It was a Sunday in January and I was playing cards with my mom and friend, Paige, when I got the call.
The call carried heavy, heavy news. My dear friend Johanne had passed away. The call came from Marrah, Johanne’s younger sister.
I’d been working alongside Johanne since 2011. She was one of the original artisans I had worked with. She was one of the women who I just felt a deep responsibility for – it’s hard to explain that “responsibility” and it may be the wrong word to use as a description, but it’s just how I felt. It’s how I still feel today.
My two last memories with her are so engrained in my mind.
She had been sick for a while and she just never seemed to have answers for her illness. So, I went to her house one morning – it was November sometime – and there she lay on the ground, unable to sit up on her own. So, I literally picked her up, carried her on my own back to my vehicle and brought her to a nearby clinic. The blood results came back and they were pretty serious, but there was a treatment and I felt hopeful. A month later, her health seemed to be much better and Christmas was nearing. We were together at an event with many people around and she pulled me aside at one point and thanked me for taking her to the clinic and helping her find a treatment.
I remember looking in her eyes and just saying, “of course.” I told her how happy I was just to see her standing. I encouraged her to keep taking her medicine. She smiled, we hugged and I felt hopeful that her health was being restored.
Something happened though, because within one month, she was gone.
After I received the call about her passing, I went to her home. They had taken every single material item out of her small house – which we had built together through savings and hard word – and had her body wrapped in a white sheet in the middle of the small room. I wept on my knees next to her that afternoon. My heart still aches for her. For her two girls, who are now orphans. And for her sister, Marrah, who now carries the responsibility for her two nieces.
I struggle to tell this story. It seems unfair that Johanne isn’t here today to tell it herself. It seems unfair that she didn’t experience the healing we were so hopeful for. There’s just a lot about her death that seems so unfinished. Like, I never got the closure I somehow needed, not that I could even answer what that closure would be if you were to ask, but doesn’t it almost just take your breath away when you think about death? How sudden it can come up on you? Just when you’re not expecting it? When you’re caught being hopeful and then…death. So, so final.
I’ve made a commitment to Johanne that I will see her girls through school. That’s a personal thing I’m doing. But, since her passing, at least once a month, her sister, Marrah, continues to call me.
When I see her number pop up on my phone its as if I’m getting the call again. Reminding me of the sudden loss, the pain, the lack of closure. Yesterday, she called and said she had no food for the girls. She’s not even asking for money, she just keeps asking me for work.
So, without the demand in the business, I said, “Marrah, come to Rosie’s next week. I will give you some greeting cards you can make and it will help you be able to buy food for the girls.”
After Marrah’s call I went to Tytoo to run Starfish, just like I do every other Tuesday.
I was sitting in the office going through some receipts, when Andrelise knocked on the door. Andrelise was part of the Starfish program last year and she’s one of the few I feel like we just didn’t do enough for.
She hands me a green piece of paper and I ask, “what’s this?” Curiosity and a bit of annoyance run through my veins. She answers, “It’s my report card. I want to show you that I can read and write.”
I kind of laugh out loud at that point, wondering why a report card from the 80’s would mean anything to me. She continues to explain how she sees her friends making cards for me and how she would like to have the same work. She explains how her health is fragile, her kids are grown and are taking care of their own kids now, and she just needs a little job so she can buy food each week for herself. She adds on the detail that she hasn’t eaten since Saturday (it’s Tuesday) and if it weren’t for Jesus she would be dead.
Her words, not mine.
So, for the second time in the same day, I take a long, deep breath and say “Andrelise, come to Rosie’s next week. I will give you some greeting cards you can make and it will help you be able to buy food.”
A few more women file into the office and I meet their needs and problem solve through their requests and then Sentia enters with her two month old daughter in her arms. This baby, you guys, has the most incredible hair and smiles at me as I smother her in kisses. When you hold these babies in your arms and you know how highly the odds are stacked against their innocent little lives…you just can barely breathe.
