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Rebuilding dignity in Haiti

Bolstered by the words of Pope Francis to fight a “throwaway culture,” a Denver Catholic moved to Haiti—a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake nearly five years ago—to start a company that upcycles trash into durable products for everyday use, such as bags, aprons and pencil cases.

PeaceCycle, the brain child of Amber Heimann, a graduate of Purdue University, started in late 2013 to provide dignified employment for local Haitians by creating a culture of empowerment and creativity.

“The Haitians have a lot of idle time in their life because there is little opportunity, so they lack hope,” Heimann told the Denver Catholic Register during a recent visit to Denver. “PeaceCycle provides them with a sense of being needed. It’s what dignity is all about.”

In the aftermath of a Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0 magnitude earthquake, estimated to have killed more than 230,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, pollution is a devastating issue.

“One major source of this is the 4 million water bags that are sold and disposed of every single day,” according to Heimann. “These water bags enable locals to consume clean and safe water … but they cause an unsightly living space, and are later burned in piles, adding to the horrible air quality.”

The labor that goes into the PeaceCycle process is arduous, as the trash must be collected, cut, washed, dried, sorted, ironed, cut and sewn. All work is done with no electricity.

“Most locals have never held scissors,” she said, “and this alone is a long education process.”

Yolene, a mother of three living in a one-room house, is a PeaceCyle employee.

“When (Yolene) first started I briefly explained the first part of the process to her, but then she took the initiative to do the remaining steps without knowing how. She did them wrong, but I almost cried because I saw her initiative!” said Heimann. “I offered her the tools to do the rest of the process the right way, and she was excited. She is still working for PeaceCycle today.”

The purchase of each item directly supports nine Haitians with employment, and indirectly supports the local economy with subsequent expenditure from their employment. But Heimann’s greatest joy isn’t in the financial benefit. It’s in seeing the Haitians grow in understanding their dignity.

“The Lord wipes away all that dirt,” she explained as a metaphor for spiritual life, “and makes something beautiful out of yourself.”

PeaceCycle will have a booth at the Colorado Country Christmas Gift Show Nov. 7-9 at the Denver Mart at 451 E. 58th Ave. For more information, visit www.coloradochristmasgiftshow.com. For more about PeaceCycle, visit www.peacecycle.com or like them on Facebook.

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