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To Overcome High Unemployment, Haitians Develop Handicraft Businesses

Unemployment in Haiti is 40% - the rate of underemployment is even higher. But as high as that sounds, it's actually much lower than 10 years ago. One reason for that is the resourcefulness of the Haitian people.

Gladys Louissaint lives at the end of a street called "Deadend River." Doors lead to homes built into steep rocky corridors. Here, people and vegetables thrive where they can.

Louissaint runs a jewelry business. She designs one-of-a-kind pieces with discarded glass bottles, random beads and wire.

"I've been making jewelry my whole life," she explains. "And all my kids work with jewelry. That's what I raised them with."

Two out of three Haitians don’t have formal jobs. So they end up creating their own businesses. Between two families, they make eight different handicrafts.

One family builds stools out of wooden crates. A man makes a dollhouse from paper and cardboard. Another man paints on the dried husks from a Haitian "kalbas" tree. It's a matter of survival.

"After January 12th [the earthquake] the country collapsed. If a person didn't have a trade, they wouldn't be good at all," notes artist Leonel Scylla.

The earthquake made it tougher for Gladys Louissant too - the house collapsed on her inventory. Nothing to sell. No one to buy. It's still bad.

“No, production is not the same. We’re at half,” she says regretfully.

Louissaint's eight employees have worked one month for this moment. Today she and her daughter meet with the owner of the gift store at an upscale hotel in Petionville.

Alexandra Buteau Staco examines Louissant's offerings. She buys more than planned.

"She’s very creative, every time she comes, there is something new and I cannot stop buying you know?" explains Buteau Staco.

Her boutique at the Karibe hotel features Louissant's jewelry and other handmade Haitian art. Beads made from cereal boxes. Rings from bull horns. "Fer decoupe" - Cut metal.

“My goal was to have every person that goes to the boutique buying a little piece of Haiti to bring back in their suitcases,” explains Buteau Staco.

So while tourists leave a little piece of their wallet in the boutique, they are helping artists like Louissant simply survive.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.