Vi Bella Jewelry began with a trip to Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Lives were displaced and homes ruined. Julie Hulstein started Vi Bella with the hope of helping the women of Haiti to begin anew and reclaim their lives. Vi Bella gives women the opportunity to learn a new skill, become artisans, gain economic independence, and find community. Since it's founding, Vi Bella has expanded to house two centers in Haiti, as well as workshops in Sioux Center, Iowa, and Croc, Mexico. Below, Vi Bella's Ashley Wright shares the stories of survivor artisans working out of Simonette, Haiti:
When you arrive at the Vi Bella center in Simonette, Haiti, you'll likely hear the hum of women chatting away as they work diligently on various jewelry designs. Though they come from a place of desperate poverty, their lives are being changed for the better through full-time employment. Kayla Raymond, site manager at Simonette, says, "I think the whole point is that they're doing life together...as real women, not just as women who are living in poverty." They tell stories about their kids, talk about people in the village, take pride in their work and seek out friendly competition with each other. "We've created our own inside jokes. Every day is beautiful together."
Joane loves her job as an artisan for Vi Bella. "My favorite thing about my job is being able to make all the jewelry by hand." As a single mom of two pre-school age girls, a full-time job allows her to be the mom she's always dreamed of being. "I was able to build a new home that is safe to live in. And I can provide for my daughters."
Just recently one of Joane's daughters was in a motorcycle accident. Joane can afford to take the time off work to take her daughter to the clinic and pay for her care there. Even in the ugly moments, beautiful things are happening.
Another artisan, Vivianne, was able to make beauty out of an ugly situation. Her husband fell very ill and needed to go to the hospital. She and her husband were able to pay for all of the care he needed. "I know that when I wake every morning, I will have a way to take care of my children and my husband." Her job offers her independence and dignity.
Together, the artisans pray for each other and pray for their families. They celebrate birthdays together. "We've become a sort of family," says Kayla. When illness or hardship strikes one of their co-workers, the women rally together to go encourage and pray for their sister.
Judeline lost her one-year-old daughter, Rosie in December 2013. The hurt and ache for this young mother was devastating, but she knew she was not alone. Her Vi Bella sisters took her in and cared for her until she could bear to sleep alone again.
This heart-breaking loss has inspired a new growth in Judeline. She was baptized and leads the youth at her church. "Now that I am earning money, not only can I take care of myself and my family, but I can also help others by giving to my church."
"Working at Vi Bella brings joy in my heart, and I'm grateful because a lot of people can't find jobs in Haiti." Judeline has a contagious smile and loves to make people laugh. She works hard learning new tasks and making jewelry.
Life won't be perfect just because they have a job. But life will be more beautiful because they have a reason to keep on living--and it's more than just a job. They have become sisters working together, supporting each other as they journey out of poverty and into beautiful life. Together, we are overcoming the ugly and making things beautiful.
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Images provided by Vi Bella