What I've Learned Since Returning to Haiti
Photo: Caroline Sada with children at Ecole Union des Apotre a PRODEV School in Cite Soleil, Haiti. Caroline co-founded the school with a local community leader to help improve access to education in Haiti.
The Clinton Foundation has been a strong supporter of Caroline Sada’s work over the last three years. The Foundation has worked to promote her restaurant and provide assistance and access to new markets and partnerships for Ayiti Natives. Caroline and her work represent an important example of the possibilities for small business development in Haiti.
As a Haitian American, growing up in Haiti was challenging, exciting, and extremely humbling. From a young age you are aware of the differences of the class system and the extreme realities of those less fortunate. But the experience of growing up in Haiti makes you strong, makes you resilient, and makes you want to achieve any dream or overcome any challenge you face.
I left Haiti in 2003 hoping to get some experience abroad and a job where I could travel and learn more about beauty products. Eventually I got a position at Estee Lauder companies in their Travel Retailing department, which allowed me to oversee our Caribbean locations. Every time I visited one of Haiti’s neighbors I would feel nostalgic and sad seeing the influx of tourism that made up these countries primary income and business sector and helped the countries to grow and develop. I would compare them to my Haiti Cherie with its vibrant culture, beautiful artisan crafts, pristine beaches, mountains reminiscent of the Alps—and let’s not forget Haitian food, a gastronomic extravaganza! Yet, here I was on a small Caribbean island opening another M.A.C store where one small patch of white sand attracted millions of tourists, while Haiti didn’t even have 50 leisure tourists a month. The more I explored the rest of the Caribbean, the more I became patriotic and would wear my Haitian accessories with pride. I kept my hopes high that we would one day regain our title as “The Pearl of the Caribbean”.
On January 12th, I received a message from a friend in London telling me a 7.1 earthquake had hit Haiti. I knew from the first images on CNN that I would return to help my country and offer whatever service I could. Six weeks later I found myself in Port-au-Prince, visiting tent camps and meeting relief groups working in the area. I was petrified of going to Cité Soleil, as it is considered the most destitute and dangerous neighborhood in the western hemisphere where more then 200,000 people live, ruled by a small group of gangs. As we entered the street we saw toddlers and children living amongst trash, animals and pigs on the streets, toxic and polluted gutters and adults sleeping on concrete blocks still without any shelter. What I felt since January 12th became even clearer to me: united we are stronger, and if we set our egos aside and channel our energy and expertise to bring education, development, jobs, sustainability, and love to one village or community at a time, Haiti will regain its title of “Pearl of the Caribbean.” I resigned from a very successful job to move back to work with this community in Cite Soleil and be part of the rebuilding of my country.
With the ongoing compassion and generous support of friends from the Haitian private sector and non-profit organizations (Tropic S.A, Papitam, Maison Handal, Prodev, Digicel, and Fondation Appui a L’Education), as well as new friends whom I admire like Donna Karan, Maria Bello, and Petra Nemcova. I have been working for almost three years on a dream to reform this village, and today Bois Neuf has a free school for 300 children, a recycling and street cleaning program initiated by the reformed youth gangs, and for the first time ever, the current Prime Minister Lamothe visited the community to show his support.
Since returning to Haiti, I have also been able to open two new businesses; a restaurant offering healthy lunches and Haitian specialties, and a line of natural cosmetics, which feature Haitian products such as vetiver and coconut.
I opened Le Daily Café near the US embassy to offer fast, fresh, organic and affordable international dishes mixed with a Haitian twist. We source all our produce from “Marche Peyizan” a USAID agriculture project which helps local Haitian farmers and Le Daily employs a small staff of 10 people from the village, which were highly trained under the strict international guidelines of food handling, food preparation, hygiene and exceptional customer service.
Combining my great passion and hobby for mixing essential oils and my experience from the best in the prestige beauty business, Estee Lauder, I launched Ayiti Natives in 2011. Ayiti Natives is a line of natural products based on nature’s most precious essential oils, herbs and nuts that are native to Haiti. Ayiti Natives products are natural, detergent free and since we love animals we would never test anything on them. We respect all the norms of fair trade and our packaging is made of 100% recycled materials in collaboration with Paula Coles Haiti and The Apparent Project. Our natural soaps and body oils are now sold locally and in Michael Stars stores in the U.S. Our products have become favorites of many, including celebrities such as super model Petra Nemcova who calls our Toasted Coconut scrub soap one of her favorite treasures.
My dream has always been to create a socially responsible company that could deliver exceptional product from Haiti to the world. Today, that dream is slowly becoming a reality and I hope that Ayiti Natives becomes so successful that we will be able to create hundreds and even thousands of jobs in the future. We strongly believe in the empowerment of our work force, giving dignity and pride to our employees.
What I have learned since my return is that Haiti will only evolve through job creation, strategic foreign investments, agriculture initiatives and export of its most valued assets from crafts to coffee to essential oils such as vetiver and unique products that are marketable internationally. As the Clinton Global Initiative website brilliantly states “Business-oriented solutions that create jobs and revitalize industry can create a stronger Haiti that relies less on foreign aid and more on the enterprise of its people”. I want to promote Haiti through its products and its amazing people. I want the world to see Haiti in a different light then tent cities and misery, but thru its riches and beauty that the world has yet to experience.