Brianna Kilcullen
Jul 13, 2018 · 24 min read

*This article was written before the Haiti protests started on July 6, 2018. My experiences and opinion on Haiti have not wavered. I hope in reading my writing that it serves to educate you about Haiti’s history, which will better put into perspective the current challenges that the people of Haiti face. If you are interested in learning more about Haiti and Venezuela’s relationship, I recommend reading this piece by Hugh Locke, Co-founder and President of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance.

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with Thread International to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My first introduction to Thread was in 2016 while at the Textile Exchange Conference in Hamburg, Germany. I was participating in a heated group discussion with a woman from H&M on the negative impact of the apparel industry on the planet and on the people. The H&M representative would only look at the negative impact in regard to the planet and not the people. Feeling exhausted from the conversation, I was relieved one of Thread’s cofounders, Kelsey Halling, came to my rescue and shared Thread’s holistic approach to tackling social and environmental issues. We became instant friends and spent that evening chowing down vegetarian burgers at a local pub where I learned more about Thread’s work in Haiti.

Thread is a for-profit organization that was created after the earthquake in 2010. Thread is founded on the principles that waste is a renewable resource, and poverty is an epidemic. They believe that ending extreme poverty is possible by the time we have grandchildren, and that the cure is jobs. Using these values as their guide, they have built a business to create jobs, build economies and improve the environment.

Thread aims to achieve this by creating responsibly sourced recycled plastic supply chains from Haiti, Honduras and Taiwan into dignified jobs and useful stuff people love. Since 2012, Thread has removed more than 40 million plastic bottles from streets, canals, and landfills, supporting more than 3,800 income opportunities around the world. You can view their collection database and check out where the collection centers are located in Sourcemap.

They have turned the recycled plastic into recycled polyester, which is sold and used in products from brands such as Timberland, Marmot and Reebok. In 2018, Thread’s team began designing and making products made from this fabric, extending their impact to their community in Pittsburgh.

Thread is also taking on the issue of child labor in the landfills through the creation of the First Mile Coalition (FMC) which was founded in collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative in 2016. This is incredibly important because this has been one of the biggest challenges for Thread in gaining momentum. The plastic collection level of recycling supply chain is in constant flux and often unregulated, making it difficult to monitor or formalize. This makes the individuals working at this production step extremely vulnerable to fluctuating market prices and hazardous working conditions. It can also lead to instances of child labor. Child labor is a nuanced and complicated problem, indicative of systemic poverty and lack of opportunity.

While most companies’ first response to witnessing child labor in the supply chain is to ignore the problem or walk away from it claiming child labor goes against their code of conduct (even though they plan to continue to source from supply chains with child labor), a small group have made it their responsibility to find a solution. Led by Thread, HP, Timberland, Haiti-based ACOP (Association des Collectors des Objects en Plastique), and Work, the First Mile Coalition was organized as a 2016 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to address undignified child labor in the “First Mile” of global supply chains. The pilot project for this initiative was started in Truttier, a Haitian landfill.

Currently in Truttier, four hundred families rely on waste collection as a primary source of income. These families often face the difficult decision of involving children in this work in order to ensure the economic security and well-being of the family. Of those 400 families, 300 children live and collect in the landfill as their source of survival.

The FMC recognizes that for any lasting change to occur around child labor, it must work with the whole family and community. The initiative is designed to address the root causes of child labor by accompanying entire families out of poverty, getting children into school and helping parents secure living wage employment. By supporting the success of the family, this model can eliminate the economic conditions driving kids into collection. To date, Thread has put 50 kids and their heads of household through the program and will be taking on another cohort of 50 more this summer. The program will address health, education and employment needs of these families while removing children from working in the landfill.

The reason why Thread’s work is important is because over 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year. Only about 10% of that is recycled. The remaining plastic end up in our land and in our oceans and can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. A recent article published by National Geographic cited that ‘since 1950, 9.2 billion tons of plastic have been produced, 6.9 billion tons of which have become waste and 6.3 billion tons have not been recycled.”

