By Emily Younker
The Joplin Globe, Mo.
Six years after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, a handful of the Caribbean nation’s residents have found new life and hope in a unique venture: a jewelry business that is based in the basement of a Joplin home.
“The people have been a huge blessing to me and my family, and the opportunity to be involved in their lives has been amazing,” said Abby Clevenger, a Joplin resident and founder of Béljoy.
Béljoy is a locally owned and operated company that primarily sells necklaces and bracelets. While Clevenger is based in Joplin, her employees live and work in Haiti, and their finished products are brought back to the U.S. on a regular basis to be sold.
The company’s origins are rooted in a long-standing Haitian ministry with deep ties to Joplin, the Haitian Christian Mission in Fonds-Parisien. Clevenger took her first trip to Haiti with her husband, Lane, in 1997 and got her first look at the mission. But she wanted to become even more directly involved in helping the Haitian people, up to 80 percent of whom live in poverty.
So Clevenger, who previously designed and produced jewelry under a self-launched company called Abby Anne, threw out an idea for a business: jewelry that is designed in Joplin and created by Haitians who are paid an honest day’s wages.
The idea took hold, and today the company — which formally launched in May 2015 — is called Béljoy. Its name is derived from two words: Bél, which means “beautiful” in Haiti’s native Creole language, and Joy, which refers to the happiness that many Haitians have despite living in poverty. Many of the elements that Clevenger uses in her designs are made in Haiti: clay beads, carved cow horn, mahogany.
Clevenger visits Haiti every other month, at which time she takes her designs and materials to her five employees. She draws in marker the designs of her necklaces and bracelets on the bags and translates the colors and dimensions from English into Creole.
The jewelry is then hand-strung and tagged in Haiti by five women:
–Beatrice, who has a 6-year-old daughter and likes to paint fingernails.
–Toch, who has two daughters and particularly enjoys making bracelets. A speaker of both Creole and English, she serves as the local manager and sends Clevenger daily updates with the number of hours worked.
–Décile, who has four children and loves sharing her Christian faith with others. Clevenger said she is the “mother” of the group, very sweet and wise.
–Mercilia, who has three boys, and is spunky and a great worker.
–Katlyn, the most recent hire. Clevenger said that at the time of her employment, she couldn’t write her own name, nor did she know her birthdate. She had recently been deported from the Dominican Republic and was living in a tarp tent, Clevenger said.
Four of the five women are now enjoying employment for the first time in their lives, Clevenger said. As a result, all of their children are fed, healthy and in school.
“For Katlyn, Béljoy has saved her child from the orphanage — literally,” she said.
And the women’s appearance, she said, has changed because they have steady work; they take more pride in how they look, and their self-confidence has improved greatly. The women even recently asked for official uniforms to show their pride in their work, so Clevenger printed the Béljoy logo on some T-shirts of various colors from Target and offered them up.
“By teaching this trade and paying a superior wage, we hope to strengthen people, restore dignity and give them an opportunity to provide for their families,” she said in a message on her business’s website. “Every purchase made directly affects lives in Haiti and increases the opportunity to bless others.”
Clevenger said the response to her jewelry line has been “better than I ever imagined.” She is taking her success one day at a time, but she hopes to see the market expand. Just last week, she created 35 designs and sent them to her workers in Haiti, and the new jewelry is expected to launch next month in the Las Vegas market.
“I would love to see the line in stores across the nation and employ many more women and make an impact in Fonds-Parisien,” she said.
Béljoy jewelry can be purchased locally at Sophie, 531 S. Main St. in Joplin; Oasis Salon and Day Spa, 2915 E. 29th St. in Joplin; and Repurpose Boutique, 530 W. Fir Road, Suite D, in Carthage. It can also be bought online at beljoyhaiti.com.
A magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, displacing close to 1.5 million people. The Haitian government has said more than 300,000 people died in the disaster, but the exact toll is unknown.