Eight years ago, Julie Colombino found herself standing amid chaos and rubble after a massive earthquake hit Haiti. As a disaster relief responder in 2010, she felt compelled to be there, but nothing prepared her for what she saw: families sundered, countless people without food or shelter, buildings and streets reduced to heaps of debris. Colombino worked tirelessly to provide aid and comfort, all while hearing the word listen reverberate in her head.
Until the day she understood why.
Shortly after Colombino’s arrival in Haiti, a small woman came up to her as she was handing out bottles of water with other volunteers. Cupping Colombino’s face in her hands, the woman smiled and said, “White lady, I don’t want any water, but I need a job.”
The seed was sown, and Colombino knew what she had to do. Like any “rational person,” as Colombino jokingly puts it, “I flew back to the States, quit my job, and sold my house in College Park.”
With $7,000 to her name, Colombino moved to Haiti with a vision to rectify the devastation visited upon the earthquake’s victims.
It was then that she devised Rebuild globally, a nonprofit organization that ensures vulnerable men and women receive the education and vocational skills needed to lift themselves out of poverty. Beneficiaries of this program receive nine months of paid job training as they learn to craft shoes and accessories out of repurposed inner tubes and tires found in the street.
But while Colombino understood the value of building a stronger workforce, she also realized that Haiti had little to no infrastructure for job placement. “After people graduated from our program, there was nowhere for them to go. So we created the business,” explains Colombino.
Putting the skills of her trainees to good use, Colombino created deux mains, a for-profit fashion accessory line made of upcycled products and high-grade, locally sourced materials. Deux mains, which means “two hands” in French, works collaboratively with Rebuild to not just educate but empower and employ residents in Haiti.
Every purchase at deux mains directly funds the programs at Rebuild so that talented artisans can continue to work toward sustainable living.
On March 8, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Orlando residents will have the opportunity to do more than buy products online; they can see them firsthand at Rebuild’s annual fundraiser, Runway to Haiti: A Night of Impact & Ethical Fashion, held at the Country Club of Orlando.
The event’s highlights will include a reinvented runway show in partnership with deux mains, a curated silent auction, a gorgeous hand-painted backdrop from a local Haitian artist (in front of which guests can take pictures), and a mobile boutique where attendees can purchase items from the show. And, of course, there will be food and drinks.
Although the earthquake in Haiti was an unspeakable tragedy, the beauty and strength and resilience of its survivors live on in the stories they tell. Each item at deux mains is a part of the cultural fabric of those stories.
And like Colombino, we can listen and make a difference.
To purchase tickets or donate online, please visit REBUILDglobally.org.