Industries like the apparel industry for example use textiles derived from petroleum-based synthetics, like polyester and nylon, which are drawn from depleting natural resources. Choosing recycled textiles reduces the consumption of these finite resources and creates a circular economy where instead of making, taking, using and discarding; we are instead making, taking, using and reusing.

However, please note that not all recycled apparel is created equal. While recycled apparel is often touted for its environmental merits, rarely do people question the social impact and inquire if it is responsibly sourced recycled apparel. Current traceability certifications like the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Recycled Content Standard (RCS) do not take into account the collection networks responsible for harvesting these materials, which means most likely you are inadvertently supporting child labor.

In Port-au-Prince alone, 9,000,000 lbs of plastic waste are generated every month. That’s not even the whole country, just a statistic from the largest city! Purchasing product using Thread’s recycled plastic, means you are not only cleaning up weak waste management oversight, but you are reducing dependence on extraction of depleting natural resources AND creating jobs for Haitians while eradicating child labor.

By now, you might be thinking, isn’t this a model that could be replicated everywhere that has waste and lacking waste management oversight? Yes, it can. But before we get to that, let me explain why Thread has made Haiti a priority. Thread’s operation started in Haiti after the founder, Ian Rosenberger, decided to travel to Haiti to help with relief efforts after the earthquake. Upon seeing the aftermath of the earthquake, Ian wrote in his journal “if Haiti could turn trash into $ = good.” And hence, Thread was born.

The devastation that occurred after the 2010 earthquake opened up Haiti’s history to the world. Haiti was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It was later claimed by the French where they imported slaves from Africa to Haiti. In 1804, Toussaint Louverture, inspired by Thomas Paine’s, The Rights of Man, and the American and French revolutions, led Haitians to overthrow slavery and the French effectively making Haiti the first black republic in the world. Boo-ya. They made pumpkin soup (which is more like jambalaya than soup) their national Sunday dish, which had previously been a dish only the French were allowed to eat. Double boo-ya. Unfortunately, the French had already done significant damage to Haiti’s current and future economy. They depleted most of Haiti’s natural resources, cut down most of their trees and mainly exported mono crops effectively rendering Haiti’s soil useless and removing their natural carbon sequesters. There was also little governance over land rights, which left most Haitians without land and only the wealthiest controlling a majority of the land. It’s a real-life example of the social, economic and environmental impacts our actions have on the planet and people.

To make matters worse, in 1825, twenty-one years after declaring independence, France charged Haiti 150m francs for the cost the French endured to be ousted out of Haiti. It’s like being punched in the face and then being asked to pay the bill of the person’s hand who punched you in the face. If Haiti paid it back, they would be granted immunity from potential French military invasions and relieved of political and economic isolation. In 1947, one hundred and twenty-two years later from the start of the loan, Haiti paid off its “debt”, which would be twenty-one billion dollars in today’s world. The ring leaders in this circus act were the United States and the French. They systematically implemented illegal racist foreign transactions, which went against the the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed “any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the United States” onto a group of people that represented freedom from slavery.

By the way, Haiti’s payment history failed to include when the U.S. Marines marched into the Haitian National Bank in 1919 and took $500,000, which was later deposited at 111 Wall Street New York, NY for “safekeeping.” Nor does it include when prior to World War II the Germans assisted the US Military in Haiti, which they charged back to the Haitians at the tune of 40% of Haiti’s national income. And when Haiti couldn’t make a payment, what happened? The Haitian government would have to take out loans with high interest rates from the French banks putting them further in debt. Up until 1915, 80% of Haiti’s government revenue was paid towards this debt.

If you define ‘shithole’ country as a country that has been stripped of economic power and forced to repay their captors for years at high interest rates, then you have it backwards and furthermore your definition of ‘shithole’ is wrong. Shithole should be carved out for the countries that rank among the world’s wealthiest nations (the US and France) because of the money they have taken from countries like Haiti and have yet to rectify the mistakes of their forefathers. Can you say reparations now, please?

