Back in 2011, we heard that there was a company called ECSSA purchasing plastics in Port au Prince. Right away, Sarah and her crew, started purchasing plastic bottles in the neighbourhood to re-sell to ECSSA. Since then, ECSSA has provided us with compactors, and an industrial weigh scale. We sold our old ford ranger and upgraded to a 3-ton truck that can now carry 6-times the load of our half-ton.
When she started out, Sarah meant for the business to be a slightly profitable, side project. Unfortunately with international oil prices falling, the recycling business has become really not-profitable, and actually, somewhat of a losing business. ECSSA too, has had to turn their mentality away from running a profitable business, to running a non-profit. They are currently receiving subsidies from USAID in order to continue their work while the oil prices are so low.
This project doesn't cost us much, but the impact is large. We employ 3 employees directly, we provide jobs to over 30 collectors around the city, and we keep thousands of pounds of plastic off the streets, and out of the river and oceans. In addition, it has complimented the work we do at our clinic by providing an opportunity for needy women to earn a living.
Here is one of story of how the recycling business has made a difference in the life of a mother and child:
Her eyes said it all. They showed her defeat as Lucy surrendered her 19 month old baby girl into the hands of a more capable woman. That baby girl had lost weight, returning to the size of a 6 month old, and would have soon lost her life had she not found help.
I can only imagine the pain, or the inadequacy, or the helplessness Lucy must have felt that drove her to trust a stranger to nurse her daughter back to health.
She walked away from her baby girl, wanting to believe that one day they could be reunited, but faced with a very harsh and very hopeless reality. At home she had a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter, and under her shirt, there was a growing belly.
The father was no more interested in his unborn son than he was in his first two children. Lucy lives with his parents – his blind mother and his aging father – neither of whom are capable of working.
I watched tears role down her face as Lucy told me that the fortified rice we gave her each week was the only food she had.
I saw her blank stare as she pondered how she would manage to care for her soon-to-be-born son.
We don't encourage dependency. It was necessary to keep her healthy throughout her pregnancy, birth and postpartum period, but finally we told her that we couldn't keep providing for her and gave her the idea of collecting plastic bottles to sell to our recycling depot.
By the next day she had already collected bottles worth more than $5USD.
I can only imagine the difference that this small, yet significant, income has made to her family.
I can only imagine her hope slowly growing and gaining momentum with each bottle collected.
I saw Lucy arriving at the bottle depot today to be paid what she has earned - she was beaming. She had been empowered.