Crowded around tables with paper, string and leather, young Haitians are hard at work learning skills for life.
In 2015, Imagine Missions started a professional trade school to preparing our children for life after they graduate. Classes are offered every Saturday morning. One of the more popular classes teaches students how to make jewelry and sandals.
After attending a professional school outside of the orphanage and perfecting basic techniques, now 25-year-old Claudener Pierre expanded his skill set, creating ways to simplify the bracelet making process. He then started to teach the children in the orphanage how to make bracelets and sandals.
Claudener came to the orphanage when he was 12 and started working for the orphanage in 2012. He is currently a dorm father in the little boy’s dorm.
He now teaches the professional school class with Madam Bodyo, a local artisan. Lauren Neder, an Imagine Missions board member, remembers being impressed by Claudener’s dedication to the craft.
“He would take a few nails and nail them into a block of wood so it was easier for the kids to make the bracelets,” she said. "He asked Melissa (the co-director of Imagine Missions) for help getting a leather press for the soles and now he has a whole operation.”
As he improved his trade, Claudener started selling his products at the team house, along with the products the children make in class. Savings accounts have been set up for each child to deposit their profits into.
There are two types of bracelets and necklaces made at the orphanage, braided and beaded. The braided bracelets are made on a wooden board with a nail on each end to help the children braid faster.
The beaded bracelets are a little more complex. The beads are made from recycled cardboard; the paper is rolled on a stick, glued and then set in the sun to dry. Once the beads dry they are strung onto a bracelet or necklace along with smaller beads that are purchased at the market.
Ten-year-old Lovelie Renatus is always working on beads for her necklaces and bracelets. She has made four bracelets and one necklace since she started the class.
“I really like making them,” she said. “Claudener is a really good teacher.”
Lovelie said she is excited about her savings account that she has been able to start.
“I might use it for university,” she said.
Thirteen-year-old Adolph Paul can make at least three bracelets in an hour. You can find him showing off his work in the orphanage yard when he’s finished.
“They are fun to make,” he said. “I want to make a lot.”
While teams can purchase the kids’ creations at the Team House, some have also been messaging Claudener to place specific orders.
Long-time Imagine Missions supporter Katie Bridgeman has ordered multiple pairs of sandals for herself and her friends. She says that it is obvious that Claudener and the kids are improving as they expand their techniques.
“He’s definitely becoming an expert. I recently ordered a set of six sandals and he sent a photo of the finished, hand-woven straps for all six pairs the next day,” she said.
The attention to detail and quality of the sandals continues to amaze Katie and her friends.
“There is something special about personally knowing the artisan who made what you wear, which makes wearing the hand-woven black sandals he made me all the better. But even my friends who don’t know him but have seen pictures of the shoes have absolutely loved wearing their finished products,” she said. “Each piece, from the sole to the straps, is handmade. They are comfortable, adjustable, and unique.”
The goal is to start selling a product line the United States.
“My dream is to get all the sandals, necklaces, earrings and bracelets to America so we can sell them to anyone and everyone,” Lauren said.
Claudener said he is very grateful for all of the support he receives.
“I don’t sell the stuff here (in Haiti) because, you know, I am with the kids every day. So, I don’t have time to go outside (the orphanage) to sell,” he said. “When the teams give me the money I give some to my church first. Then if I see someone doesn’t have something they need I help them. Then I help myself.”
After years of building a friendship with Claudener, Katie said that she has seen the good he does with his profits.
“Claudener lives generously and manages his money wisely. When his father had a stroke, he paid the medical expenses...He has an ability to see the needs around him and work to address them as best he can," Katie said. "With funding from successful sales of his bracelets, he was able to help provide a friend in need with housing and then come alongside him in both prayer and teaching him to make sandals so he, too, would have a trade for the future. Although it seems like a lot, the Bible says to help your brother in need, so that’s simply what he did.”
Claudener is also saving for a post-secondary education in engineering. He said he prays God will bless those that purchase the sandals and bracelets.
“I would like to say, when the teams come I just want them to encourage us. Because it’s not only me that made the sandals. The kids in the orphanage make the sandals. I would like when people come, to encourage the kids by buying one,” he said. “I think when they buy the sandals, God will bless them.”
If you or someone you know is planning on coming to Haiti, you can message Claudener, Katie Bridgeman or Lauren Neder on Facebook to place an order. Katie can also be reached at email@example.com and Lauren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandals are $30, braided bracelets are $5, beaded bracelets are $7 and necklaces are $15. Stay tuned for updates on Imagine Missions merchandise in the future.