Needless to say, the Haitians had a tough start especially in comparison to their southern brother, the Dominican Republic. Haiti is currently the poorest country in the western hemisphere and it located almost on the Equator near a fault line making it especially vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes. On January 12, 2010 at 16:53 a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti. More than 300,000 people lost their lives due to poor building infrastructure, lack of access to water, food and electricity, the largest and best hospital collapsing instantly killing the most skilled doctors and nurses in the city and the Parliament collapsing killing half of Haiti’s government (there are rumors that Haitians who witnessed it were actually cheering after the earthquake at Parliament collapsing due to the corruption that existed). To top it off the airport runway was also damaged and the only way to make it to Haiti was by flying into the Dominican Republic and taking a bus over the border to Haiti.

While driving in Port-au-Prince, we drove by the mass grave site and memorial where the bodies have been buried because the city didn’t have the capacity to identify all of the bodies before diseases began to spread so they had to dig a mass grave as soon as possible. I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that my stomach didn’t drop, and my mouth didn’t go dry as we passed the memorial and I questioned why my life wasn’t spent growing up in a place as hard as Haiti. It’s a question I still ask myself every day.

The odds are stacked against Haiti but yet over 10 million people live in the country, almost a third in Port-au-Prince alone and companies like Thread are working to rebuild and face the odds. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to witness these efforts in person last month and am excited to share what I found.

Monday, June 18th

I have traveled to many countries and have lived in South and East Africa, but like most foreigners, had heard stories warning of the situation in Haiti. Even friends in the international development aid space described the country as challenging, and often opted for other assignments. Wow, I remember thinking as I checked into my JetBlue flight from Orlando to Port-au-Prince.

In preparation, I always try to educate myself on the language, the history, the culture, current politics and recommended reads. I devoured one of the recommendations, Mountain Beyond Mountains, which follows Paul Farmer, a Harvard doctor whose approach to helping one another is truly something to behold. A physician that believes that all physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them. My kind of guy. *If you do decide to read Mountain Beyond Mountains, you’ll find a very similar comparison to Farmer’s, organization, Partners in Health and Thread.

Tuesday, June 19th

Here is what I learned about Haiti prior to my arrival and while I was there.

  1. Do not forget to bring ten dollars for immigration when you arrive. Although the nice gentleman let me go through, they will sometimes make you go back and then re-que.
  2. 90% of Haitians are Christians, 10% are Protestant and 100% are believers of Vodou. This makes Haiti a mostly homogeneous state in regards to ethnicity and religion, which are two factors that I have seen in other countries that can make impoverished countries even more complicated.
  3. There is not one but three currencies in Haiti; US dollars, Haitian dollars and Gourdes.
  4. Over 10 million people live in Haiti and 20% of the country resides in Port-au-Prince.
  5. The Dominican Republic has implemented racist legislation that creates tension and trade imbalance on the Haitian and the DR border.
  6. Haiti’s new president, Jovenel Moïse, has been in office since February 2017.
  7. The Haitians do not like the rain.
  8. The best rum punches you’ll ever drink (and some of the strongest) are in Haiti.
  9. Haitians are known for their art.
  10. It’s very difficult for Haitians to receive visas to the US. After the earthquake, a lot of Haitians travelled through Central America and Mexico to come to the US and were not able to make it into the country. When crossing the Tijuana border from Mexico to San Diego, you’ll see Haitians queuing at the front of the line hustling to make a living.
  11. Little Haitian girls have attitude for days and I love it.

After arriving Tuesday afternoon, we had a fantastic meal consisting of shrimp creole and rum punches at a restaurant called Hotel Montana, which overlooked Port-au-Prince. After dinner, we drove to the Eucalyptus Hotel, which is a lovely hotel run by a couple, Ernso & Gina, whose children went to Penn State, where Ian went to school. We roomed together summer camp style in bunk beds and fell asleep to the white noise of the fans. I was informed that the air conditioner usually only worked when the city electricity was working which was fairly unreliable. The true Thread experience.

