Baby Blankets Keep Haitian Moms Employed, Families Together

By Ángel González
The Seattle Times.

CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti

When Resilia Verdéus’ husband died four years ago, she struggled to support her seven children as a street vendor selling water in little plastic bags. So she put her daughter Angéline, nearly 3 years old, in an orphanage.

Now Verdéus works in an apartment with 11 other mothers, who weave, knit and crochet for six hours a day, five days a week.

The fruit of their labor: baby blankets, which are shipped in suitcases to the United States and marketed for $72 apiece by the Seattle nonprofit Haiti Babi. They also make baby hats, which Haiti Babi sells for $23.

The moms can earn up to $10 a day, plus a transportation allowance and free lunch — an attractive deal in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day.

The money enabled Verdéus, who doesn’t know her exact age but thinks she is around 40, to reclaim her little girl last July, after four years.

“They gave her back to me,” she said, grinning. “She loves her brothers and sisters.”

Haiti Babi, the creation of a University of Washington graduate who works in real estate investment, touches two intricately related issues in Haiti.

Haiti’s orphanages house a staggering number of children — UNICEF counted 430,000 in a country of 10 million.

Strikingly, the majority have living parents or close relatives. These children were given up for adoption because the families, like Verdéus, are too poor to feed them.

So Haiti Babi’s role is to give mothers some job skills and a good salary that will make them independent.

“They just need an opportunity to earn their own money and take care of themselves,” said founder Katlin Jackson, who began volunteering in Haiti’s orphanages after finishing graduate school in 2011.

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