Story and photos by Scarlett Stewart.
I met Julie Columbino, Founder of REBUILD Globally, nearly 10 years ago. Both in our mid 20's, we shared a strong desire to help marginalized people in the developing world. Julie was employed by Children of the Nations and joined the prayer team for my one-year mission to Kenya at Amani ya Juu. A strong connection between us was immediately born, but never could I anticipate where our friendship would take me (literally) a decade later.
While God called me back to the states following Kenya, God has continuously called Julie to the most difficult places. On the evening of January 11 2010, Julie felt the Lord lay one word on her heart: Haiti. She found this extremely odd, as she had never given Haiti much thought before. The next day, Haiti experienced a horrendous 7.0 earthquake that claimed 300,000 lives and left millions of Haitians homeless and jobless. Julie immediately packed a bag and headed directly into the crisis from which millions of other people fled. For months, she helped with various emergency relief efforts, serving however she could. Yet over and over the Haitians would ask her for one thing: a job.
Starting to rebuild
Seven months later, Julie and a small team began REBUILD Globally, a nonprofit that provides start up capital, leadership development and training for the improvement and profitability of the people of Haiti. Their first project was Deux Mains Designs (meaning "Two Hands" in French), a fashionable footwear company that uses repurposed tires and local leathers. Today, Deux Mains employs 25 full time craftsmen and women in the heart of Port-Au-Prince. These artisans now have living wages, housing, healthcare and educational opportunities for their children. With her glowing smile, Julie regularly says, “every purchase you make at Deux Mains turns poverty into prosperity.” This grassroots social enterprise continues to grow; and last year Deux Mains partnered with fashion designer Kenneth Cole who personally created one of the sandals now produced in the Port-Au-Prince workshop.
A new chapter begins
On July 26, REBUILD Globally began another chapter of their incredible story - and I was blessed to witness it. I travelled with Julie and the Deux Mains artisans to the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to the Fonds Bayard refugee camp, the current “home” to thousands of stateless people.
Fonds Bayard looked and felt like the desert; I have never seen a piece of land so absent of color. At the entrance of the camp sits a large trailer adorned with the REBUILD Globally logo, which recently secured funding from the United Nations to begin an employment training center for 35 displaced asylum seekers. These trainees will learn to handcraft the Deux Mains sandal soles from recycled tires. The hope is that these refugees will become shoemakers, earn a paycheck and restore the livelihood of their families.
As the employment unit was dedicated, I stood in complete awe of my dear friend Julie; who gracefully greeted dozens of Haitians thanking her for the opportunities she has provided their community. During the ceremony the people of Fonds Bayard, the craftsman of Deux Mains Designs, and Julie loudly sang How Great Thou Art - in Creole, of course. That day, in a place so desperate and desolate, I witnessed hope being restored - Oh, How Great Thou Art!
Working together for prosperity
For the past three years, First Pres has partnered with REBUILD by allowing their US team to work from our campus. Visit their new space located on the southwest corner of Lee Fellowship Hall. While you are there, buy a pair of sandals-
it turns poverty into prosperity, literally.