Wednesday, June 20th

The next morning, we woke up to a lovely breakfast and prepared ourselves to head to the Molea landfill decked out in our long pants, boots, hats, bug repellent and sunscreen. I’d be remiss to not include the lovely Nike Training Club workout that we squeezed in in the slightly worn out tennis courts of the Eucalyptus. We did boxer jumps and jab punches and hooks in the air while the missionary group staying at the same hotel watched us from their buses while they waited to depart to their next destination.

Thread’s in country field manager, Richardson, picked us up after breakfast and we headed out to meet Thread’s collectors and see the landfill. Have you ever been to landfill? I hadn’t until last month. I highly recommend mapping out your local waste management practices and requesting a tour to visit. It is not only eye opening but will make you think twice when you request a straw or a plastic water bottle next time you’re out to eat.

When we arrived, we met up with Junior, a Thread employee, who coordinates pick up and collection on behalf of the neighborhood. Thread explained that the Haitian government’s waste management drops off trash in nearby neighborhoods that border these landfills. The collectors collect the plastic to sell to recycling centers, which can be anywhere from two times a week to everyday.

The legal minimum wage in Haiti is 350 gourdes (gourdes is pronounced similarly to goods but with a soft “r”, sort of like ‘goowds”) which as of July 2nd, 2018, is $5.31 a day. Non-thread collectors usually earn 250 gourdes a day ($3.79). Thread center managers earn 923 gourdes a day ($14) and their employees earn 461 goudes a day ($7) which is in line with the living wage needs of Haiti and 250% more than the legal minimum wage. Often, collectors will use their cash to buy pigs because it is safer to invest in animals, which are not only more difficult to steal than cash but also have the opportunity to create additional income if they reproduce.

The collectors often collect without masks, gloves and proper clothing from the landfill, which contains toxic materials and substances that they are exposed to. (Thread does provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to the collectors.) They take this plastic back to their home and begin weighing, sorting and preparing for the recycling facilities.

We learned all of this while children of this neighborhood intertwined their little fingers in ours and escorted us around their neighborhood. We cautioned them not to come with us as we entered the landfill (which lasted all of 5 minutes) before they charged around the other side with big smiles and flip flops narrowly dodging the exposed waste to rejoin the group.

As we walked back into the community, we saw smoke begin to bellow our way. We were advised they were burning tires in a nearby neighborhood. It was a bit frightening as burning of tires is usually a sign of a protest. As we tried to discern what was going on, I had a bit of an out of body experience. I noticed the local teenagers listening to rap, dancing and smoking marijuana, the waste collectors darting in and around us while we stood out like a sore thumb and me, soaking in the vibrancy of this neighborhood’s local economy.

We wrapped up our tour yelling as many au revoir’s (goodbye in French) as we possibly could, slathered on hand sanitizer and went to lunch to decompress. We went to a place on the side of the road and everyone ordered rice and chicken (I had plantains and rice) and pikliz, spicy pickled vegetables, which is a Haitian delicacy. We washed it down with ice cold cokes while we watched snippets of the World Cup.

Afterwards, we headed to Haiti Recycling to see how the plastic was collected, dropped off and recycled into the rPET flake, which is then put in containers to be shipped off to its next destination. Brands like Timberland & Marmot’s material have come from this very spot. After the recycling center tour, we had planned to separate ways and grab a tap tap via a friend of Thread’s, Marc Noelle, but his wife wasn’t feeling well and had to go to the hospital, so we stayed with the rest of the group and began the journey back to the Eucalyptus to recap the day over a peppery dinner (Haitians love putting pepper on and in everything) accompanied with several Prestiges (the local beer) with the grand finale being a night cap of coke and Barbancourt (the local rum).

Thursday, June 21st

We did our early morning core workout (thank you Nike Training Club!) and prepared to go to Thread’s quarterly supplier meeting. We had been begging Richardson to disclose if RAM (Richard A. Morse’s band) was playing at Hotel Oloffson that night. RAM is a Haitian Vodou Rock ’n’ Roots band that has withstood kidnapping and assassination attempts, to write and perform music that supports the Haitian people. Their Thursday night performances are legendary in Port-au-Prince and we did not want to miss out.

