Recently I was asked, “How do you give back?” I give back in many ways, but the biggest is my work with Haiti. I have traveled there three times---each time working with the locals on the techniques of soap making. Due to the length of time it takes shipments to arrive in Haiti, I sent all equipment, supplies, and raw ingredients you need to make soap, months ahead of my first trip there. I sent everything from a stand you have to put soap on, to the coconut oil, lye, olive oil, tallow, and essential oils. When I knew that the supplies made it down there, I booked my flight.
The first time I went with my husband Steve. Prior to traveling down there, I had asked the church, where I was going to be making the soap, if they had a heat source where we could heat up the oils. In my mind, I was thinking of something like an industrial kitchen at their school. When we got there, they had this metal bucket with charcoal in it and I had to put the pot on that. Every part of the process was done outside in the church yard on a dirt path. It was as crude as I’ve ever seen.
The whole experience was eye opening. When we arrived, the whole church came out to meet us in their Sunday best. It was so precious on how welcoming and eager to learn they were. That first day we were there, I made soap right in front of them. Down in Haiti, we were not inside and it was very humid. Due to the heat and humidity, it took a lot longer to stir. When I make my soap, in the air conditioned or heated house---a controlled atmosphere---it’s done in a half hour, tops. There, it took several hours to stir the soap to get to a thickness that would work in successfully creating blocks of soap. Two days later, we cut the soap made into bars and made more soap, and two days later, we repeated the process where they had to do it completely by themselves.
When Steve and I were down there, we noticed that the priest, who we were staying with, needed a new truck. So when we got home, we raised $55,000 for a new truck. My parish priest insisted I go down and buy it for him because if I send the money, it often times gets diverted to other necessary causes.
That second time I went down with my daughter, Clare, to go to the Ford dealership to buy the car. Now this was a different situation. Before, when we went down, we stayed with the priest, who had a much nicer living space. That time, we were in an enclosed apartment with a gated wall around the compound. This next time, we were not housed in that building. It was very scary, especially for my little daughter who was only age 12 at the time. We were in this little clinic house and people would just come up to the windows at night and look inside. There was no running water. He had a big barrel of water that we would need to take buckets of water to flush the toilet or wash yourself. He would put clorox in there to kill the bugs or bacteria. It stung your skin when you washed up.
In the summer of 2017, I shipped all the needed equipment and supplies down to her home in Port-au-Prince. After the shipment arrived, I returned to Haiti taking my sister this time, as well. This trip was to reintroduce Roseline to making soap. For the first night I sat and stirred soap for hours making the first batch forgetting how long the beginning of the process took---it was about 95 degrees with high humidity. All I wanted to do was go to bed, but I stayed up stirring.
Roseline now has a small business that every year I send enough supplies for her to make about 1000 bars of soap. She makes a little bit of money trying to sell it. If anyone wants to get a good deal on Rainwater Farm soap, go down there and buy it, because it’s probably sold for about a dollar a bar--cheaper than you can make it, but the Haitians cannot afford any more than that.
It has been a really interesting experience. Haiti is not a vacation spot. For me, it is something you endure, but it was nonetheless good. The truth is I receive more from them than they received from me.