March 19, 2018
Our first encounter with Jounise Isma couldn’t have been more powerful.
Jounise lives in Haiti. She is a part of Soles4Souls’ micro-enterprise program and has created a small business selling shoes to provide for herself and her family.
Our director of Donor Services, Kelly Modena was recently traveling in Haiti with one of our most devoted volunteers, Michele James, who has donated nearly 500,000 pairs of shoes to help women like Jwanise step out of poverty.
After Jounise and her family were evicted from their home, they have been living in a structure built of scrap metal, wood and cinder blocks with dirt floors.
But today, thanks to her thriving business that includes selling new and gently used shoes, Jounise is in the process of building a new home for herself and her family.
After a long day of distributing shoes to schoolchildren, Kelly and Michele traveled with our team to the Haitian American Caucus—our partner on the ground who works with women entrepreneurs to help start and sustain micro-businesses.
They were anxiously awaiting the moment they would meet Jounise, a woman they have helped step out of poverty.
Kelly tells the rest of the story:
Michele and I sat side-by-side in the van that day looking at one another knowing we were about to experience a life-changing moment.One of Soles4Souls’ micro-entrepreneurs would be a guest speaker, and we played an integral role in changing her life story by providing her with shoes—a resource to help her start and sustain a businesses of her own.
We gasped and grabbed hands with excitement when Jounise Isma walked in the room. I just remember standing there thinking, “Oh my gosh, there she is!” We were finally coming face-to-face with an individual directly impacted by both of our efforts.
Jounise shared her story of being evicted and living on the streets.
She also shared the moment she was introduced to Soles4Souls’ micro-enterprise program in 2012. Michele and I were both overwhelmed with emotion and excitement. We both listened with pride knowing that by Michele supplying shoes and myself getting these “tools” of economic change to Jounise, we have helped so many women like her around the world.
We were communicating through an interpreter, so it was hard for me to truly express how I was feeling. I told Sam, our partner on the ground, “Can you please let Jounise know that I am going to hug her?“
I didn’t even know her, but I just got up and hugged her because, at that moment, I knew we both needed each other. Then Jounise hugged Michele. We all needed each other.
Then something Michele and I will never forget happened …
Jounise grabbed my face, looked me straight in the eye with much gratefulness, and repeated “merci, merci.” No cultural barrier can come in between that moment. I knew just how thankful she was. We all three grabbed hands and hugged.
From that moment on, Jounise stayed glued to mine and Michele’s side. Although it was the first time I had met her, it felt like I made her feel safe. For her to trust me and to feel like she knew me, woman to woman, mom to mom, that I was part of the reason she was able to feed her children, that just puts everything into perspective for me.
If the roles were reversed and I had met someone who was able to put food on my table for my family, I would be grabbing their face saying, “Merci, merci.”