For breakfast, we ate fresh mango (it’s mango season after all!) and delicious homemade peanut butter from Eucalyptus (very peppery!) and then got on the road. When we arrived for the meetings, most of the collectors were there (even though we had been advised that Haitians can be up to an hour late). Some of the collectors had come from the countryside and had been traveling since 3am for the 10am meeting!

The meetings lasted for over three hours and were an opportunity for Thread to hear feedback from the collectors and for the collectors to connect with each other and learn from one another. With the help of Jeff, one of the Work employees, whose mission is to accompany families in Haiti out of poverty through good, dignified jobs, he translated from Creole to English the entire meeting. He communicated that the collectors were having challenges with fixing of their scales, payment, transportation and understanding the expectations for implementation of the FMC pilot. A moment that stood out to me was when the collectors all echoed in unison that there are other professions other than schooling that should be considered for children. Like becoming a mechanic. It’s a good point. There are many of my friends that have forgone traditional education and have been incredibly successful in their own pursuits. Just because we are in a community different from ours, doesn’t mean that opportunity shouldn’t exist too.

There were only three female collectors in the room. One of the women, Mirlande, had brought her daughter, Lea, with her. They were dressed in the same royal blue shade. At one point, one of the women, Nadine, was asked to stand-up to share with the room how she had started such a successful business after the passing of her husband. It was inspiring to see Nadine stand up and share her best practices for her business and have Richardson exclaim how she is free as a bird from the work they are doing together. Girl power.

After the meetings, we had lunch, which was meat and rice. I gave my meat away and ate the rice while chatting with the boys from Work, Jeff, Estance and Chris. I learned that they had all gone to the same high school and were trained engineers. The Thread team had to have 1x1 meetings with the collectors afterwards so myself and Caroline (Thread’s Designer) hung outside with Lea and danced to Lauren Hill while we waited for them to finish up.

Once the team had finished up, we tried to do a quick stop at Deux Mains “Two Hands”, which was an incubator funded by Eileen Fisher post-earthquake. The organization supports creation of jobs for Haitian women and uses recycled materials such as rubber to make shoes, jewelry, bags and more. They were closed when we showed up but myself and Kelsey were able to tack on a visit the next day on our way to Wahoo Beach where we scored some amazing earrings and Kels got a laptop case made of recycled materials.

On the drive back to the Eucalyptus, it rained cats and dogs and we had a little bit of down time to reset and snack on these too die for crispy fried accra and kibbi appetizers. If I could give you one right now, I would. Each bite warmed my mouth and the peppery spice ignited the sides of my tongue. I was told to be careful though. Because as soon as a pepper craving has been created… it only goes up from there and soon I’ll only be able to satisfy my craving by carrying around hot sauce in my bag like it’s my job.

Richardson picked us up around 7p and we headed to Hotel Therese, where we had a rum punch (the best one I had all trip) with Ed from ECSSA (Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A.). On the way there, it was the first time I had the chance to see Port-au-Prince’s “downtown” area as night fell. I couldn’t help but get an eerie energy while we drove through the power-less streets with hordes of Haitians bustling back and forth. I never saw any foreigners outside of any restaurants or hotels on the streets or taking the local tap tap transportation. I peered into the little buildings and side roads as mostly men hustled around selling water bottles as the sun set and no lights replaced it.

After drinks at Hotel Therese, we headed to the famous Hotel Oloffson. We sat outside on the wrap around porch and ordered another round of rum punches. I ate spaghetti with basil and tomato. Mid-supper, Richardson’s friend, Arthur, joined us. Arthur had personality for days and told us about his dog, Nia, a baby German Shepard. We talked Vodou, RAM and life in Port-au-Prince. After polishing off dinner, we ordered another round and danced to RAM’s 15-minute-long songs while sweat poured from our bodies and Richardson & Arthur took turns twirling us round and round. Around midnight, we piled into Richardson’s tinted window Nissan SUV (he is stopped very often because of the tinted windows) rolled down the windows and sang (or perhaps screamed?) Beyonce and Mariah Carey songs as we sped down the traffic-free roads of Port-au-Prince. We arrived back to the hotel and I practiced my new trick, picking up a stone from the ground and aggressively pounding the door until someone appeared to let us in. I climbed into my bunk bed around one in the morning with a rum punch buzz and feeling oh so grateful to have the opportunity to experience new people, places, sights and sounds.

