone was traumatized. An earthquake is not a one-time event. The aftershocks had continued for days, causing more destruction, fear, pain and loss. Unlike a hurricane, earthquakes traumatize and re-traumatize victims over and over again until the Earth’s convulsions subside.
It was encouraging to discover that the women had taken my advice and were working together. However, at that point, they only wanted to work outside. Everyone was anxious about being inside a building. And though all of the members of the cooperatives had survived, there wasn't anyone who didn't have friends, family, or loved ones who had been injured or killed during the earthquake.
photo credit: David Barreda
Too traumatized to go inside, the women work outdoors.
Working with a translator, I immediately went about assessing all of the women and the Haitian Catholic Sisters who ran the school. Though PeaceQuilts is not a faith-based organization, these Haitian Sisters have been a wonderful strategic partner and huge supporters of our economic development mission.
photo credit: David Barreda
Maureen and Jeanne Staples by the ruin's of Fabiola Marcel's house
Through a series of meetings, I helped the women understand normal reactions to stress and trauma, and if they were experiencing PTSD symptoms, this was a natural reaction to the extraordinary events that had happened. I introduced them to ways for coping with symptoms of trauma. I tried to help them understand that the sooner that they got back to living their lives, restoring their daily routines, the less likely it would be for them to develop long term symptoms due to trauma. They needed to work to continue earning a living. More importantly, they needed to work so they could be together, support each other emotionally, and reduce the symptoms of trauma by restoring the normal routines of their daily lives.
We had an engineer assess the school building, and it was determined to be structurally sound. This was a big relief! The day arrived when I led the women inside the workspace. Being together, seeing the familiar surroundings of the workspace they all loved - the shelves of colorful fabrics, the treadle sewing machines, tools and equipment - was reassuring. I was there to talk with them about any anxiety they were feeling and help them understand this would diminish over time. It wasn't long before they began sweeping the floor and wiping the thick layer of dust that had settled everywhere so they could get back to work.
Photo credit: David Barreda
The school buildings were ready, but the students and parents were not. Sister Cadet, Director of the school, and I discussed the importance of having the children return to their classes. Victims of trauma routinely avoid places and situations that remind them of their traumatic experience. Avoiding triggers can make trauma symptoms more engrained and even more crippling. To lessen these symptoms, victims should be exposed to normal safe situations even if they trigger anxiety. By going inside the classroom, and being in the classroom, the parents and students can remind themselves that the school is a safe place to be.
Sister Cadet leads children into the school building.
The Day of Joy
To get the school open and operating, Sister Cadet organized The Day of Joy, a celebratory event for the school's students and parents. The Sisters welcomed everyone to the school grounds and led them in games and songs. Then in a very moving speech, Sr. Cadet assured the parents that the building had been certified safe, and she felt comfortable returning to the classroom. She offered to lead the parents and children through the classroom building so they could see for themselves the structure was safe. It was a testament to the parents' trust in Sr. Cadet that they followed her into the school. The Day of Joy had set the stage, and her words had prepared the parents to cross the threshold behind her. Once inside, the parents' fears seemed to subside, and they were ready to have their children return to school.
The Earthquake Quilts
Over the coming months the women followed another suggestion I made. Tell your own story of the earthquake in a quilt. Here again was an opportunity to use quilting as a therapeutic tool. Art can be a powerful means to process traumatic events in a different way, when words are not enough. When we returned to Haiti in June, we were amazed and deeply moved to see what they had created.
Photo credit: Harvey Beth
Tremblemen de tè en Ayiti - Earthquake in Haiti by Solidarity Cooperative
In this quilt, buildings have collapsed, people are injured and bleeding, some cry out for help or pray to God. The border on top has cars that are untouched, while on the bottom they are turned upside down, showing the randomness of the destruction.
Tremblemen de tè en Ayiti - Earthquake in Haiti (Detail)
l'Union Fait La Force - In Unity There Is Strength by Nadège Florian
This quilt depicts a particularly horrific tragedy of the St. Gerad School which collapsed, killing all the children inside. Overhead, the sun is crying.
The Tree of Life Has Lost Its Leaves
by Fabian Marcel, Noémie Estimé and Nadège Florian
A melancholy but hopeful depiction of a bare tree of life, struggling to survive, yet tiny birds are perched on its limbs and the sun shines overhead.
La Rivyè de Sann - River of Ashes by Fabiola Marcel
Life struggles to carry on as women go to the river to wash their clothes, though it's so filled with ashes, the water has turned white.
Out of the ashes
So much has happened during the 10 years following the earthquake. The donations to PeaceQuilts helped the women repair and rebuild their homes, and their lives. The women continue to work. They gather each day in a safe supportive environment, creating their truly amazing original folk art quilts, as well as beautiful handmade bags, home decorating items, and unique fabric bead jewelry.
Through political turbulence, protests, and even Corona virus, they continue working and caring for their families with the same courage, strength and hope they used to recover from the earthquake. Living and working in Haiti is still challenging, but these women know how to meet a challenge.
