How Discarded Cereal Boxes Are Changing Lives in Haiti

by | Artisans

Read Time: 4 min.

In the shade of a gated courtyard in Haiti, a small group of women gathers together at a long thin table filled with crafting supplies. In the middle of the table is a kaleidoscope of colors – red, blue, green, yellow – an endless rainbow of star-shaped figures, topped with bright red ribbons. It’s hard to imagine these festive ornaments started out as discarded cereal boxes. Even more amazing are the stories behind the hands that made them.

Grateful Hands

Each star is carefully crafted with grateful hands…

grateful hands of mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends…

who create beautiful art from discarded things no one wants anymore.

Many of these women have felt discarded, unwanted, and worthless themselves, before discovering dignity as Artisans.

Mothers’ Hands

In the midst of extreme poverty, political unrest, and daily battles to overcome their culture’s discrimination against women, they’ve found purpose, community, and value sitting around a table together, rolling beads with their hands… grateful hands that hold babies, because now they can afford to keep them… grateful hands that cook breakfast, because now they can buy enough food to feed their families… grateful hands that hold each other through their day to day struggles of life, because they are more than common co-workers… they are part of a sisterhood.

Hands that Comfort

Johana has rolled thousands of beads from discarded cereal boxes with the same grateful hands that comfort her little boy each time he goes to the doctor.

Suffering from a rare disease that causes water to pool on his brain, Johana’s son is grateful for his mother’s hands…

because they comfort him in his suffering and pain…

encourage him when he is frightened…

and yes… roll cereal box beads to provide the medical treatments he needs to survive.

Willing Hands

When Johana’s son was diagnosed with this life-threatening disease, she didn’t know how she could possibly provide for his medical care. As a young single mother with eight siblings who were also unable to find work, Johana was determined to find a way to provide for herself and her son without having to depend on others.

Surrounded by a poverty culture that preys on vulnerable women by offering them “opportunities” to feed their children through undignified work, like prostitution, Johana refused to give up her dignity. Day after day, she waited outside the gate of a local fair-trade Artisan community, hoping to be hired because of the livable wages and benefits their Artisans received. Each time she was sent home, she refused to give up. There was too much at stake.

“I came outside the gate often, until I finally got my lucky day.”

One morning as Johana was waiting outside the gate, Shelley, the Artisan community’s founder, came out to talk with her. Shelley, known for having a heart bigger than Haiti, opened the gate for Johana. As Johana walked through the gate into the courtyard, she walked out of her world of lifelong poverty and fear… into a new life filled with new possibilities and hope.

She no longer had to worry about how she and her son were going to eat. She did not have to beg for help with her son’s medical treatments. She did not have to degrade herself through undignified work. Over the years, Johana has even been able to help her parents and siblings and save some money for her future.

Hopeful Hands

Johana’s story is just one of the many stories from the sisterhood of women whose hands roll discarded cereal boxes into jewelry and home décor, like our Stars of Haiti ornaments. Their lives are as unique and colorful as the stars they craft. But each one is a story of dignity and hope overcoming the darkness of poverty and lack. Each one is a story of women, who once felt discarded, unwanted, and worthless discovering purpose, community, and value.

 These women’s lives were forever changed – not by charity – but by opportunities to provide for themselves and their families through dignified work. Each Stars of Haiti purchase helps Shelley open the gate of opportunity for another woman, like Johana, to walk out of lifelong poverty and fear… into a new life filled with new possibilities and hope.

Trades of Hope is partnering with Artisans in areas of extreme poverty in Haiti to help mamas keep their babies.
Every purchase of Trades of Hope designs from Haiti provides skills training and jobs in areas of extreme poverty that help women keep their families together.
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Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas is an inspirational writer with a passion for helping women discover and celebrate their unique gifts and abilities. Kathy is part of the Communications Team at Trades of Hope focusing on Artisan advocacy.


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Trades of Hope is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand that helps women around the world escape poverty and trafficking through our fair trade designs. Learn how you can partner with Artisans around the world here.