We absolutely love Hand in Hand Soap! Their products are so holistically good, providing communities in Haiti with soap and clean water; plus, their soap is just so pretty 🙂 (Check out our previous post for more info on how Hand in Hand got started.)
We caught up with Bill, Courtney and Zofia in New York at the NYNOW gift show to see their new product lines and chat about their on-going projects in Haiti. We emailed them some questions about their most recent trip to Haiti and Courtney kindly answered, giving us a great insiders perspective on their work.
Hand in Hand’s “Buy a Bar, Give a Bar” program provides children throughout Haiti with soap to help prevent the spread of disease, but another important part of Hand in Hand’s work is their clean-water well project. They partner with a non-profit called My Neighbor’s Children to set up wells in areas where people had to walk up to three miles to get a bucket of clean water. They built their first well last fall in a community called Oneville – it will give 240 families access to clean water for over a decade.
Since the earthquake in 2010, thousands of Haitians are still displaced, struggling to rebuild their communities in places with no infrastructure, no water, roads or electricity. Hand in Hand’s work provides a much-needed resource to those who have relocated and have begun to rebuild their lives.
(All photos credit: Courtney Apple)
How often do you/your team have the opportunity to visit Haiti?
We have had a chance to visit Haiti once a year since 2012, with each trip being special in it’s own way. The first time Bill and I went, in February 2012, it was overwhelming and amazing all at the same time. It really put into perspective what we were doing – not just building a business but growing a sustainable model to give back to those who need it most. Our second trip, in September 2013, was very special because we opened up our first well in Haiti, officially launching our clean water giveback on top of the bars of soap we were donating. There was a big opening ceremony attended by the families who would be using the well. It was the first time I felt like we really changed someone’s life. Clean water is such a normal thing for us in America and unfortunately, that is not the case in most of the developing world. The last time we visited Haiti in November 2014 was the first time it wasn’t just Bill and myself! The business had grown and we were able to finally hire some great people, who we brought with us. It was great to see their reactions to this beautiful country that Bill and I had already fallen in love with. We are heading back this Fall and very excited for that trip! Not only will we be visiting our kids in the orphanages for soap donations and seeing our newest well site, but we will be meeting the first recipients of our micro loan financing program that we launched with our Espere Collection!
What were the goals of your most recent visit?
On our most recent visit, in November 2014, our main goal was to visit the multiple sites where we had paid to have wells repaired. Instead of building a new well, this trip we paid to repair two wells within Port-Au-Prince and repair a cistern system outside of the city in Fonds Parisian (where people were traveling upwards of 3 hours a day to access clean water). Of course we visited our regular orphanages where we consistently donate soap. It is incredible to see many of the kids growing up, many of them gone to live with relatives or who have been adopted and sweet new faces who are smelling our bars for the first time. We were also able to meet with several business leaders from Haiti, who advised us on the micro loan financing program we were starting to launch.
Do you have a story to share about a family you met in Haiti in particular?
Yes! On our way back from Fonds Parisian, we stopped off at a village that sat right on the coast of a beautiful, bright blue lake. It was obvious that the people there didn’t have much, but they welcomed us with open arms, especially one little girl who grabbed ahold of my hand and led me to her community’s church, a simple mud hut with a thatched roof. There, joined by her brother, these two bright eyed kids made every effort to communicate with me, though we both barely spoke each other’s languages. They had nubs of crayons and were drawing letters on wood to show me that they were learning English. They had a book with animals in it and the names of each in French and English. Then they picked up some instruments that were in the corner and started to play around. Their mother came in to join and led them in a beautiful song that they played just for me. It was an experience I will never forget.
What kind of positive changes have you seen occur in the communities/families that you work with since you founded Hand in Hand?
We have seen a lot of changes happen to the country as a whole! From newly paved roads to less debris, you can tell that the country is working hard to get back on their feet. In terms of changes we have seen in the communities we work with, the most obvious changes are in the orphanages we work in, especially in the first orphanage we ever donated to called Bon Samaritan. The building itself has been repainted and they have now built a kitchen that several of the older kids are learning to cook in. The kids are growing and looking better fed and well cared for each time we go. We have not had a chance to visit the site of our first well since we went for the opening ceremony, but we hear that it is being used 24 hours a day and that it has improved the lives of people in that village greatly. We hope to be able to stop by next time we are there!
What is one difficulty that your company has faced?
One difficulty that we have faced is growing the business in a way that makes sense for the customer and allows us to keep providing givebacks that are close to our hearts. Launching our two new collections, Espere and Rainforest, was definitely scary since we were moving away from our original aesthetic and offering new social givebacks that we feel very passionate about. Despite our fears, both collections have been met with praise and we are very happy with how they turned out and the positive response from the customers.
Thanks so much to Courtney, Bill and Zofia for their on-going work in Haiti and for giving people in the U.S. a way to give back. Thanks to Courtney for taking the time to fill us in on their adventures!