Friday was our last day in Port-au-Prince. We skipped our AM workout which we had enthusiastically agreed the night before should be a pool work-out due to the one, two, three… whose counting, rum punches from the night before. Breakfast was pineapples, mangoes, eggs and toast with the infamous Eucalyptus peanut butter. We packed up our luggage and prepared to head to a garment factory. The Thread team took me to Life Haiti, which is a Better Work factory that sources sustainable materials and gives hundreds of Haitians jobs. Better Work factories are factories that are audited by the International Labor Organization, which is considered one of the highest standards in factory auditing, globally.

Life Haiti is located near the UN’s Haitian’s Headquarters, which we picked up on because of all of the passing UN vehicles we saw while we drove on the pothole road en route to the factory. We met with the owner of Life Haiti, Jeff Blatt, and I had the chance to do a little shopping and buy a ‘Made in Haiti’ beach bag in a blush color. We had lunch at a place named, Lunch Break, and reminisced over the week while the World Cup played in the background and I inhaled a Ceasar Salad sans poulet (chicken). After lunch, the rest of the team headed to the airport and Kelsey and I made our way up to Wahoo Beach for the weekend.

We made it to Wahoo right before sunset and found a beautiful spot where we were able to jump off the rocks and into the crystal-clear water to enjoy the sun setting. It is always an interesting paradox that I find myself in. The opportunity to get to meet and work with people in difficult economic situations and the next day, the opportunity to experience the beauty of that country as a tourist. I haven’t quite come to terms with how to rationalize the relaxation and travel opportunity that working in these countries allows me without negating the challenges and difficulties of the people of that country. If you have any tips or suggestions, please direct message me.

Alas, that night we ended up ordering a cheese pizza and a glass of wine for dinner. We discovered a DVD player sans DVDs and decided to call it an early night and hit the hay. Our room was clean but had clearly seen better days. It overlooked the pool, which overlooked the ocean.

Saturday, June 23rd

Saturday morning, we woke up refreshed and ready for a beach day! We packed up our bags, hit the hotel buffet (I had a bit of a stomach bug but nothing that slathering peppermint oil on my stomach and temples, drinking water with activated charcoal pills couldn’t fix). We sat up camp poolside for the best view of the ocean (until I discovered the coconut tree above our head) and then decided to head to the beach for the rest of the day. For lunch, there were young men that were walking around holding crabs the size of a basketball for sale. Missing my Maryland crab eating sessions from when I used to live in Baltimore, I ordered a crab ($20 but we negotiated down to $15) that the young man took back and had steamed and prepared for us. Twenty minutes later he returned, and we ate fresh crab with pikliz while we laid on the cabana and the clouds rolled in.

Exhausted from the sun, we decided to shower up and prepare for dinner not realizing the sun would be making an epic comeback. I caught the tail-end while Kelsey was in the shower and was mesmerized. Check out my photos. After the sunset, we went to the bar and Moy, the bartender on duty, hooked us up with glasses of wine that we carried with us to the pool. Moy had hooked us up earlier that day with shots that were housed in plastic mugs that looked like they had come out of a Barbie set!

Kels and I spent the rest of the evening curled up watching the most beautiful lightning storm I have ever seen in my life safely from the shore. We talked about our life ambitions, hopes and dreams, dating and travel plans. Shortly after, Moy came out to the pool and brought us another round of wine. This time on the house. Kels read her tarot cards and as we sat there, I realized there was nowhere else I wanted to be. The lifestyle of living a bit unconventional, raw and risky expat life has always felt like my true calling. The last time I lived overseas was 2012 and I had forgotten how much I missed the opportunity to live in a new place outside of my comfort zone.