Sentia was pregnant at the beginning of the year when we were giving out all of our small business loans, so she didn’t want to start a business then. We’ve paid a year’s worth of rent for her, but the year is coming to an end. Her eyes are filled with fear and I get it. Well, I don’t get it because I will never know what it’s like to be in her shoes and have to face the poverty she faces each and every day. But, I mean, I still kind of get…I begin to get it just by seeing it.
I sure do see her and those fear-filled eyes.
She continues, tears start to fill her eyes now, and says she just doesn’t know what she will do when Starfish is finished next month. Her rent will be up and she will have no way to pay that. The only food she eats most weeks is the food we send her home with at Starfish. She asks, “how will I eat and be able to produce milk for my baby when Starfish is finished?”
So, for the third time in the same day, with an even deeper sigh, I say, “Sentia, come to Rosie’s next week. I will give you some greeting cards you can make and it will help you be able to buy food and pay your rent in a few months.”
I know, not a good business move, guys.
I took an economics class in college and I can clearly see that supply and demand chart drawn out on the chalkboard in the big university lecture hall. To be a good entrepreneur, the trick is to be able to buy and meet the demand but somehow be able to read into the future and not overbuy or overproduce and get stuck with extra inventory. The wise entrepreneur move right now is to not hire any new mamas for at least the next six months.
We just trained a handful of new mamas in this last season to meet all the demand for Christmas and that was great. We’re still riding out that excitement by building up our online inventory and filling other orders, but to hire more mamas, right now? Nope, not a wise business move.
But, what did Kayla just do yesterday? Hired three more mamas.
So, I went to bed last night with a million ideas swirling in my mind, a big ol’ pit in my stomach and Satan sat right there with me and just kept affirming, “GIRL, you’re so dumb. You are going to make this all burn up in flames. All these ladies are depending on you now and you’re going to fail them.”
But, then this morning, I woke up and a peace somehow resided in me. I let God take his place on my other shoulder and He said, “Tell their stories. Use your gifts. Spread awareness. Be creative. You were made for this.”
Man, I love it when I choose to listen to God. That’s what this whole journey has been all about that. Listening and following. Listening to the stories of suffering, choosing to see through His eyes, and following His direction to meet their needs.
The needs? Obviously astronomical.
How do we even begin to meet the needs? Well, it starts with a zip-lock bag of forty cards with string bundled inside. The string gets stitched into the cards with beautiful designs and the beautiful hands that do all the stitching? They get paid. They take their earnings and buy food, pay rent and send their kids to school. Every Wednesday these women walk into the boutique and we get to hug them, wrap our arms around them and love them. That’s my favorite part, because that’s where the gospel gets put into play.
Then, literally like children, all filled up with love and dignity, we get to send them out into the world, zip-lock baggies in tote, with the means to take care of their babies.
That’s the part when I get to breathe again. It’s the most beautiful thing to see it all in action.
Because, here’s the thing. Poverty? Oppression? Corruption? So, so complex.
The suffering? The pain? The trauma and tragedy? So, so hard.
But, these cards? This product? So, so simple.
Seriously, I don’t know what else to say except that it is changing lives, AND has the potential to reach and change SO many more lives.
All we have to do is create the demand. So, would you help me do just that?
Here’s four simple ways we can create more demand:
- S H O P – all of our greeting cards are available online: https://www.rosiesboutiquehaiti.com/collections/gift-cards
- S E L L – we have a great wholesale rate! Maybe you have a friend with a boutique or coffee shop that could sell the cards? Maybe your church could sell the cards as part of its ministry? email me for instructions on how to purchase wholesale: firstname.lastname@example.org
- F U N D R A I S E – we’ve all got reasons to fundraise! Receive our wholesale rate and sell the cards to go towards your fundraiser!
- C U S T O M I Z E – maybe you work for a business or organization that is constantly sending out cards & thank-you’s. Let’s team up and create a custom card!
Thanks for believing & fighting for a future where families stay together and mamas can feed and care for their babies.