An Inside Look with Lyn Nelson: There’s Something About Haiti
For more the 20 years, Lyn Nelson has traveled around the world, working with artisans in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Central and Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. But of all the places her work has taken her, Haiti remains close to her heart.
A long-time marketing and design consultant for Aid to Artisans since 1999, Lyn recently went to Haiti as a consultant for craft training workshops for persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) as part of a three-year project funded by the Aids Alliance and the Big Lottery Fund, “Champions for Change: Mitigating the Impact of HIV/AIDS in Haiti.”
With the help of Vonley Greaves, renowned bamboo expert from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, they conducted the first of several craft training workshops that will reach 420 persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) to make bamboo jewelry for the tourism market.
After her three-week stint in Haiti, ATA sat down with Lyn to discuss her experiences working with the artisans.
What makes this project different from all the other projects you’ve worked on for ATA?
Although I’ve worked in Haiti twice before for ATA, this project was different because Cap Haitien is a little rougher compared to Pétion-Ville or Port-au-Prince. Haitian people have an energy and creative gift that are unique in the world. There are three things that make Haitians special: their vitality, their excitement for life, and their artistic abilities. They have a talent that’s really remarkable. So I jumped at the chance of working in Haiti again.
How did you prepare for this project?
I spent a lot of time selecting color palettes. I’m such a strong believer in using the right color for the product, the environment and the moment in time. Certainly, in my business it makes all the difference. I had a tough time when it came to finding the right products there, especially paint and machines. I had to go to many different markets and vendors all over the place.
How did they react to your and Vonley’s workshops?
They loved it! We made it fun and exciting for them. We were laughing all the time. Humor goes a long way when you’re teaching and want them to remember something. We started out with color mixing, then design. The fact that Vonley is from the Caribbean made a huge difference. They could relate to him. We tried to get them to experiment with tools and materials they had never worked with before. When Vonley showed them how to shape the bangles, they were blown away. His knowledge of bamboo really inspired them. When we were mixing colors, they knew that this was the real deal and they were actually learning something of great value. They were very happy. They had this hunger and willingness to try and learn new things. One of the greatest consultancies I’ve ever had.
What was your most rewarding experience?
When we were working on color and painting, this older woman was painting daisies but they don’t have daisies in Haiti. So I told her to paint what they have in Haiti, like bread fruit. I drew them out on a flat surface then on the bangle for them to see. The older woman got it immediately and started to paint in watercolor. It was gorgeous, simple and beautiful. That’s exactly what we wanted. At the end of the day when we were going over everybody’s work, Vonley and I kept coming back to hers. The colors were very vivid. It was exciting to see her do beautiful work. It was a fun group of people.
What was your biggest challenge?
Most of the people who created something good, I never saw them making those good things again. They would jump on to something else. We would tell them that what they did was great but they’d move on to the next thing. They were just so excited that they kept moving on to new things but they would leave what worked before and forget that they even did that. They really needed supervision, which is exactly what I want to continue to develop. There’s incredible hope and excitement for them.
What are your expectations for the future?
As of right now, there’s no specific plan yet but my hope is to develop design with Haitian elements, like the bread fruit leaves. I want the bangles to have Haitian elements because, after all, they’re from there. I’d like to broaden the color and design base using photos I took of boats and buildings that had beautiful aqua-green colors. To me, that’s Haiti. I also want to set up workshops for practical business training. There’s a lot of stuff that they have to learn but I’m very optimistic.