To see more of their incredible quilts and other beautiful hand-stitched products, click on:
PeaceQuilts: Building better lives through art.
Solar Project Near Completion!
Thanks to generous donations by the Solar Electric Light Fund, the Dunn Family Charitable Foundation, Cronig's Market of Martha's Vineyard, and other private donors, the solar project at PeaceQuilts' home base in Lilavois, Haiti is nearing completion! This brings a more comprehensive system of reliable electric power to the women in the cooperatives as well as the school and residents on the campus.
Thank you to all the donors for this incredible gift!
Celebrity Waiters Dinner Smash Success!
It was a fantastic evening of fun, food, tomfoolery, and most of all fundraising! Those who attended the Celebrity Waiters Dinner on September 16 raved about the event. AND it was the most successful one to date. Your hard work helped us raise $10,409! Better yet, that’s after expenses. Congratulations everyone!!
We must say, everyone really “brought it!”
The waiters brought their creative celebrity personas (boy did they ever!). They brought donations for the silent auction, which alone brought in $5,157. They brought their generous friends who brought their checkbooks and credit cards!
The rest of the volunteers brought it too! The kitchen team was outstanding, serving over 100 meals with nary a hitch, and everything was just delicious! The bussing crew of young people was amazingly professional, helpful, hardworking, and made a huge contribution to help the dinner run smoothly. Bob Ogden did a bang-up job as emcee. Then there were the volunteers handling Check In and Check Out, Funny Money, Silent Auction, Set Up/Clean Up, Publicity, and myriad other details. And we can’t forget Clifford the Big Red Dog and his able handler!
The Federated Church opened its doors and hearts to host the event. Friends donated sails, harbor cruises, fancy baked desserts. Businesses donated beautiful items and gift certificates, l’Etoile donated the wine for the evening, the Tisbury Printer comped all the printed goods, the Edgartown Library loaned the sound system, and Cape Air donated 2 round trip tickets to anywhere they fly. NOT ONLY THAT, they stepped up with additional generosity when they learned we had a second bidder willing to match the highest bid for their auction item.
These funds couldn’t come at a more critical time. As Sr.
Cadet announced at the dinner, the people of Haiti are suffering extreme
hardship. There’s been no school for more than two months due to rampant
violence. Businesses are shuttered, transportation halted, the government is in
turmoil. PeaceQuilts goal is to help the women we assist weather this storm until
things stabilize and carry on with the work of supporting job creation. Your incredible contributions have made this
Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of our
Doug, Jeanne and PeaceQuilts Board of Directors
Generously supported by...
Here's what else we've been up to recently...
Life in Haiti right now is particularly challenging, that's why PeaceQuilts has been working hard to help support the women through these difficult times. US Program Coordinator Carolyn Stoeber was in Haiti recently. The women were hard at work creating new, beautiful quilts and other handmade products, despite the protests and challenges taking place throughout the country. Here's a sample. And check out some of the new offering in our online shop
Yon Ti Pye Bwa (A Little Tree of Life) by Micheline Salomon
World Market Mondays
at the historic Grange Hall in West Tisbuon the beautiful island of Martha's Vineyard!
Another great summer for PeaceQuilts at the historic Grange Hall in West Tisbury, MA where customers shopped the globe while supporting women's economic development projects. PeaceQuilts teamed up with 4 other non-profit groups to offer meaningful gifts that help women around the globe earn a living and improve their lives. Mondays from 10 AM to 5 PM.
World Market Mondays Kicked Off July 8 With a Party and Performance by Jemima James, Kate Taylor & Rose Guerin!
A kickoff party reception at the West Tisbury Grange Hall celebrated World Market Mondays and the work of 5 island-based non-profit groups. The event featured wine, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, folk art quilts from Haiti, Maasai jewelry and more, plus a performance by special guests Jemima James, Kate Tayor & Rose Guerin. Proceeds benefited World Market Mondays and women’s empowerment initiatives by Island-based non-profits working in the developing world.
Your donations at work!
Improvements were made to a new workspace in Lilavois
after the leaking roof at the previous space became compromised.
Two cooperatives have now moved into the new space,
which is secure, larger, and best of all, leak free!
PEACEQUILTS A FEATURED EXHIBIT
AT THE INTERNATIONAL QUILT FESTIVAL IN HOUSTON!
19 show-stopping folk art quilts made by the women artists of Haiti were featured as a special exhibit at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas in 2017! Rose Marie Agnant traveled from Haiti to attend the event and represent all the talented and hard-working women in the cooperatives affiliated with PeaceQuilts. Gallery Talks accompanied the special exhibit as well as demonstrations of free hand echo quilting by Rose Marie. A BIG thank you to the sponsors who helped underwrite the quilter's travel and other expenses to attend. PeaceQuilts also had a booth in the Interactive Area of the festival. We were delighted to meet hundreds of quilters and quilting fans during the festival. We want to extend a big THANK YOU to all the folks at Quilts, Inc who organize this annual event. Their help and support was invaluable.