In September of 2012, GFDAG, a women’s group based on the island of La Gonave, Haiti, opened the doors to a community business that it spent almost eleven months preparing for. The business was started to create a source of revenue for the women so they could support the education of local orphans and vulnerable children without having to be dependent on foreign funding. We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the women’s business and thought it a good idea to share with you both the successes and current needs of the business.
The business is open six days a week (Monday through Saturday) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are normally five women volunteering in the store every day, as they have chosen to start with no paid employees. On average, the business brings in an amazing 325,000 gourdes (about 7,500 USD) per month, with the most popular items being flour, sugar, rice, oil and spaghetti. The most typical customers are women, mostly mothers, from Gran Sous (the area where the store is located). All of the money being made right now is being re-invested into the business, to help it grow and become more stable.
Roots volunteer, Jessica Desvarieux, who is Haitian-American herself, visited the island earlier this summer to check in with the women and find out about the progress of the business and what additional help they needed. Based on interviews with GFDAG President Carline Etienne, Secretary Joelle Justin, and Treasurer Gertrude Desseus, the greatest needs and top priorities for the business are: 1.) A form of transportation for the goods, such as a pick-up truck, in order to reduce currently high transportation costs, 2.) A solar panel system to provide lighting and an electrical supply to the interior and exterior of the store, 3.) A computer and basic accounting software, 4.) A salaried position for a bookkeeper, 5.) A safe and some type of alarm for security purposes, and, eventually, 6.) A larger location of their own so they won’t need to continuously waste profits on rent.
In addition to eventually financing the education of orphans and vulnerable children in the area, one of GFDAG’s top goals is to create an after-school program. On the second floor of the building they hope to eventually build to house their store, the women of GFDAG would like to have a recreational center where students can come to learn music, experiment with art, and have a safe space to study.
The women feel very positive about the future of the store. From the first customer who eagerly awaits the opening of the store to the last customer who strolls in just before closing, the women of GFDAG treat each client with utmost care and attention. It’s something that was never taught per say, but found naturally there. It’s an understanding that each person who walks into the store is a reflection of themselves, the women of GFDAG, their mission, and their solidarity.
The way the group works can best be summed up with an analogy that GFDAG’s President, Carline Etienne, shared with Jessica one day. She said, “We function like a hand. When we stand alone, like a finger, we tend to point out all that is wrong. But when we stand together, we band together and make a powerful fist.”