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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As many people here in North Carolina are still picking up the pieces following Hurricane Matthew, so are hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti.
Haiti was one of the hardest hit areas, hundreds of lives were lost and nearly one million people remain homeless. That is why two Wilmington non-profit organizations teamed up to help the hurricane victims.
Tuesday night Mission Made Jewelry and Haiti Awake put on a fundraiser at the Loft in Downtown Wilmington. President of Haiti Awake Becky Graves has been to Haiti multiple times since the hurricane and says the devastation is something you have to see to believe.
“People are suffering, people are literally homeless with no where to go,” Graves said. “It’s not the United States, there’s not a shelter, there’s no FEMA, there’s no insurance. There’s no government organization coming in.”
That is why the organizations are raising money for those left with nothing. Founder of Mission Made Jewelry Ross Marino wants to spread the word and raise as much money as they can.
“Mission Made Jewelry is an organization that works to fight global poverty,” Marino said. “We do a lot of work in Haiti, and we partner with organizations there who train women how to make jewelry and other items and then we import them into the U.S. and sell them all around the country and on the internet.”
Half of the proceeds will be donated to Haiti Awake who works in the country, and the other half will be used to buy more jewelry in order to create more jobs.
“Hurricane recovery in Haiti is not going to be a sprint. It’s going to be a marathon,” Graves said.
Kaitlyn Hopfer, a recent marketing graduate from University of North Carolina Wilmington, is in the vanguard of a new locally based company that provides sustainable income to impoverished countries by seeking out artisans who employ community members as a way to keep them out of dangerous circumstances.
Mission Made Jewelry (missionmadejewelry.org) purchases the handmade pieces from each country, sells them in the United States market, and then reinvests the profits back into the jewelry’s origin country.
The company birthed from the founding team coming in contact with Emma Bird, an artisan in Accra, Ghana who employs local women to create jewelry.
“By employing these women, she’s helping to keep them out of sex trafficking, helping to keep the women’s children out of child labor, and trying to keep them out of all severe situations,” says Hopfer, Project Manager for Mission Made Jewelry.
At first, the team thought about simply creating a small online store to help Bird sell her products in the United States. They quickly realized, however, the grand scale of similar circumstances across the nation.
The company has expanded well beyond the borders of Ghana and now supports local artisans in ten countries including Nepal, Cambodia, Columbia, India, Guatemala, Kenya, Mongolia, and Haiti.
Depending on the specific circumstances of each country, Mission Made Jewelry will reinvest all of the profits from products into the areas of great need. In Ghana and Guatemala, the proceeds are sent to a number of different orphanages. In Nepal, the profits are used to help earthquake relief efforts to rebuild the damaged country.
“It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Hopfer says. “Because rather than just handing them money and donations, which doesn’t give them a sustainable, long-term income, this does.”
Hopfer, a New York native, moved to North Carolina to pursue a marketing degree. During her time at the university, she completed an internship with Recon Event management, a company that she now works for full-time as a marketing manager.
“These are my dream jobs. I do event management, which is what I’ve always wanted,” Hopfer says. “Mix the work with helping people, and it’s really a dream come true.”
Hopfer said the long-term vision of the new company is changing every day as the team builds a social media presence, markets the current products for selling, and continues to network and meet artisans around the globe to further expand the Mission Made team. Beginning in October, the company will begin hosting events to showcase their products as well as being involved in a number of local festivals and farmers markets.
“I truly believe that the impact of this is monumental,” Hopfer says. “I think our generation has this social movement for justice and for helping people, so it’s exciting to watch it – super exciting.”
To view more of photographer Chris Brehmer’s work, go to www.chrisbrehmerphotography.com