Inspired by Solar Mamas, Women in Haiti Transform Lives

Siiri Morley & Elvire Eugene at AFASDA safe house

A Women and Girls Lead Spotlight
By Siiri Morley, Founding Partner, Prosperity Candle

This week’s broadcast of Solar Mamas inspired us to catch up with Women and Girls Lead partner Siiri Morley, founder of Prosperity Candle. Siiri recently traveled to Haiti to launch an economic development program to train women in candle making. Just like in Solar Mamas, we see how women are empowering themselves by taking a little training and bit of opportunity and completely transform their lives.

When I was planning my most recent trip to Haiti, I couldn’t have foreseen that Hurricane Sandy would force my early departure. Just hours before my plane evacuated, I was knee deep in the launch of Prosperity Catalyst’s Haiti initiative. Prosperity Catalyst is the nonprofit sister organization to Prosperity Candle , the social enterprise that empowers women to rebuild their lives through business and entrepreneurship.

Elvire Eugene, the Founder and Executive Director of AFASDA, is a tenacious woman with an extraordinary amount of energy and heart. She is simultaneously strong and warm and when she enters a room, the women she works with light up and are automatically drawn to her. With fire in her eyes, she talks about the critical importance of rescuing women and girls from violence in their communities.

The Association Femmes Soleil d’ Haiti (AFASDA) is a nationwide women’s association in Haiti that helps women navigate and fight against the challenges of gender-based violence. In a country where it is estimated that 90 percent of women will experience some kind of violence in their lifetime, AFASDA’s work is substantially important. Elvire shared stories of young girls who were raped by neighbors and stories of women who were continuously abused — even mutilated — by their husbands. Yet these women decided to stay in the household in fear of what would happen to their children if they left.

These are the stories that make your blood run cold and are the stories that need to be told. Each one I hear renews my dedication to women’s empowerment, time and time again.

When Elvire is asked about the root cause of violence in these communities and why women get stuck in this cycle, her answer is simple: economic dependence. Women often rely on income from their husbands, so they find themselves getting stuck in situations that make them extremely vulnerable. AFASDA has a warm, inviting safe house, allowing women in dire situations to stay within its welcoming walls, receiving therapy for their trauma while build skills to prepare them for a more independent life.

Siiri Morley with Willnese and Landy, two of the first candlemakers in Haiti

But for every handful of women who cycle through the safe house, thousands more are affected and do not have access to the aid they so badly need. In the north, where the 2010 earthquake had little impact, there have already been 500 cases of violence reported this year alone. You can only imagine the increased vulnerability of women and girls in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, where their homes and routines have been so negatively impacted.

Prosperity Catalyst is now embarking on its work in Haiti. We are working to offer women economic opportunity that can help them achieve prosperity, which we define as a combination of financial independence, skills, and stability, allowing them to take ownership of their destiny. I am so incredibly honored to bear witness to the tremendously important work that partners, such as AFASDA, are doing.

AFASDA is fortunate to have been supported by UN Women and V Day. Now, in partnership with Prosperity Candle and Catalyst, the challenge of economic opportunity for women is finally being addressed. We will begin in a small way, with some of AFASDA’s beneficiaries joining Prosperity Catalyst as apprentice entrepreneurs. With us in Haiti, they will learn work readiness preparation, candle making, business, and entrepreneurship skills. They will be part of a community and network designed to help them thrive – in every sense of the world.

While I was disappointed to have to leave Haiti so soon, Hurricane Sandy couldn’t rattle me. After all, I know I’ll be back again. This mission, the work we’re doing, no storm will throw us off track. Not when so much is at stake.