Around eight years ago, a young woman living in Florida made a snap decision. She left her job and comfortable life to help the people of earthquake-devastated Haiti.
She had only several thousand dollars and no plan, but she had passion. Today, her nonprofit ‘Rebuild Globally‘ strives to defeat poverty in Haiti through mentoring and job-training.
CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez has her story.
A magnitude seven earthquake brought near total destruction to Haiti in January of 2010. More than 200,000 people died, more than one million were displaced, and chaos reigned.
A woman with no ties to the country, living hundreds of kilometers away in Florida, felt the calling to help.
Her name is Julie Colombino, Founder & CEO of REBUILD Globally.
“I was driving to work and on NPR I hear about this devastating earthquake,” she explained. “I walked into my supervisor’s office and said, I need to take my vacation and respond to Haiti. And my supervisor said, well it doesn’t really work for us at this time, but I felt so compelled that I said, ok, I quit.” Ten days later, she was in Haiti.
Being a trained disaster responder helped her get started. “So I’m trying to handle bottles of waters and tents and these women are saying, we need jobs,” Colombino said.
Over 40 percent of Haiti’s population is unemployed and 59 percent live under the poverty line.
Julia Antoine, a student at Colombino’s organization, was looking for a place to work. “I don’t like handouts. Someone can help me today but what about tomorrow. It’s an epidemic that has fallen on us. With no jobs, we surrender to it.”
For Colombino, a flashback of her time spent working in Africa, where she saw men making sandals out of tires, turned into inspiration.
“So you are seeing these tires burning everywhere, people asking for jobs, and people don’t have shoes or anything,” Colombino said.
“And I remember these people making and selling sandals and I connected with a woman, my business partner now, Jolina De Rouche, and told her how I wanted to help create jobs in Haiti. And she said, ‘I used to be a seamstress’, and I said, what do you think about making shoes.”
“So five months after the earthquake we opened our first training. Eight years later, we took a lot of different ideas and mentorship, and people who came in and out of Haiti, and we realized that the best and most effective way of fighting poverty in Haiti was to create a nonprofit, REBUILD Globally, that does all the education and job training.”
REBUILD Globally has developed partnerships with the United Nations, designer Kenneth Cole, and supermodel Heide Lindgren. The organization strives to address critical issues, training people for a workplace.
After months of hard work, Colombino realized that her students were struggling to find a job. “So we decided to create the other side and we have a for-profit Haitian-owned-and-operated, footwear company, Deux Mains designs,” she said.
They call her the ‘white Haitian’. “I am a better person because of Haiti,” Colombino explained. “I feel like I became the woman I was supposed to be by meeting the people of Haiti who welcomed me into their community.”
Haiti is not Colombino’s final destination. She’s working on growing the brand and spreading her formula for success to other vulnerable places showing that with Deux Mains – two hands – you can build a new future.