Frantz Janvier runs a papier mâché workshop just outside of Jacmel, Haiti, where he lives in a brightly painted home on land that has been in his family for generations. His work mixes abstract patterns with traditional symbolism in joyful colours. “There are so many things in the world that make people angry,” he says. “I’m looking for ways to make people laugh.”
Although he runs a successful workshop now, life hasn’t always been easy for Janvier. Orphaned at a young age, he found work with friends in masonry and iron work, which he used to pay for his own schooling. Then, in 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Many houses in Jacmel were destroyed; Janvier himself was living in a tent on his grandparents’ property, no longer able to attend school. It would have been easy to get discouraged but, Janvier says, he doesn’t get discouraged. This was when he started building his artisan practice, obtaining a professional certificate in papier mâché and starting his own workshop.
Then, last year, disaster struck again. Hurricane Matthew swept across Haiti’s southern peninsula, bringing category-4 winds and heavy rains. Janvier’s workshop, along with all of his products, were destroyed, but the thing that upset him the most was that he was no longer able to employ other community members like he used to. He started the long process of rebuilding his workshop from the ground up with trees and pieces of scrap metal.
Janvier acknowledges that for many people, the natural thing to do after a disaster is to leave. This was certainly the case after the earthquake, which killed over 200,000 people, left thousands homeless, and dealt a massive blow to Haiti’s already struggling economy. These factors compelled the United States government to grant Haitians in the United States a temporary protected status, allowing them to stay and work in the US while their country recovered. Ongoing difficulties in Haiti, including Hurricane Matthew, have ensured that TPS for Haitians has been regularly renewed—that is, until it was revoked this November, giving the approximately 58,000 Haitians living under its protection in the US 18 months to either obtain permanent residency or prepare to leave.
Many of these families, having already suffered tragedy, face being uprooted a second time or even separated from their children, many of whom were born in the United States and have American citizenship.
MCC actively advocates on the part of migrants around the world. The MCC advocacy offices in Washington DC, in New York, and in Ottawa, Canada, work to promote government policies that respect the rights of arriving migrants and combat the root causes of migration. MCC pressures the Canadian and the United States government to invest in development instead of militarization and advocates that the dignity of all people must be respected, including those on the move. Read more about MCC’s advocacy work with the UN here or sign up for the MCC Washington Office’s Immigration Update. MCC also partners with local organizations worldwide that provide hospitality to migrants and engage in local and national level advocacy.
In addition to this advocacy work, MCC hopes to provide alternatives to uprooting people and separating families by supporting sustainable livelihoods for people in their home countries, so people like Janvier can remain and invest in their home communities. Janvier is a member of Comite Artisanal Haïtien (CAH), an MCC partner that supports artisans by assisting them with promotion and market access. One of CAH’s goals is to decrease rural-to-urban migration by facilitating sustainable livelihoods for artisans in rural areas: overcrowding in Port-au-Prince was one of the factors that made the 2010 earthquake, strong but not unprecedented, as deadly as it was.
“Many of the things I’ve accomplished are because of CAH,” says Janvier. “If CAH stopped working, we would all stop working.”
Supporting artisans is one of many ways MCC Haiti’s partners are working towards a Haiti where even the most vulnerable citizens can imagine better lives for themselves and their families. Agricultural projects in Haiti’s high mountains provide training on sustainable agricultural practices and access to basic building materials, so crops aren’t washed away by natural disasters or eaten by free-ranging animals. Education partners in Port-au-Prince provide education and professional training for children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford school fees. By investing in sustainable livelihoods for farmers, artisans, and others, MCC’s partners are aiming to help participants attain a measure of stability so that, the next time disaster strikes, they aren’t left with nothing.
Today, Janvier’s workshop is a bright, beautiful space that not only provides income for him, but also employment for up to 10 other community members who work with him. Janvier is always thinking about the future: he wants to make a name for himself, make his workshop a real destination. He’d like to travel, to learn new ideas and artistic practices, but he’s clear that he’ll always come back to apply those practices where they matter most: at home.