REBUILD globally: A Calling to Haiti
Julie Colombino, founder of REBUILD globally, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting global poverty, is nearing her ten-year anniversary with First Pres. She has a lot to show for it, as well as, a lot to be thankful for. In 2006, upon returning home from a mission trip in Africa, Julie was looking for a new church home when she met with Dr. Swanson, Senior Pastor at First Pres. She felt connected to him from the moment she heard him speak and has been an active member of the church ever since – slowly being guided towards what would make her a visionary in the world of charitable aid and social business in Orlando.
Four years later, a devastating earthquake pillaged Port-au-Prince and left millions of Haitians without home and without hope. Moments following the earthquake, Julie felt an unshakable call to respond to the disaster. Just one week later she was on a flight to Haiti. The first few months on the ground were very painful and intense. Julie was hesitant to confide in family and friends, as they were already scared for her wellbeing. During this time she found solace in emailing Dr. Swanson. “I found that I could confide in him [Dr. Swanson] my deepest fears and the horror of the earthquake. I shared my fears about God’s presents or what seemed to be a lack of presentsin my life and in this place of heartache and death. He did not berate me for my faithlessness, rather continued to support me with words of kindness, prayer and at times, I believe he had enough faith for both of us. It has been that way for the past 5 years."
Months after the devastating natural disaster, Julie recognized that the Haitian people needed to rebuild their lives and their families - and in order to do that they needed opportunity for sustainable income. Julie decided to start a social business that provided dignified, living-wage employment. Julie and four Haitian women constructed a workspace out of a tent and began crafting sandals from tires they found in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Re-purposed leather helped complete the rustic flip-flops. The sandals, and the Haitian artisans have come a long way since.
In 2015, REBUILD globally spun the sandal workshop off into it’s own for-profit Haitian business called deux main designs. The workshop in Port-au-Prince now operates with more than 20 Haitian craftsmen and women, all of whom are working full time and earning a wage that is on average 225% greater than the Haitian minimum wage. Each artisan has, or is working towards home ownership, has medical insurance, and are able to fully support their children and even extended family members. To ensure local ownership and continued support of the Haitian economy, several craftsmen and women are not only employees of the business, but shareholders of the company as well. In a country that is overcome by ineffective international aid, Julie believes the establishment of this business model is her true calling from God.
The concept of utilizing for-profit businesses, not charities, as a vessel for creating social impact is fairly new and challenges the way we approach international aid and development. Alternatively known as social enterprises, this concept combines the foundations of business principles with social impact initiatives, which follows similar principles. "We have seen over and over again that the way we've helped vulnerable people in the past — by just giving them things — does not work," Julie says. "But when they make a product that people buy not out of sympathy but because it's a good product, and their children witness their parents succeeding, this is how we will end poverty, one step at a time." (Orlando Sentinel article) This is why REBUILD does not exist to give handouts. REBUILD exists to bring long-term and sustainable solutions through empowerment and job creation and does so by supporting. With secure jobs and above-average incomes the artisans of REBUILD are gaining their lives and families back, one sandal at a time.
Today, REBUILD globally continues to operate in Orlando, raising money and support for the social development programs in Haiti, with a goal to operate the model around the world. The two standout initiatives REBUILD supports in Haiti are the Lavi and Elev Programs that provide tutoring for students and workforce capacity building for adults, respectively. These programs address the preconditions necessary for fueling development and poverty alleviation. So far, REBUILD has employed over 30 Haitians, sent over 100 children to school, and upcycled 9,000 tires.
As the years has passed, the relationship with First Presbyterian Church of Orlando remains stronger than ever. REBUILD currently works out of an incredible donated office space in the church and First Pres remains one of our strongest community partners. In September 2015, Julie under the sponsorship of First Pres attended the Biblical Entrepreneurship class and is more sure than ever that she is exactly where God wants her to be. BE, which explores the dichotomy between the kingdom of God and entrepreneurial growth and profits, argues that it is possible to achieve both. This has steered Julie back towards trusting in God’s faithfulness as she navigates the realities of running a social business.
REBUILD is now entering the last months of 2015 with a larger team and renewed faith that our work is a true reflection of the Lord’s calling on our organization's life. The First Pres mission team will be visiting their workshop in Haiti for the first time next week! They are so excited to have Case, Carol, and Bret experience first hand the impact that this church has been creating in Haiti.
If you would like to become a part of the wonderful community that is helping change the lives of Haitians please donate to their cause or shop their ethically-made sandals! For any other inquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.