Julina rushes outside from the workshop to give a strong ringing of the gold hand bell. She’s smiling ear to ear because she just made her next shoe sale. It’s a big deal here. Julina and 13 other full-time workers make leather shoes, hand-crafted from old rubber tires they manage to collect from the sides of the road in Port-au-Prince.
Tires are a big problem in Haiti.
The roads are so badly out of shape, car tires damage easily and get thrown away at every street corner. In some parts of the city the tire litter piles up. If they’re left too long, locals end up burning away the rubber trash to get rid of it, which only fuels the pollution problem. Just after the earthquake in 2010, Rebuild Globally found a solution to the tire problem. The social enterprise began training and employing Haitian women with fair wages to make shoes from recycled rubber tires. By re-purposing tires, they could help solve the pollution issue in Haiti and save needless waste from the streets. They could also provide much needed jobs to local Haitians at the time they need it most.
Julina was their very first employee. Every time she rings that bell she remembers how far she has come. A few years ago before the earthquake she owned her own jewelry shop and rented a home with her husband. Business was good but she could never save enough money to be her own homeowner. She lost everything when disaster struck. She remembers all the aid workers that flooded into Haiti at the time. NGOs changed every three months. One aid worker was handing out bottles of water, but Julina told her water is not what she needed. Or food.
“I don’t need rice, beans, or oil. Give me a job and I will eat forever”
That aid worker would later create the idea behind Rebuild Globally. After a year and a half she has been able to save enough money. She now owns her own home. She bought her own land (without even telling her husband!) and then built a house on top of it.
Importing goods hurts the local economy and creates a cycle of dependency
Julina is now the workshop supervisor. Since 2010, she has helped upcycled more than 7,000 tires from the streets around Port-au-Prince into useable, walkable soles for shoes and sandals. Even the tops of the shoes are made from 100% recycled locally-sourced waste. I was amazed to see how everyday materials can be turned into such an impactful product. It shows that everything can be re-used in some way and nothing ever needs to be wasted.
I loved meeting the people here and seeing how they drive ideas into solutions that create change in Port-au-Prince in more than one way. By empowering locals each day, it’s a little step further in rebuilding the economy and fostering financial independence for families in Haiti.