How would your sailing experience differ if you had to utilize cotton or plastic sheets as your sails? What seems like a strange concept to us is the norm for Haitian fisherman who have had to innovate with the limited sailing resources they have available. Without access to the Dacron sails we know and trust, they resort to hand making sails from plastic or cotton sheets- which often only last weeks before they need to be replaced. As the fish population dwindles in Haiti because of poor reef health, fisherman are going further out to sea to do their job- and due to dangerous vessels with plastic sails, some never make it back.
This is where a Canadian charity, Friends of Ile a Vache comes in. They collect old sails from around the world for these fisherman in need. Cow Island, or Ile a Vache, is one of Haiti’s satellite islands home to just under 16,000 people, and rarely receives aid from humanitarian organizations because of how small, under developed, and isolated it is. However, Friends of Ile a Vache collaborates with North American organizations, businesses, and regular citizens to gather and deliver supplies to this part of Haiti. Bruce Leeming, the founder of this organization, has been travelling to Haiti once a year since 1999 to deliver supplies and aid to the Haitian people.
Friends of Ile a Vache’s slogan on their website simplifies their mission beautifully, “Giving a hand up, not a hand out”. They accept monetary donations, and while those are greatly appreciated, their real mission is to collect supplies and collaborate with locals on humanitarian projects such as building water cisterns and sending children to school. 100% of all donations received goes “directly to a Haitian hand”, none is spent on transportation, marketing, overhead or salaries. In fact, FIAV creates jobs in Haiti by employing locals to run the organization’s efforts year round- the only salaries that are paid. This organization strives to improve the community as a whole, and nothing is more exemplary of this than the provision of Dacron sails to local Haitian fisherman.
Why are sail donations so valuable you might ask? Well for starters, fuel is too expensive for fisherman- fishing by sailboat saves them a lot more money. Alas, in a place with no roads, no electricity, no cars, no airport and no infrastructure in general, there is also no sail manufacturer or even a connection to one. Because of this, donations of old Dacron sails are extremely important and can make a huge difference in Haitian lives.
Haitian fisherman are excellent sailors, withstanding intense sun, salt, and heavy weather sailing in simple vessels that can be quite dangerous. There is a small local boat yard on the beach, where the boat hulls are built for the local fisherman. The sails however, are extremely tough to come by and often cost more than the hull. These fisherman graciously accept old sails from around the world- cutting out the bad parts and sewing together new sails that will last significantly longer than the plastic and cotton alternatives. This makes their vessels a lot safer, allowing the fisherman to focus on their jobs and return home unharmed. Not to mention the benefit of the jobs that have been created around fixing these donated sails.
Donating your old sails to this cause is the best kind of charitable giving- your donation can provide safer working experiences, and as a result more successful fisherman that are able to provide for their families and communities. Friends of Ile a Vache’s efforts are the most enriching way to give back, by investing in a community of hard working people and supporting their determination to improve the standard of living around them- giving a hand up and not a hand out. So if you have been wanting to get more involved in philanthropy, you can easily participate in this effort by directly helping these people and give them what they need most to be successful- your old sails.
Check out Friends of Ile a Vache’s website to donate or to learn more on how you can help here:
Images courtesy of Bruce Leeming
by Kate Madden