Eventually, we returned back to the bar to order another pizza and another round of drinks. We ran into Ed from ECSSA and caught up with him. He had previously promised to take us out on his boat earlier that day and we were giving him a hard time for not following through. After closing our tab and then making a last-minute decision to order another round of Prestige’s, we retired back to our room, curled up and fell asleep to The Notebook, which we both agreed did not portray women in the best of light.

Sunday, June 24th

Sunday morning was our last day. I had the chance to eat my first pumpkin soup which I accompanied with several slice of bread covered in Nutella. Mid-bite, I heard a voice that sounded oddly like one that I had heard on one of the MTV shows that I had watched growing up. Upon Instagram stalking, I discovered that Angela Simmons, Rev Run of RUN DMC’s daughter, was sitting behind me and was there with her posse for an orphanage visit plus vacation. Oh MTV…

After breakfast, I made my way to the beach to soak up the sun before we left for the airport. I jumped into the water and swam out to the blue painted wooden platforms floating in the middle of the water and sprawled out. I let the ebb and flow of the box sway me back and forth while the sun kissed my face. Eventually, a young man in a boat came closer to me and we spoke briefly in French and he offered snorkeling gear for $5 (which I would have gladly taken if I hadn’t been leaving that day). We went our separate ways and I swam back through the warm and then cold and then warm again waves back to the shore. When I got there, I laid in the shallow waves and gently scooped my hands into the sand and felt the smooth texture of the rocks, over and over again.

Before I left, I ordered another crab for the road and bought a piece of artwork. While I waited, I watched the different missionary groups (there were a lot from Minnesota), wealthy Haitians and tourists on vacation begin to fill up the beach and jam out to the DJ, who was stationed on the beach, for the Sunday party. Waving goodbye to my friend from the boat and blowing a kiss to the beach, I made my way to the car to catch my flight.

One of the things that I had read and heard about the Haitians was their rule to always dress ‘smart’ while traveling. I must say, I love that. Don’t get me wrong, when I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast, I was thrilled to purge my closet from my “DC outfits” but I do find it refreshing to see collared shirts, blazers and closed toed shoes be the rule and not the exception. I noticed this while in the security and immigration line at the airport. Traveling Haitians were so chic and smart looking.

Kels flight left sooner than mine and then mine ended up being delayed several hours so I took the chance to grab a coke and fries and begin writing what you are reading now. After going through another round of security, I finally made my way onto the JetBlue aircraft. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young man named ‘Jim Schneider’ who was beyond excited to get to say his English name. I couldn’t get much out of him other than he couldn’t wait to go Florida.

For the rest of the flight, I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes and re-winded and replayed the trip in my head. I thought of all of the people I had met, the things I had learned about Haiti and the Haitian people, the experiences of seeing the landfill and the tire burning in the distance, the rain that pounded mercilessly each afternoon, the connections I had made to other women who cared about living purposeful lives, the waste that we are generating on a daily basis, the poverty that exist around the world, the danger of thinking nationally and not internationally, the lightning storm that took my breath away the last night in Haiti and the opportunity that we have in the digital age to share these experiences and to increase our connectivity and understanding of one another.

For that, I am forever thankful. Many thanks to my good friend, Kelsey, for inviting me on this trip. I am so fortunate to have crossed paths with you in Germany and to have you in my life as a strong woman and friend. Thank you to the Thread team, Nicole, Caroline and Richardson, all of the extended Thread team and all of the people that we came into contact with. In the words of my favorite bag I found atDeux Mains, let’s live locally, love globally.

It’s been kismet-y.

If you have any questions about where your waste goes, ways you can support Thread and other organizations doing similar work, how to figure out where the polyester is from in your clothing, Haiti travel tips. Feel free to direct message me at

I hope you’ll continue to join me on my next ventures and connect with those that are different than you and travel to places that media might have scared you off otherwise. When we take chances and push ourselves out of our comfort zone is when we allow for authentic and genuine connections to be made.

Till next time,


Brianna Kilcullen

Clean up plastic and create Haitian jobs all by buying this…

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