When we first started the St. Helene Handbags Program by teaching the ladies to crochet using the plastic, I would go to every house, whether or not they were making bags. I was trying to encourage as many women as possible to start this endeavor, but I also sincerely enjoyed visiting each woman at her home. Most of the women were quite shy, and I think they still didn’t know what to make of us ‘crazy Americans’! But of all the women, Dawany was not interested in me or the bag program at all and wouldn’t even turn around to speak with me. She just kept cooking in her kitchen. I’d ask her if she’d made any bags yet. I told her other women were starting to make some decent money from the bags. But for several visits, the only response I got from her was, basically, “Humph!”
On my 5th visit to her house, I said hello and asked if she had made any bags I could sell for her. Without stopping what she was doing, she tossed me a single, crocheted bag. It was a beautiful bag and I was ecstatic! I went back to Austin and sold Dawany’s bag for $20! The following month, I returned to St. Helene for our usual visit, and couldn’t wait to see Miss Dawany.
“Hello, Miss Dawany!” I said. Again, the usual lack of interest, as she kept on cooking. “I have a paycheck for you!” I continued, cheerfully. She paused stirring, turned to face me, and immediately softened before my eyes into a new woman. Everything I had experienced in her prior to that moment, whether it be anger, bitterness, lack of trust, it all melted away and she became a soft, beautiful woman filled with appreciation, gratitude and most importantly – self-worth. Having had no real opportunities in the past to provide for her family, selling a single, $20 bag gave her the hope and dignity of a way to do just that. She began to make many bags after that, all of them beautiful! She was earning an income, and it gave her confidence, independence, and a sense of value.
Flash forward a few months and we had reason to meet with the former President of Honduras, Pepe Lobo. As a gift, we brought bags for him and each of his cabinet members to give to their wives. We let El Presidente pick the first bag out of 10 or so, and he picked Dawany’s! What great affirmation for her! We took a picture of him with it, framed it and gave it to her as a gift.
She, and about 60 other women at last count, in St. Helene are grateful for the opportunity the bags offer them. It allows them to buy food, clothes, and helps pay for school for their children. It is our sincere desire to help Dawany, and other women like her, support their families and their community. We hope this program will grow to support them even more.