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Haiti: A boy, a bag and a very bespoke service

Turning waste into art & crafts

Published on 2 July 2010

Author(s): Oxfam GB - UK/Jane Beesley

Type:  News

An enormous amount of rubbish is created in camps, and dealing with it can be a big problem. In the camps Oxfam is working in, the public health teams are looking at managing household waste. One of the activities has been to look at creative ways of working with children and the recycling of rubbish, and in one of the camps this has developed into something more for one of the participants.

Recently I gave a talk about Oxfam’s work in Haiti. It’s the fourth or fifth I’ve done since returning to the UK. Among the many stories is one that seems to capture everyone’s attention â€" the story of Jeanot Dossus, a 15-year-old boy in one of the camps. The public health tent in Don Boso camp is filled with children busy and absorbed in a variety of activities. In the middle of the tent sits Jeanot, totally focused on what he is doing. With meticulous care and attention he’s folding strips of cardboard wrapped with pieces from empty crisp packets, then carefully weaving them into what is obviously a bag: a glorious green basket weave bag.

Jeanot was making a variety of items from empty crisp bags that people were collecting from around the camp. He had worked out how many he had to make and what he could charge for them to help pay for his school fees and supplies. Surprisingly, he told me, “I want to improve the quality”. I asked him what he wanted to do in the future, and he said “I’d like to be a musician. I play the drums and guitar.”

Jeanot Dossus. Photo Jane Beesley-Oxfam.jpg
Jeanot Dossus (Jane Beesley-Oxfam)

When I left, Jeanot gave me one of the bags he had made earlier and mentioned that he also made shoes. I said it was a shame I’d missed seeing them. A short while later he came looking for me, waiting patiently while I finished talking to a group of women Oxfam were working with. When we finished talking, Jeanot quietly came up and said that, if I wanted, he could make me a pair of shoes, if I could give him some money for the raw materials. After I agreed, he took out some strips made from a plastic bag and carefully measured one of my feet, knotting the strips at the appropriate point before folding all the strips together and putting them back into his pocket. Throughout the process I was struck by his professionalism. Two days later the shoes arrived at the Oxfam office. 

During my talks I show the picture of Jeanot making one of the bags and a close up of the detail. Then I tell the story of him measuring my foot, pulling out of my pocket similar strips of plastic bag, knotting them and putting them back in my pocket just like Jeanot did. It captures everyone’s attention. Then at the end of the story I reveal the bag and shoes, which have been hidden away. The reaction is always the same - a small gasp of surprise and genuine admiration.

My accessories are converted wherever I go, and everyone is surprised that Jeanot is not happy with the quality. It’s a nice story, but what is more, I think it shows in a nutshell an example of the entrepreneurial and creative spirit that is so common among many of the Haitians I met, if not the ability to spot business opportunities like Jeanot did in coming to measure my feet.

As Haiti tries to recover from the devastating earthquake on 12 January, the need to re-establish and find ways to earn a living continues to be one of the pressing challenges for recovery. Many people are working out ways for themselves, many people know what they can do, and they know their markets and what needs to happen next. Oxfam is supporting people with business grants, resupplying them with the tools they need to restart their trades and other activities. Hopefully I will return to Haiti in September, and hopefully I will meet Jeanot again.

Jeanot's shoes and bag. Photo Jane Beesley-Oxfam

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