America may have issues with unemployment, but it pales in comparison to what many third world countries are dealing with.
A job, let alone food on the table, is a rarity in Haiti. But one Iowa company is doing everything it can to help change the lives of suffering women in Haiti and right here in the Midwest. In this Eye on KELOLAND, Austin Hoffman shows you how the phrase “from trash to treasure” is ringing true in so many ways.
"I really didn't want to see the things I was seeing, or know things I was knowing," Founder of Vi Bella jewelry, Julie Hulstein, said. It was a mission trip to Haiti that changed the course of Julie Hulstein's life.
In June of 2010, the retired band teacher took her first trip and met a young woman who lived in a shack made of sticks and rocks. She wanted to be a Christian, but was working as a prostitute to feed her family. "I left that place and came home and just thought about and prayed about for months, how could we best help these women in Haiti? The idea for jobs came several months later through an unlikely source," Hulstein said.
The idea? Jewelry. A group of women in Sioux Center designs all the pieces. The production is done in Haiti. "We send about 600 pounds of jewelry supplies to Haiti every month in suitcases. There's not a mail system in Haiti and we've tried sending things different ways before but things in containers tend to get lost or held for ransom," Hulstein said.
So, the materials are sent with mission groups. And while the end product may be beautiful bling, Hulstein says there's so much more to each piece than your average necklace or pair of earrings. "If you would ask any of those women, they would tell you this has completely changed their lives. Even for well-educated people in Haiti, jobs are very, very scarce. I've heard lots of different statistics about unemployment in Haiti, the one that I believe, that I see often, is between 80 and 95-percent unemployment," Hulstein said.
It's a five day a week job with not only a paycheck, but also a daily meal for women who would normally not have either. Many of the employees in Sioux Center have also gone through hardships of their own. "This is like a second family to me being here every day. I've gone through a lot of struggles in my life and it’s great to have these ladies to rely on and to kinda just, you know, I can sit back and relax and know that while I'm here, I'm good," Vi Bella employee, Amanda Zachow, said.
Amanda Zachow helps make sure every piece is perfect and puts together special orders. While she works, she forgets about her problems because she knows what she is doing is so important.
"We're making a difference for them and their families and it’s just great knowing that we can do that through God and through us women. We can show that we are strong and we can do this," Zachow said.
"I think about the people that we have here in the United States that even need help. They at least have shelters to go to. They at least have, you know, like the Banquet and soup kitchens that they can get food at. In Haiti, they don't have that. In Haiti it’s so desperate," Vi Bella employee, Elizabeth Diede, said.
Elizabeth Diede is the sales director at Vi Bella, which also does fundraisers and in-home parties. She says the more jewelry they sell, the bigger the difference they can make. "Absolutely. To get these women off the streets and to be able to get them money to feed their children is very motivating for me," Diede said.
While the jewelry is helping women across the world, there is also a green twist to it. Every piece is made using recycled material. "That is exciting too. The idea, like I said before, to use recycled material came from seeing all this garbage in Haiti. So we employed little groups of young boys to go around picking up plastic bottles, gave them money to help them go to school. Now these little boys are really a little bit crabby and frustrated with us because their beaches are too clean and they can't find any more plastic," Hulstein said.
They also use metal bottle caps, old phone books, newspapers, and magazines for the beading. Not only helping pick up the pieces of scattered trash, but the pieces of broken lives.
"We think there is a wonderful metaphor here to what happens with out lives especially with out lives as a Christian. When we walk with the Lord, how he can take something that's ugly and make something so beautiful out of it," Hulstein said.
Changing the lives of struggling women one bead at a time.
Hulstein does not take a paycheck for what she does. Her time is volunteered. The company also give scholarships to many of its employees. Children to go to school in Haiti and there’s a sewing shop for younger women.
If you want to learn more about Vi Bella or get some of the jewelry for yourself, check out this link.